Actualized Leadership: Optimal Time Orientation (OTO)

Actualized Leadership: Optimal Time Orientation (OTO)

Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.  This will miraculously transform your whole life.
Eckhart Tolle

Surrender to what is.  Let go of what was.  Have faith in what will be.
Sonia Ricotti

In the previous blog, we examined Hyperfocus, the second mental attribute of Actualized Leaders.  In this blog I would like to examine the third cognitive ability practiced by self-actualizing individuals: Optimal Time Orientation or OTO.  While OTO refers to living primarily in the present moment, it must be considered from three distinct time frames: Past, Present, and Future.  Research demonstrates that individuals with a balanced time perspective are psychologically and physically healthier and more optimistic.  So, let’s start by defining OTO: a balanced sense of time where the individual lives primarily in the present moment.  Individuals who practice OTO will occasionally refer to the past or look to the future with an overall positive expectation, but allow themselves the gift of being primarily in the present moment.

Today the term “mindful” is often used to describe a large part of our OTO definition.  Perhaps the most useful definition of mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose without judgment.”  When individuals are mindful they are better able to manage stress, more resilient, and sleep better.  Moreover, they enjoy sensual pleasures, from savoring food to listening to music to making love, more intensely.

Many philosophers, psychologists, and experts in the field of human performance, however, tell us that the opposite of OTO, mindlessness, is at epidemic proportions. Unlike every other animal on the planet, human beings have the unique capacity for thinking about what is not currently happening.  We have the ability to reminisce about the past and to plan for the future.  In the right amount, this skill provides a tremendous cognitive advantage unique to humans.  However, today more than ever before, we are tempted by unprecedented distractions, from status updates to text messages to real-time score updates.  And while research shows that a wandering mind is a human mind, it can also create an unhappy mind.  Yes, there are cognitive benefits to gain from toggling between the past, present, and future, but they come at an emotional cost if not maintained in a healthy balance.

When we spend our mental energy in the past we often experience guilt and resentment.  We tend to replay things that didn’t go our way, and reliving those experiences causes negative feelings.  Conversely, if we spend our mental energy focused on the future, we are likely to experience fear and anxiety.  In either extreme, we often rob ourselves of actualizing our highest potential in the only moment we are promised: now.

If you want to develop your OTO in order to be more mindful, consider the following activities:

  1. Take a 15-minute walk every day.
  2. Practice meditating for five minutes when you first wake up.
  3. Focus on your breathing; slow, deliberate breaths are incompatible with stress.
  4. Become a unitasker.  Focus intently on one task at a time, and reward yourself with multiple short breaks.
  5. Pay attention on purpose; intently notice and enjoy the routine, from a sunrise on your morning commute to the hectic time with your children in the evening.

Eckhart Tolle reminds us that most stress is caused by “… being here, but wanting to be there.”  Embrace your “here,” whatever that may be, and when you do, you free yourself to find meaning and purpose in your current circumstances.  And whether your “here” is in the living room or the bedroom, you will give yourself a precious gift: this moment.


  1. Dennis Whittaker

    Really appreciate the here vs there insight re stress – thanks for an enlightening analysis.

  2. Dana Anderson

    Wow. I’m guilty of spending too much energy on things that have already happened…and that I cannot change.

    I appreciate the tips.



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