I need a word/ phrase/ idiom to describe a (real) person who is always living in the past and present, but is incapable of thinking about the future. He has often been criticized by someone for being unable to think ahead or make long range plans.

He is a close friend, and told me himself that he has vague anxieties and fears about various things in the future and is also quite capable of vividly grasping past and present situations, but cannot constructively or even literally conceive of what is yet to happen, and considers only the past and present as concrete realities.

Other people I know can actually visualise where they will be (in terms of what they want to achieve) 5 or even 10 years later but the future appears so nebulous and unreal to this person that he cannot imagine what his life could be like a year hence or even 2 months into the future.

Qualifications of meaning, and research already done:

  1. I have considered and discarded phrases like 'short term planning' and 'living in the present' as not really expressing the right meaning here.

  2. I would also rule out elements of heedlessness/ recklessness or lacking foresight (as kindly suggested by @aparente001 in a comment), or the inability to understand potential outcomes of policies or actions. My friend can actually reckon the consequences of actions and is a very cautious person.

  3. Note too that words literally meaning "inability to visualise" such as 'unimaginative' do not fit the case because he can actually visualise in vivid detail various things such as for example a plywood cabinet he proposes to make, and also project all possible future outcomes of a certain logical problem, but simply can't visualise the shape of future life to come. Words that imply an inability to visualise may be suitable as metaphors.

  4. It is not a cognitive or psychological impairment or disorder in his case, but words or phrases indicative of such disorders might possibly be used as metaphorical descriptors here.

Example sentence:

Jack cannot make any long range plans because he is incapable of thinking about the future: he is __________ (adjective) // he is a ____________ (noun) // it is a case of ___________ (expression/idiom)

Is there a good word/ phrase/ idiom to describe such a person? It can be an adjective, noun or allegory.

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    Dec 2, 2017 at 1:35

2 Answers 2


The inability to take account of the future and the reality of future responsibilities is described by the adjective improvident.

Improvident 1. Lacking or not exercising foresight; having little regard for the future; heedless of potential consequences or outcomes; reckless. Also: characterized by recklessness or a lack of foresight.


2013 Sunday Tel. (Nexis) 7 Apr. (Features section) 21 He was charming but improvident, died with astonishing debts and..was impoverished.


Mel B fortune squandered by 'improvident' choices, divorce hearing told


  • Thanks for the answer @Nigel J! Upvote. I did rule out elements of heedlessness/ recklessness/ lacking foresight in this particular case but "improvident" is a most appropriate answer in general and will also guide members thinking of other possible expressions. Nov 28, 2017 at 16:40
  • @EnglishStudent I think it is inevitable that it someone is improvident it will, of necessity, lead to the other characteristics. I cannot see it being otherwise, myself. There is a mental condition in which people are unable to think cognitively and logically of time events, past or future - but I take it that you are not looking at that.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 28, 2017 at 16:42
  • I absolutely agree that heedlessness/ recklessness/ lacking foresight are elements of being improvident as given in the definition @Nigel J but am not so sure these characteristics apply in this particular case: what my heedful and very cautious friend is struggling with is the inability to constructively visualise and make concrete plans for the future. Hence I am really looking for expressions that highlight this conceptual inability, but "improvident" certainly fits the general case and is a good starting point here. Nov 28, 2017 at 16:47

Returning to the comment thread, I'll offer short-sighted as an answer, hyphenating it because my large paper OED does.

The expression dates from at least 1622, the earliest OED citation for the metaphoric expression for "lacking in foresight or intellectual outlook." The OED cites Mabbe's translation of Aleman's Guzman d'Aif (soon to be a major motion picture?) viz.,

Those that are yong are very short sighted in your choyser sort of things. (sic)

The cited example provides a clear-sighted illustration: leave it to youth to lack foresight - especially in "choyser" (important) matters.

Perhaps interestingly, the earliest citation given for the literal sense of the expression, i.e., myopia, is dated 1649. It's possible that this is significant, but if it is, I can't see it from here.

  • Thanks for the very interesting answer @Rob_Ster. I always thought myopia was an absolute synonym of short-sightedness and the two words could be used interchangeably. So I would say, "where the future is concerned, Jack is short-sighted// where the future is concerned, Jack is myopic." Is there some shade of difference between the two terms? Nov 29, 2017 at 18:08

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