Ask the client to remember an event that happened yesterday, see the picture of it, and notice where the picture is. Then an event that happened last week, last month, a year ago, and then 10 years ago. Notice where those pictures are in relation to each other. You will find that there is some kind of system to it. Usually the past will appear as some kind of straight or curved line, a Time Line, but other systems are possible. Same thing with the future.
These are some common systems.
- Time is a straight line in front of the person with the past to the left and the future to the right. Further into the past is further to the left, and so forth.
- Time is a curve with the body in the present and the past curving out and away to one side and the future to the other side.
- Time goes from back to front as a line. You are in the present and the past is behind, with the far past further back. The future is in front with the far out future further out.
- The past might be a jumble all over the area behind the person and the future might be a fog far out in front.
There will be some common sense logic that goes with any system the person is using. If the past is behind her, she can't see it, right? She can best see what is right in front of her. If several things are placed straight ahead, she might not be able to see the things that are 'hidden' behind other things. Unless all the pictures are transparent, that is. A person who has time stretched out left to right in front might have a better overview of time than somebody who is in the middle of it and has part of it behind her.
People will often tell you in their language and in their hand gestures how they organize time, if you are observant. "I put it behind me" means that she has the past behind her. "Back when I was young", or a gesturing over the shoulder tells you the same thing.
Other perceptual distinctions will tell you what else people do with the past and future. "The future is bright" means just that. "My dark past" is quite obvious too, maybe she needs to lighten it up. You can actually have the client change those overall perceptions and achieve quite profound changes.
Aside from the exact placement and perception of time, there are several distinct ways of dealing with time. A given person will usually use one of those predominantly:
Through Time: A Trough Time person will have an overview of time and will consider herself somewhat detached from it. She will be good at planning things and at consistently following a certain pattern. She will be very aware of schedules and being on time. She will actually see time in front of her, both past and future as a continuous flow, and will have an overview of the progress of time tables.
In Time: The In-Time person is in the moment. She is mainly concentrated on what is going on right now. She experiences life quite fully and is very connected with what is happening. She tends to forget or be late for appointments because she was occupied with what she was doing. An In-Time person often has the future in front and the past in back and herself right in the present moment.
Between Time: The Between-Time person will think of time as a collection or string of separate moments. "Oh, I remember that time when ..", or "how about when ..." When she is in a certain situation she will link it up with other similar times, but in-between she might not think about it at all. She thinks in terms of events and different subjects.
If you know how the person in front of you is organizing time, you can better be in rapport with her and you can use the knowledge to guide her change better. You wouldn't want to mismatch her by putting her time in the wrong place. You wouldn't say "See the future in front of you" if she doesn't have it in front of her.
As with all systems people are using in their minds, there is nothing final about them. If they don't work well they can be changed. And even if they work well it can be valuable to be fluent in other ways of doing it. A Through-Time person could benefit from being able to enjoy the moment, an In-Time person could use some overview. A Between-Time person could use some more continuity. Ideally people should be able to do all these things.
- Find out for yourself how you organize time.