The Time Paradox

Dec 20, 2020 16:57 · 764 words · 4 minute read books


I would recommend this book, but I think you might be able to get a similar amount of information by reading their blog posts. This book has a very useful mental model, and it has helped me identify and artculate things that I like and dislike about myself and other people.

My thoughts

Paradox 1

Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.

In the book, they talk about time as the great equalizer. Despite expending much effort, humans have not figured out how to create more time for ourselves. There are a few things like working out and eating well that can earn one a bit more time. But time is something that money cannot buy you more of. Your and my odds of making it past 100 years are basically 0.

Paradox 2

Each specific attitude toward time—or time perspective—is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.

This paradox specifically gave me a lot of tools for articulating things that I like and dislike about myself and others. For example, I scored very high on the future oriented scale (see below). This indicates that I am likely to be missing out on the little things in life, and I run the risk of having let life pass me by.

People who are too high on the past-negative perspective will spend too much time thinking about how bad things were, and will probably not be much fun to be around. This can lead to depression and other mental health issues.

Being too high on the present-hedonistic perspective means that you might be very fun to be around, but that you may sabotage your self-interest by not thinking ahead.

Being too high on past-positive can lead to a focus on a wonderful/perfect past that didn’t actually exist. This might lead to slogans like “Make America Great Again”. The Time Paradox offers a good-faith analysis of the kind of personal perspective that would find this slogan appealing.

Being too high on the present fatalistic perspective can be very unhealthy. If you do not believe that anything matters, and that everything you do is pointless, you are more likely to develop depression and other mental health problems.

Paradox 3

Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.

This paradox is pretty bold, but it rings true to me. I would love to see data on time perspectives by country. I have recently spent some time with Dutch people, and anecdotally, Dutch culture seems to have a different time perspective than urban-American culture.

They use a few examples in the book, but because the statement is so far-reaching, I didn’t find the limited examples in the book compelling enough to accept the paradox as fully as I do the other two.

Taking the quiz

If you want to learn about what they think your time perspective is, you can take the quiz on their site.

I wasn’t sure if I should include my results in case they indicate something that I’d prefer not to share, but I don’t really have a better place to put them, so here are my scores:

Past-negative: 3.60
Past-positive: 3.78
Present-fatalistic: 2.22
Present-hedonistic: 4.07
Future: 4.23

I believe the survey scores 1-5 based on Very Untrue - Very True, and I often find myself struggling to pick between “Very X” and “X”, so I’m more focused on the closeness/rank ordering of the scores rather than the absolute values. However, according to their ideal time perspective, here’s how I stack up:

Past-negative - 75th percentile (I’m super negative - way more negative than I ought to be) Past-positive - 95th percentile (I’m also super positive - too positive according to their “Ideal Time Perspective”) Present-fatalistic - 40th percentile (not very fatalistic - but also not low enough to hit “Ideal”) Present hedonistic - 55th percentile (according to their chart, I ought to be more hedonistic) Future - 99th percentile (I’m like off the chart here)

I think it would be interesting to see the distribution of scores. My scores seem to skew higher, and I wonder if there are distinct segments that appear, and maybe this could be used to normalize the scores - i.e. some people pick “Very X” more often than “X”, and some people are the opposite - this point may be moot for a very careful randomization or balance of the questions.