kw: book reviews, nonfiction, psychology, self help, time perspective
Self-help books have a certain format: Faith-building; Establishing the authors' authority; Setting the stage, via historical or global summary; and Offering help. For some books, the last step is mostly urging the reader to buy a product. For the better ones, real help is offered. The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life, by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, is of the latter sort. But be warned, the subtitle ought to read "With this new psychology of time, you can change your life." You can, indeed, but it will take work.
Fairly early in the book (pp 53ff), one is offered the ZTPI (Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory) and TFTPI (Transcendental Future TPI) questionnaires, and urged to complete and score them before continuing. I did so and had my wife do so. I chose a Radar plot to display our results:
What does this show? Each of us has an attitude toward the past, toward the present, and toward the future. Each attitude can be negative or positive, or some mix. Looking at the charts now, I probably should have re-cast them with the indicators in a different order, but they are still not hard to read: Both my wife and I tend to regret a lot of the past, and have relatively fewer happy memories. We both have a strong Future (meaning future positive, I could infer later) orientation, but an even stronger Transcendental-Future orientation. The latter item is logical for Christians. Where we differ (only a little, thankfully) is that she tends to be a little fatalistic about things ("I can't change that anyway") and less inclined to just enjoy life, while I am (moderately) the opposite.
I look at our chart as showing we are pretty well balanced, with a somewhat depressive tendency rooted in our negative outlook on the past, but an equally strong spiritual attitude. Now let us look at the information supplied by the authors about themselves, on a similar chart:
This shows two very compatible guys, who share a strong Future outlook (save for a rainy day; delay gratification), who have lots of happy memories, and who love enjoying life—put these together, and you have "work hard, play hard". They are distinctly not spiritual, and while they do not state it, are probably not religious at all.
It should come as no surprise that the authors promote this kind of profile as near-ideal. They spend quite a bit of space outlining the consequences of being too one-dimensional in any of the six traits.
Having established such a framework, they could present their answer to "What is the Time Paradox?" in extended form. The short answer is, we descended from apes that needed to find food, strove to avoid becoming food, and spent plenty of time either mating or fighting over mates and food. The most natural orientation was Past Negative (quicker reactions to danger), Present Hedonistic stronger than Fatalistic, and little need to plan for the Future. The world we live in today (in the First World at least), requires stronger Future skills than our distant ancestors had. In fact, for many of us, the world requires a time orientation that is the opposite of what we were born with.
The authors show how schools and other institutions are "Made for Futures", and frustrate those with a stronger Present or Past orientation. They show that too-strong a Transcendental orientation makes terrorism a perfectly logical response to oppressive environments that would induce Fatalism in others: Thus, suicide bombers aren't insane, but they are very differently oriented.
When it comes to helping oneself, the authors have plenty to offer. They have exercises throughout the book, such as the "Who am I?" worksheet: the question is repeated twenty times, and you are to reply differently to each one. There are similar worksheets that are more time-based (What was I?, What will I be?, etc.), and a gratitude exercise, for example. The kind of people who will find such changes the hardest to make are the Presents, both Fatalist and Hedonist. To them, the future is a nearly meaningless concept. It doesn't "fit in their heads."
A side note: I have an acquaintance with an addictive personality, the epitome of a Hedonist. It takes a real jackhammer experience to get him to pay attention to future needs, and then only for a short time. One would think that, after having his car stolen out from under him twice, having stared down the barrel of a gun, having been beat up by a drug dealer, he'd never return "there" again. But he is precisely what the Bible calls a "dog that returns to its own vomit." Sadly, I expect him to die young.
Which sparks a sort of proverb: Self Help is only for those with a Self to Help. Some folks don't have enough of a Self. But for most of us, simple skills like the Gratitude exercise (Quick, think of five things you're thankful for. Write 'em down. Repeat tomorrow and every day. Try not to do the same five every day.) can gradually adjust our Time orientation to make us a bit better than we were. Even if I have a different "ideal profile" in mind, it is an ideal the authors' tools can help me approach.