10 Lessons from 2 Chapters of The Time Paradox.


Jolijn, one of my coworkers*, thrusted ‘the Time Paradox’ in my hands on Thursday when I came into work. “You’ll love it,” she promised. “Read it.”

Anyone who studied psychology knows the name Philip Zimbardo. He’s a psychology professor who has done a TON of important research, most famously the Stanford Prison experiment, where students were divided up to act as either guards or prisoners. Things totally got out of hand. It’s one of the most famous psychology experiments of all time.

He’s also done research on the psychology of time, looking at time perspective and the consequences on people’s lives of their time perspective. Together with John Boyd, a fellow professor, he wrote the book ‘the Time Paradox’ on how you think about time and how you can use that to your advantage. Who doesn’t want that?

I started reading as soon as I came home and I started to race through the book. It’s absolutely armed to the teeth with helpful and practical information, and funny too. During just TWO chapters of this book, I got so inspired that I wrote down the most important things I got from these first two chapters. I couldn’t wait to share.

1. We give our time away more easily than we should.

If an acquintance you are not too fond of asks you to invest in her new company, you really think about it. You weigh pros and cons. If you think it is a bad investment, you say ‘no’. You don’t care that it might offend her, because you’re not about to waste your precious money. You could buy like, cool stuff with that. But what do you do when this same woman asks you to have dinner?

You don’t think about it in the same way. Even when you don’t really want to go, you sacrifice time out of your busy schedule to be bored by someone over a pizza. An hour, mind you, that you’ll probably spend feeling stupid for not saying ‘no’ when that was really what you wanted. You have just wasted time that you will never get back.

The lesson here is simple. Think carefully about what you spend your time on. If it helps, think of time as if it’s currency: Don’t spend your time on shit you don’t care about, don’t spend it on trivial stuff, and don’t spend it all in one place.

2. Be future-oriented. Think about the long term consequences of the stuff that you do today. Think of the long term goals you have for yourself and how today can help. When you have the Future You and your Future Life in mind, it makes sense you make smart choices about food and health, work, academics, time management and relationships. Instead of looking at today as a mean for instant gratification, look at how today can assist you with your life as you’d like it to be long-term.

3. The present defines your past and your future. That too, is an important reason to use today to your advantage.

What you do today becomes a part of your Past Self. If you spend today being productive, sweet and taking care of yourself, you will think back on doing that later. You use that information to construct a self image based on your past. In this case, that’s going to be a positive one. But if it’s a negative one, the idea that you have about who you are can hold you back. You give your negative past power that it doesn’t deserve.

Simultaneously, what you do now has consequences in the future. Study now, get a better grade on your exam next week. Drink green juice now, have more energy today (and probably tomorrow). Work out today, be healthier tomorrow. It’s a no-brainer, but we forget about this all the time. We give all the power to the future, because that’s that magical time and place when we’ll do it. Promise. Right after this episode.

The present is powerful. Try not to focus so much on what you have done before. Pay no attention to what you still have to do. Use it to your advantage to positively construct your past and positively impact your future.

4. Death is real**. We pretend that death doesn’t exist to make ourselves feel better. But it also devalues our lives and the time we have. I’m pretty sure the whole freezing-people-thing isn’t going to be happening in our time, so guess what? You’re like that one dumb blonde character in every horror movie ever: You’re gonna die. Our time is limited, our time is a finite resource. We should treat it like that. We should make the time we have here count, because it’s our only shot.

5. Tiny daily midlife crises. John Boys writes that the experience of his dad leaving his mother after twenty years of marriage made a huge impression on him. He didn’t understand why his father would suddenly do this. When he asked his dad about it, they came up with the answer that his father had been resisting change for so long that he now just couldn’t do it anymore. Not wanting that to happen to himself, John resolved to have ‘a little midlife crisis’ every day, in order not to have a big one at forty.

This struck me. There is a pose in the Bikram Yoga sequence that really makes your heart race and Bikram’s quote about this posture is “we give you a little heart attack now, so you don’t get a big one later.” I like the parallel. Have small moments like this, so it doesn’t blow up in your face later.

Second, I think one of the worst things that can happen to a person is waking up too late in their lives and be like “Hang on…this isn’t me” or “I don’t want my life to be like this.” You need to take moments all throughout your life to prevent that from happening. So in those tiny little midlife crises moments, you can look at your life and be like: “Is this me? Is this what I want? Do I like where this is going?” It will help you stay in touch with your life and the direction that you’re going in.

6. The world evolved a lot faster than our bodies did. Everything has developed at a super high rate: Technology, industry, cultures, medicine, all of that. Our bodies did not evolve that fast. Human Evolution takes a lot more time than the Industrial Revolution. The authors describe our bodies as “antique biological machines”, that were designed for success in the past. You know, the past? when things weren’t processed or sprayed with pesticides, and when we were outside a lot, running around and chasing after things?

I love our current world and all its advantages. I mean, we have Netflix. But our bodies have not caught up with what we have to deal with on a daily basis, like fast food and sedentary jobs. So give your body what it still needs for optimal functioning. Eat a lot of natural stuff, and exercise that “antique, biological machine” to make sure things keep running smoothly.

7. Holy cow, media intake. Research shows that we spend slightly under 8 (!) hours on electronic media in a 12-hour work day. Only 52 minutes (7% of our day) we spend reading books. The rest of the time we are multitasking, WHILE ON ELECTRONIC MEDIA. I don’t know about you guys, but this freaks me out. I mean, I know everyone spends a lot of time behind their computers for work as well, but even so: This is a high average.

Considering I used to read like 8 books a week when I was a kid, I gotta at least crack up the book reading to a double-digit percentage during my adulthood.

8. Everything cries out for our attention – and therefore our time. Emails flying into our inbox, movies to see, shows to watch,  text messages, cool virals to check out (and the annoying commercials we now have to deal with on YouTube). We should govern what to give our attention to, because there is always going to be something that’s colorful and sparkly that can distractus. And the more we give into all of these impulses, the more what really matters is going to suffer.

It’s good to turn everything off every once in a while, for a couple of hours or so (a day if you can handle it) and let your overstimulated brain calm down a bit. Get back to what matters.

9. You should totally do the surveys the authors have on their website. It gives you a score on your time perspective and how you compare to what the authors think is the ideal time perspective. My score’s most interesting feature is that I am (apparently) pret-ty negative about my pas, in the sense that I can still beat myself up over past failures and mistakes. Considering I keep adding embarassing moments to the list every day of my life, I guess I should really do something about that. Hm. anyway, go check out the time tests.

10. You can’t change what has happened to you, but you can change how you think and feel about it now, for the better. You don’t have to magically transform your mental landscape over night, but if painful experiences are holding you back it would be good for you to process them, with therapy if need be. It’s not fun, but it can be worth it.

By now, after two four-and-half chapters of this book, I gotta say… this is in my top 5 of 2013 New Self Help Book Reads. I can’t wait to read more and write a review. If you don’t want to wait for that, and you dig the lessons from this book I wrote about, you can find it for 10,49 Euros right here. Review up soon. Have a beautiful Sunday, babies.

*Friend, very good teacher and fellow Indian food lover.

**I kind of want to start a metal band with that name.

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  1. I love this post. Took the test, turned out I have a lot of room for improvement on my time management and my attitude towards time. Well, that’s just another challenge! 🙂

  2. Supergoede post! Vooral “We give our time away more easily than we should” en die 219830129830 uren media intake zijn dingen die ik helaas iets te veel herken bij mezelf.

  3. I copied several quotes, just like I did from several other posts of yours. You mention things we actually kind of know, but need to read specifically to realize them. It ups my perspective on life, and helps me to boost my own life 🙂

  4. Ik zag het boek vorige week in een boekenwinkel liggen en was eigenlijk meteen nieuwsgierig, maar heb het (waarom? I don’t know) laten liggen. Na jouw review wil ik het dus wel hebben, klinkt erg interessant dit!

    P.s. Can I be in your band?

  5. This post is really well written. Thank you. Although point 2 hasn’t been working out for me. Veronica A. Shoffstall wrote something really useful about that:

    After a while you learn
    to build all your roads on today
    because tomorrow’s ground is
    too uncertain for plans
    and futures have a way of falling down
    in mid-flight.