Book Review: The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd

The Time Paradox is a book that makes you really think about how you spend your time. Through practical examples and some scientific research the authors make a very clear point: the way you treat your time determinates not only your success, but also your happiness throughout your life. While reading the book, I realized that in a way I’m already making a lot of things right. My attitude towards my time has been more or less correct. I did find some things to improve too, so in that sense it was not an useless reading.:)

My notes:

  • The paradox of time: Your attitudes toward time have a profound impact on your life and your world, yet you seldom recognize it.
  • Nothing that any of us does in this life will allow us to accrue a moment’s more time, and nothing will allow us to regain time misspent. Once time has passed, it is gone forever. So, although Ben Franklin was right about many things, he was wrong when he said that time is money. Our scarcest resource, time, is actually much more valuable than money.
  • In spite of the many valuations we assign time, and in spite of the fact that time is our most valuable commodity, it is striking to note how little thought we give to how we spend it. If a slightly annoying acquaintance asked you to invest money in her new business, you would probably consider the costs and benefits of the proposed transaction. If you judged her project a bad investment, you would have no problem saying no, even at the risk of offending her. After all, who rationally throws money out the window? But suppose the same acquaintance asked you to dinner. Chances are you would not engage in a similar cost-benefit analysis. No matter how little you wanted to go, you would probably take an hour out of your packed schedule to meet for dinner—all the while perhaps feeling resentment because of the time you sacrificed on something you did not want to do.
  • No matter how you choose to invest your time, you face the costs of forgoing another activity—perhaps limitless opportunities—for the one you choose. With money, you have the conservative option of keeping it in the bank, but not so with time. Whether you like it or not, you spend time every moment of your life. It continually seeps out of your pocket.
  • People are more likely to regret actions not taken than actions taken, regardless of outcome.
  • Viewing the world from a future perspective may lead you to be “on time,” while viewing the world from a present perspective may lead you to be “late.”
  • We believe that your individual attitude toward time is largely learned, and that you generally relate to time in an unconscious, subjective manner—and that, as you become more conscious of your attitude on time, you can change your perspective for the better.
  • Future-oriented people tend to be more successful professionally and academically, to eat well, to exercise regularly, and to schedule preventive doctor’s exams.
  • In the course of a typical day, you make hundreds of decisions, such as what to wear, what to eat, what to do with your free time, with whom to associate, and whom to avoid. On any given day, these decisions appear trivial, even inconsequential. Taken as a whole, they define who you were, who you are, and who you will become.
  • Your time is precious. You pass through this life only once, so it is vital that you make the most of the journey.
  • The message is clear: Don’t sleep your life away, or you’ll be sorry. Use your time wisely and well and work out your problems as they arise, rather than ignoring or dreaming them away.
  • Psychologically, what individuals believe happened in the past influences their present thoughts, feelings, and behavior more than what did happen.
  • You can approach changing your attitudes toward time as you would approach changing the course of a river. In both cases, small changes over time can have a dramatic effect.
  • Most people assume that their memories accurately capture what happened in the past and that these memories are permanent. Unfortunately, memories do change over time. They are not an objective record of the past, as though a video of an event had been saved on a mental hard disk. Rather, memories are reconstructed, and their reconstruction is influenced by current attitudes, beliefs, and available information. This reconstructive nature of the past means that how we think and feel today influences how we remember yesterday. Even such subtle influences as the way in which we are asked about the past can dramatically influence our memory of “what really happened.”
  • Your attitudes toward events in the past matter more than the events themselves. You cannot change what happened in the past, but you can change your attitudes toward what happened. Sometimes changing the frame can alter the way you see the picture.
  • Attitudes toward the past are key to the development of gratitude, which allows you to appreciate your life in the present.
  • Those who reported most involvement with their families were most likely to be highly past-positive. They saw their families regularly for no special reason. They were also more involved in family traditions and planned to continue practicing them in the future. They entertained a broader sense of extended family going back over more generations than did those with different time perspectives.
  • This is a paradox of time: Some present orientation is needed to enjoy life. Too much present orientation can rob life of happiness.
  • The future, like the past, is never experienced directly. It is a psychologically constructed mental state. Fashioned out of our hopes, our fears, our expectations, and our aspirations, the future is essential scaffolding for success in school, business, the arts, and athletics. Talent, intelligence, and ability are necessary for success, but they are not sufficient. Discipline, perseverance, and a sense of personal efficacy are also required. Childhood prodigies of any kind, for instance, rarely become successes in adulthood unless they have the discipline to spend endless hours at their craft.
  • Having a meaningful job imparts a sense of self-identity, generates pride in your efforts, and enables you to form social contacts beyond the boundaries of “the neighborhood.” Most important, having a job provides temporal structure to each workday and cultivates self-discipline. Ideally, a job also enhances the opportunity for personal development, realizing ambitions, and gaining economic security and independence. All of these experiences develop a strong future time perspective.
  • A life well lived is the best antidote to that fatal truth. Be active, not a passive worrywart. Find magic in the moment, joy in making someone smile. Listen to a lover’s sigh; look into the dancing eyes of a child you made feel special. Most of all, marvel at the wonder that eons of evolutionary time and all your unique experiences have joined to comprise the symphony that is YOU.
  • Anything that constrains our sense of an unlimited future shifts our motivations and priorities away from future goals and toward present emotional satisfaction. A limited future encourages us to make choices that enhance our positive emotional state rather than, for instance, to pursue an education or other future-oriented activity.
  • Ideally, over time, we maintain those convoys that are most satisfying and discard or relegate to the periphery of our circle many, perhaps most, of our acquaintances.
  • “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequence.”
  • Future consequences govern every decision. From this perspective, everything that happens presents a choice, including the feelings you experience.
  • We can like things and do things automatically without thinking about the future—without thinking at all. Yet when we are asked to explain our preferences and behavior, we deny the effect of the present circumstances and expertly rationalize alternative explanations, coming up with creative and plausible explanations for our behavior that have no basis in truth. We automatically feel and act, and then we automatically rationalize our feelings and behaviors.
  • Volunteering not only serves the social good but, as research has shown, improves the health of those who perform it.
  • Simply caring for a plant gave residents a stake in the future, because the plant’s survival depended on them. The message here is that small changes in the environment can affect mental states, which in turn affect physical states. It is vital to sustain a sense of personal agency in which you make meaningful choices about all aspects of your life. Do not yield responsibility or freedom of choice to others as long as you have the capacity to act rationally.
  • Nothing is more romantic than to say, “I don’t really have the time to do what you want to do, but for you I will make the time.”
  • According to our colleague, Sonja Lyubomirsky, those among us who are “happy people” tend to do the following things more than less happy people do. Help coworkers and passersby. Express gratitude for what they have. Devote time to family, friends, and other social relationships. Savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present. Exercise habitually. Express optimism about their future. Set and pursue life goals. Cope well with life’s headaches.
  • Whether you look for happiness in the past, the present, or the future, you experience happiness only in the present. A happy event may have occurred in the past, but you call it to mind in the present.
  • When you ignore the present and look primarily to the past or the future for happiness, you can miss the happiness that is right in front of you.
  • The Set Point Explanation of Happiness: Nothing Will Make You Happy for Long
  • We are not good at identifying what will make us happy in the future. It is entirely possible to work for years to reach a goal—let’s call it a PayDay—and, when you have achieved it, to find that it doesn’t make you any happier.
  • Happiness in the Present: Practice Mindfulness One way to increase the amount of time that you spend in the present is to practice mindfulness. When you are mindful, you are fully aware of your surroundings and of yourself in the present.
  • “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
  • Learn to Embrace Change; Deviate for a Day What makes you happy will change, and you’ll need to change with it. An extremely effective way of encouraging you to embrace change is what we call being a deviant for a day. We’ve done it ourselves and often have whole classes do it. Your task is to violate an important aspect of your self-image. Which part you violate is up to you. For instance, students who usually spend two hours putting on makeup before leaving the house in the morning must come to class straight out of bed. Others shave their heads.
  • Time’s pricelessness makes it the great equalizer. We all have to play the hand that time deals us. We cannot buy more cards or exchange the cards that we hold no matter who we are. We can learn, however, to play the hand that we are given more effectively,
  • Great leaders are able to become completely engrossed in the present and to harness the passion they generate in the service of future goals. They have a unique ability to be fully in the moment and to make an audience feel that they are the exclusive focus of their attention. Then they use the energy they generate by their present focus to create a compelling vision of the future.
  • Eliminating the noise is critical. You have to cut the information flow to a minimum level. You could spend your whole day reading different opinions.
  • I’ve been trying to figure out how to make time that was previously unproductive productive. If I’m driving my car somewhere, I try to get a call in to my family and friends then. Or during dead time when I’m waiting in line, I will hop on my cell phone and get something done.
  • Ask yourself what you want to do today. How do you want to spend this weekend? Don’t ask what tasks you have to do today or what obligations you must meet before you can take time to enjoy yourself. Continually ask the big questions: What do I really want out of my life? What am I doing to get what I want? What is the best way to get from here to there?
  • Whenever I get uptight thinking of all my obligations, I close my eyes, touch my thumbs to forefingers, and say, “I am going south.” That simple gesture puts things in balance and perspective. It reminds me to take time out of my endless quest for The Next—to get a massage, call an old friend, enjoy a cappuccino in a local café, or prepare a candlelit dinner at home.
  • Start to do more by doing less. Throw out the trash. Clean your closets of worn-out working garments. Stop going to events you don’t like.

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