I’m going to talk about myself for a minute.
I’m pushing 40 and it’s hard for me to have down time.
I’m never fully relaxed when I’m supposed to be relaxing. I’m mentally making to do lists, planning, organizing, or trying to figure out the nature of the universe. Perfectly normal right? Ha!
I’m always thinking twenty steps ahead, so I overschedule myself and, not surprisingly, I get overwhelmed, anxious, and tense.
I’ve thought that this was a combination of my personality and my upbringing.
My dad was always telling us that being lazy was the worst thing a person could be next to being a liar or a cheat.
On some level, I agreed with him because I saw the positive results of working hard at school and all of society seemed to reward my strong work ethic, and still do.
In fact, all of society seems to be exponentially moving towards a faster pace of life with trends, ideas, and culture itself changing faster than ever before.
“How the hell is it already September?!” is what I’ve been saying a lot lately.
Back to my anxiety.
I’ve really been trying so hard to figure out how to keep it in check, without sacrificing my goals and plans. But I was always at a loss.
Until I read The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd.
This book really provides a completely new way of looking at our psychology: through time perception.
According to Zimbardo and Boyd, our relationship with time has a huge impact on how we make life decisions, our views of life, and our happiness.
You can take their quiz online here.
I learned that I am mostly future focused with some present hedonism, which helps explain some of what is causing my anxiety.
Interestingly, Zimbardo and Boyd say that moderate alcohol consumption provides a mental break for future focused people because it brings us back to the present.
I knew my Manhattans were helping!
There are many things about the book I liked, but one thing was that they take you through a historical explanation of how human cultures have moved from a present focused time perception to a future focused time perception.
According to Zimbardo and Boyd, our early ancestors were present focused to the point of not having any vocabulary beyond the time span of a day because they were so focused on immediate survival.
But as time goes on and humans become agricultural, then industrial, and so on, immediate survival is less and less of an issue, and we have more time to think and plan for longer periods of time in the future.
The problem is, because all our immediate needs are met in today’s society, we can pretty much look infinitely into the future of our lives, and keep planning pretty much to our death. This can cause worry and anxiety in the present, and creates extreme busyness in the now because there is more and more to do now, in anticipation for the future.
It is our ability to contemplate the future that is both a blessing and a curse. But with the awareness of this, we can consciously make it more of a blessing.
Here are some of the points from the book I thought were especially helpful:
BE MODERATE IN YOUR VIEW OF TIME
Zimbardo and Boyd state that most people have an extreme attitude towards one of the six common time perspectives. It is when we are too focused on one time perspective that we run into trouble. It is healthiest not to take the past, present, or future too seriously. Maybe then we wouldn’t have as much anxiety?
VALUE TIME OVER MONEY
I’ve realized this in a big way recently and it has really flipped my life decisions upside down. I’m really glad my view has been reinforced in this book!
Time is much much more valuable than money. We can’t accumulate time like we can with money. When it’s gone, it’s just gone. If this is the case, how much does a large bank account matter if you are working 80 hr/wk and precious time is dwindling away? Many of us scrutinize our spending and how much our money is going up and down. We should be scrutinizing our use of time even more than we do with money, and make each day count.
WE REGRET THE THINGS WE DON’T DO
Regardless of the outcome, we regret the things we don’t do. So let’s say you take a big risk and start your own business. Even if it completely fails, your regret would have been greater if you never took the risk at all.
WE LEARN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TIME THROUGH SOCIETY
This is a good one to remember because it means that we can unlearn it. At the very least, we can be aware that our perception of time isn’t “just the way it is”, but is something that is different for everyone and can be changed.
WE CAN REWRITE THE PAST IN THE PRESENT, TO CHANGE OUR FUTURE
If we have a negative view of our past, we can change our view of it now, which will affect our decisions in the future. Some of us are stuck on negative past events that have impacted our views of ourselves and the world. When we revisit them in the present, in retrospect, we can always pull something positive out of them. No event is all negative.
OUR VIEW OF DEATH AFFECTS HOW WE USE OUR TIME
This is a big one and is related to this post that Mark wrote last week.
One huge factor that affects our life decisions is whether or not we are willing to admit that we have a limited amount of it.
Whether we believe in an afterlife or not, this existence on earth is limited.
When we subconsciously fear or deny death and shove that reality away, we are more likely to squander our time because we don’t feel a sense of urgency to live as fully as possible while we’re here. In a way, we are acting like we’re going to live forever.
By acknowledging our mortality, we can be a lot more careful about how we use our time.