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The Time ParadoxReview - The Time Paradox
The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life
by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd
Free Press, 2008
Review by Marion Ledwig, Ph.D.
May 19th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 21)

The authors of this milestone-volume on what kind of effect our attitude towards time has on our whole psychological well-being and life with its twelve excellent chapters are the professor emeritus at Stanford University and past president of the American Psychological Association Dr. Philip Zimbardo and his former graduate student at Stanford University and currently the research manager at Google Dr. John Boyd.

In my personal opinion this is the best work in psychology I have ever read. It is written for the general reader, although it also refers to lots of empirical research in the area. This book can change your whole life considerably and to the better. Although it sounds paradoxical, but the relationship each person has to his or her position in time can make a difference with regard to whether you live a happy and satisfactory life or not. The authors therefore set the heretofore underappreciated importance of time on the research agenda and hopefully also on the agenda of psychologists and psychiatrists to help the needy person. With regard to shortcomings of the volume, in my opinion there are none. I therefore wholeheartedly can recommend this book for any person.

While the first six chapters mainly explain how time works, the second part of the book tells the reader how he can make time work for him- or herself. In the first chapter the authors elucidate why time matters. Time makes a difference with regard to everyone’s life because quite obviously everyone’s life is finite and time is the medium in which we live. The authors however also point out that the proverb "time is money" actually is not quite correct, because you can’t buy yourself more time, so that time is worth more than money. Time cannot be replenished in contrast to other goods, such as gold, diamonds, etc., so you have to be careful how to spend your time. What is gone is gone. The authors ask mindfully "Why do we often spend our money more wisely than our time?" (p. 9 this volume) and suggest some interesting answers. They also point out that how you spend your time today will definitely determine both your past and your future.

In chapter two a historical account on time perspectives is given that humans changed from event time to clock time, where event time is "the time when events occur in the environment – for example, when the sun is high in the sky, when a species of birds sings, or when the tide comes in." (p. 33 this volume) The authors point out that although we rarely consider our relationship to time that "Our preoccupation with time is so complete that the word ‘time’ has become the most popular noun in the English language." even trumping sex (p. 43 this volume).

For the current Western world the authors have identified six different time perspectives: (1) past-negative, (2) past-positive, (3) present-fatalistic, (4) present-hedonistic, (5) future, and (6) transcendental-future. In this chapter the reader will also find the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) where you can determine how your own relationship to time actually looks like. It also gives prototypical character studies of each perspective, so that you can understand better what is meant by each perspective.

Chapter three details the different past time perspectives. The author in particular point out that not your actual past matters, but your attitudes towards the past matter and that a positive attitude to the past is vital. Moreover, they emphasize since you usually reconstruct your memory, you can also reconstruct your memory in a positive way and therefore reclaim the past in such a way that it is beneficial to you.

In chapter four the authors emphasize that persons who have high markers in present hedonism or present fatalism are more aggressive, more depressed, less conscientious, less emotionally stable, have less concern for future consequences, have less ego control, less impulse control, are more novelty-seeking, more sensation-seeking, lie more, steal more, etc.

Chapter five deals with the future time perspective and emphasizes that persons who have high markers in the future time perspective are less aggressive, less depressed, have more energy, use drugs and alcohol less, are more conscientious, have more concern for future consequences, have more ego control and self-esteem, are less sensation-seeking, show less anxiety, have a higher grade point average, study more, are more creative, lie less, etc.

In chapter six the authors discuss the transcendental future, whether there is a time after death and discuss how suicide terrorism is related to time perspectives. In particular they point out that the transcendental future can be used as a tool for good or evil.

We come now to the chapters where the previous knowledge is applied and relationships to important areas of your daily life are pointed out. In particular in chapter seven the authors portray how time and your personal physical and mental health are connected with each other. Chapter eight highlights the connections between time and money even giving you advice for the stock market and retirement homes. In chapter nine the authors deal with the connection between time perspective and love and happiness. In particular it is pointed out that different time perspectives of the partners might lead to problems in relationships. Chapter ten elaborates on the connections between business, politics, and your time perspective.

The last two chapters motivate the reader to reset his personal psychological clock in such a way that it will maximize its effects. According to the authors the optimal time perspective profile in the Western world is as follows: an individual should be high in past-positive time perspective, moderately high in future time perspective, moderately high in present-hedonistic time perspective, low in past-negative time perspective, and low in present-fatalistic time perspective. Moreover, the authors give a detailed program on how you can reach that profile. So one can only conclude whoever wants to better him- or herself, it is not a waste of your precious life-time to read this outstanding and groundbreaking book.

© 2009 Marion Ledwig

Marion Ledwig is currently visiting assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is the author of "Reid's Philosophy of Psychology" (2005), "Emotions: Their Rationality and Consistency" (2006), "Common Sense: Its History, Method, and Applicability" (2007), "God’s Rational Warriors: The Rationality of Faith Considered" (2008), and "Mixed Feelings: Emotional Phenomena, Rationality and Vagueness" (2009).


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