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Are You Past-Present-Future-Balanced?

January 5, 2012
by Mark Hagland
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Healthcare IT leaders facing 2012 could use a good dose of positive perserverance

I’ve been reading a fascinating book from 2008, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life, by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. The authors, psychologists, have created a schematic with different psychological types, based on how people perceive their past, their present, and their future. Essentially, the authors say, to be an emotionally healthy person, you need to create a balanced attitude and approach towards your past, present, and future, in order to be happy and productive.

So, after taking “The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory” quiz, you can determine which “type” you are in all this. Based on your responses to such statements as “Familiar childhood sights, sounds, and smells often bring back a flood of wonderful memories,” “Fate determines much of my life,” “Spending what I earn on pleasures today is better than saving for tomorrow’s security,” and “I keep working at difficult, uninteresting tasks, if they will help me get ahead” (and I’m guessing that the last one will resonate with more than a few healthcare IT leaders!), you can find out which of seven different psychological types you are.

You might be “past-negative,” “past-positive,” “present-fatalistic,” “present-hedonistic,” “future,” or “transcendental future,” depending on your tendencies. What’s particularly important, the authors argue, is not to get “stuck” in having an over-emphasis on either the negative or positive aspects of either the past, present, or future. Essentially, they argue, you should think positive thoughts about the past, and enjoy the present while building your future, but while avoiding future-obsession. All of this is intricately interconnected, they note, with people who have positive attitudes towards their pasts being better able to appreciate their lives in the present, and with people who can enjoy the present moment being better able to avoid being overly obsessed with the future (while still adequately preparing for it).

All of this made me think a bit about what healthcare IT leaders are facing right now, with regard to the demands, challenges, and opportunities involved in meeting the requirements under meaningful use and under the three mandatory and two voluntary healthcare reform-driven programs that are directly affecting their work. For example, healthcare IT leaders who tend to be “past-negative” people—who often dwell on the struggles of the past—will find meeting all the data reporting and data infrastructure management challenges in these programs immensely daunting, because they will all feel intensely burdensome to them.

At the same time, because of the tremendous breadth of all of this, being too future-obsessive could prove highly problematic, too, because managing change across all these programs will demand staying in the moment and not allowing the enormity of it all to overwhelm oneself and one’s organization.

On the other hand, being overly “present-hedonistic” could backfire just as much, if one decides one’s organization can take the slow boat to MU and healthcare reform, for obvious reasons. So the book’s subhead, “Reclaim Yesterday, Enjoy Today, and Master Tomorrow,” sounds virtually tailor-made for healthcare IT leaders hoping to move forward into the future at just the right pace and with the right attitude.

So as we look back at 2011 and forward to 2012, taking a healthy, balanced approach to change management will be vital, as healthcare IT leaders move forward, organization by organization, to create the healthcare system of the future. It will all be immensely challenging, no doubt; but as Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd might say, taking the right attitude towards all of this will reap healthy, satisfying rewards.

Mark Hagland
Editor-in-ChiefAre You Past-Present-Future-Balanced?