Mental Time Travel

Mental Time Travel. Psychology Fanatic article header image
Mental Time Travel. Psychology Fanatic
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We time travel—journeying to the past and future. Not satisfied by the pull of the present, we escape. Slipping back to regrettable moments and daydreaming of a paradisaical future. We travel through the mires of the mind and get bogged down with guilt and worry. Our amazing minds have some bothersome drawbacks; but the mental time travel is an evolutionary king, giving humans a tremendous competitive advantage until we destroy ourselves.

Society continues to grow in complexity. To meet the societal demands, we must draw knowledge from the past and artfully prepare for the future. The novice adult must master the intricacies of money and time—both essential creations of a complex society.

​We budget by passing on a fancy dinner on the fifteenth, so we have enough money for rent on the thirty-first. This is accomplished through mental time travel time, orchestrating choices by making predictions about the future. Successful navigation of complexity and we reduce much of the anxiety. Prediction has a primary well in a well functioning emotional system.

​Learning from the past and preparing for the future refines choices, creating healthier relationships, better employment, and fuller lives.

Life Isn’t Always Pleasant

The circumstances of our lives aren’t always pretty. We experience discouragement, anxiety, and pain along with the happiness, peace and contentment. Discomforting emotions have purpose, motivating movement, bringing attention to the ailing aspects that need to be addressed.

Discomfort has many causes—poor choices, unfortunate events, unhealthy thinking, or destructive others. The pain usually has a prescribed recovery. We just need to figure it out. During recovery, when lost in the bleakness of current depressions, we must continue with hope, knowing a future holds something better—even if we don’t know what that something is.

Mental Time Travelling and painful Rumination

Our powerful minds learn for the past, gathering wisdom from our stupidity and the stupidity of others. With learnings from the past, we plan for the future, working through possible setbacks before they occur; these skills are invaluable. The workings of the mind amaze but also deceive.

Experience distort and bias thought—traumatic past experiences frustrates clear thinking. Dreams of the future may disregard practicality, failing to gather the necessary skills and resources for fulfillment. Instead of creating accurate maps to fulfillment, miscued hopes serve as an escape from present realities, disrupting the mundane but essential tasks for progression.

A pattern of failures protrudes on the mind, interfering with effective thought—encouraging outlandish dreams, strangling motivation necessary to make small steps towards notable accomplishment.

​Past failures also can sidetrack present progress. Instead of learning from the past during mental time travel, we often ruminate on the hurt with regret, guilt or shame. These struggling thoughts fill our lives with despair, anxiety and helplessness, leading to depression; often our dangerous excursions into the darkness, invite addictions and other dangerous behaviors to escape the pain.

“A pattern of failures protrudes on the mind, interfering with effective thought—encouraging outlandish dreams, strangling motivation necessary to make the small steps towards notable accomplishment.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Identifying Thoughts that Prevent Staying Present

If we are aware of the downfalls of thought, perhaps we’ll recognize damaging mental time travel that interfere with staying present. By identifying distortions, we can effectively address them. The longer we entertain unhealthy patterns of thought, the more entrenched they become.

No matter how far down errant paths we have traveled, we still can improve. We must shift directions, engaging in forgotten healthy practices that develop skills to work through the unknowns of the future. A few tools to assist are:

  • Present moment awareness
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Nature
  • Engage in moderately challenging activities. Hobbies that bring us into a flow state
  • Focusing on small successes

As we recognize unhealthy mental time travel in our thoughts and reset our troubled minds with new techniques, return to the present where we can utilize our evolutionary advantages and avoid the nasty pitfalls. We create a richer tomorrow only when our time travelling mind utilizes wisdom to act in the present.

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