Theory: Personality traits of past-, present-, future-focused individuals

There are so many personality traits that make up who we are and distinguish us from one another.

Actually, there are layers of traits, each that affect another. So, when we meet someone new, and many times even after knowing someone for many years, we are mostly seeing the surface behaviors and mannerisms. People can go their whole lives and never really know the person they're living with, let alone themselves.

One of the traits that continues to fascinate me and seems to contribute to many interpersonal issues is how we all focus on life. There seem to be three distinct areas where most people can find themselves relating. Most of us have a primary focus and then a secondary, lesser focus.

Let's see where you fall. Here are the categories: past focus, present focus and future focus, along with their positive and negative attributes.

Past-focused individuals, in general, are sentimental folks with a keen memory for events from their past. They can recall conversations, remember dates, as well as people's names. They may have an appreciation for history, genealogy, scrapbooking, etc. If they have an unhealthy focus on the past, they will carry the weight of unresolved conflicts, past traumas or fears around with them. They can be depressed, harbor resentments, guilt, lack energy or goals, and bring up the past in their arguments. These people, if entrenched in the past, can develop debilitating drug addictions and mental disorders.

We have all heard the saying, "Seize the day."

Individuals who are focused in the present live by this mantra. Capable of enjoying the moment, these people have the great ability to focus on the task at hand. Put a recipe or instruction manual in front of them and they will dive right in. Difficult to distract once they are on task, they might not be aware of anything else around them. Avoid exposure to excessive amounts of television or computer gaming, as these individuals, if not otherwise occupied with more important tasks, are susceptible to developing habits to these diversions.

Present types are fairly resistant to worry or anxiety. They seem to sense that issues will either sort themselves out so long as they keep plugging away at the task at hand, or someone else will worry about it for them. These types are not planners. Don't expect them to remember the social calendar or plan vacations. Don't take it personally when they forget something that you thought was important. Just make the "honey-do" list and tape it to the inside of their eyelids …works every time!

On to the future. These individuals are always doing something, going somewhere, and, in general, multi-tasking. They are natural managers and planners. They are responsible, capable, perceptive and excellent thinkers. Take a task or event and they will be the ones to break it down into manageable steps, look at it from many different perspectives and tell you what could go wrong or how it should be done for the best outcome. But, set them in front of a stack of paperwork and ask them to file them alphabetically, and they will self-destruct.

If one task takes too much time and requires all their attention, forget it. These types can be easily distracted, are susceptible to excessive worry, anxiety, sleep disturbances and burn out.

They tend to take on more responsibility than they can ultimately handle; and because they don't understand why others don't think or act the way they do, they can inadvertently say or do things that will cause others to feel inadequate.

Remember the children's fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper"? They are the ants (can you guess which type are the grasshoppers?).

So, which type or combination is the best? If you could pick two, a focus in the present and the future would be desirable. But, the ideal combination would be the healthy parts of all three: sentimentality, enjoying each moment to the fullest, with goals and dreams for the future.

• Jamie Palmer is a Batavia resident, a licensed clinical professional counselor and mediator with more than 35 years of experience in the field of psychology working with families, couples and individuals. She is a therapist with Novo-Renewing Joy in Life counseling center in St. Charles and Sycamore and can be reached by calling 630-492-0604 or, for editorial comment, by emailing