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“The Time Paradox” – Book review

The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd You need to hire an employee. You’re interviewing two men at 10 a.m. One arrives at 9:55. The other at 10:15. All other factors being even, which one do you hire?

The vast majority of American businesspeople say they would not hire someone 15 minutes late to an interview. Yet being 15 minutes late is considered on time in many parts of the world.

Perception of time (my own included) intrigues me. I want my time to matter. I don’t give it away lightly, and I don’t accept it flippantly from others.

So The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, is a book I gobbled up. It contains thoughts like these:

* Your emotional state, personal time perspective, and the pace of life of the community in which you live all influence the way in which you experience time.

* Einstein himself is reported to have said: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

* Our preoccupation with time is so complete that the word “time” has become the most popular noun in the English language. In fact, time-related words occupy three of the top ten spots.

The authors vie that your life is shaped by how you view time. In particular, several paradoxes affect you more than you know. For example:

  • Paradox 1
    Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.
  • Paradox 2
    Each specific attitude toward time—or time perspective—is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.
  • Paradox 3
    Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.

6 Perspectives
The book offers a Time Perspective Inventory test to find your personal time orientation. I identified my primary perspective without the quiz, but it did confirm I was on target.

Each perspective has its own set of pros and cons, but certain perspectives are more conducive to a fulfilling life. The authors go so far as to offer suggestions on how to reset your psychological clock from a negative perspective to a healthier one.

The six perspectives are:

  1. Past Negative
  2. Past Positive
  3. Present Fatalism
  4. Present Hedonism
  5. Future
  6. Transcendental Future

As with most categories, you won’t fit neatly into just one, nor should you. But ideally, seek for high marks in “Past-Positive,” moderately high in “Future” and “Present-Hedonistic,” and low in “Past-Negative” and “Present-Fatalistic.”

Why? Because . . .

  • A sense of a positive past gives you roots
  • A hedonistic present gives you energy and joy about being alive
  • A future perspective gives you wings. . . filled with hope, optimism, and power

(The authors paid too little attention to the “Transcendental Future” perspective. Draw your own spiritual implications.)

About “Pasts”

* It is not the events of the past that most strongly influence our lives. Your attitudes toward events in the past matter more than the events themselves. This distinction between the past and your current interpretation of it is critical, because it offers hope for change. You cannot change what happened in the past, but you can change your attitudes toward what happened.

* The key to relieving depression lies not in untangling the Gordian knot of the past but in accepting and planning for the uncertain future. Maintaining past-negative attitudes by thinking and talking about them repeatedly is not a good strategy. Put the past to rest and build on it the vision of a better future.

About “Presents”

* Students who are highly present-oriented have more failures, remedial class assignments, truancy, and dropouts.

* Our criminal justice system is ill equipped to deal with presents. Almost all traditional behavioral-change programs suffer from a similar “made by futures for futures” syndrome. We live in a world created by futures for futures.

* You need both a present-hedonistic and future time perspective to stay healthy. (This may be why grazing is an effective diet strategy—eat small meals five times a day. You never get too hungry or too full.)

About “Futures”

* Unlike their present-hedonistic peers who live in their bodies, the futures live in their minds, envisioning other selves, scenarios, rewards, and successes. The success of Western civilization in the past centuries can be traced to the prevalence of the future orientation of many populations.

* We are not very good at identifying what will make us happy in the future...The silver lining of this bad news is that if something happens that you worked years to avoid—say you lose a leg in a traffic accident—there is a good chance that it won’t decrease your happiness as much as you had expected. You will still be happy.

To be a book about getting a grip on time, it was a little too long for me. But the nuggets uncovered were worth it. It helped me understand not only my own views of time, but also better understand various members of my family. 

And maybe even be a little more patient with the differences. Understanding time zone clashes at least explains frustrations, if not also eliminates a few.

“Sometimes changing the frame can alter the way you see the picture.” This book definitely tweaked my frame.

* * *

Our time is brief, and it will pass no matter what we do.
So let us have purpose in spending it.
Let us spend it so that our time matters to each of us,
and matters to all those whose lives we touch…


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