What’s your time perspective?
In the new book, Zimbardo and co-author/researcher John Boyd use what they call “time perspective”—a person’s attitude toward past, present and future—as a lens on behavior, decision-making, health and (nothing less than) happiness.
The ideal time perspective, according to Zimbardo and Boyd, includes a strong, positive connection to your past (enjoying good memories and reframing unhappy ones); a practical but not obsessive view of the future (planning and action toward your goals, without sacrificing well-being or important relationships); and a healthy enjoyment of the present (without letting unbridled self-indulgence run the show).
The book is an engaging read, even though parts of it sound a bit like Self-Help 101. I took Zimbardo’s survey (it’s in the book and also online) to find out my own time perspective, and on most measures, I’m close to average. Which means I could improve on making peace with the past, delaying gratification, and indulging in more wholehearted goofing off. (The last two are not mutually exclusive—the authors also recommend flexibility and a willingness to shift perspectives as needed.)
As I scanned the suggestions for making these shifts, I kept thinking, These are things I’m already doing. Call a friend from high school (past). Track your progress toward a goal (future). Play with a little kid, tell a joke, toss a Frisbee (present).
Then it dawned on me that many of those suggestions are things I think of myself as doing—even if I don’t do them all that consistently.
An object lesson in time perspective
So there I was yesterday, racing toward the streetcar stop on my way to a class, when a nice silver-haired couple asked me where to catch a particular bus. I didn’t know, and I told them so, then gave them my best guess, which is that the stop they wanted was about a mile down the street. With a friendly smile, off I ran.
As I took my seat on the streetcar, I thought, I’ve got a map of the city transit system. I could have taken a few minutes, unfolded the map and shown them the exact route of the mystery bus. Turns out the stop they wanted wasn’t a mile away but close by. Oops.
My Bad Samaritan moment
Zimbardo and Boyd mention an oft-cited study of Princeton seminary students who were asked to prepare a short talk. As each student headed across campus to give the talk, some were told they were running late; others were told they had a little extra time. On the way, each student passed a man (actually in league with the experimenters), slumped in an alley, coughing and apparently in need of help. Ninety percent of the students who were in a hurry failed to stop and help — and that included the seminarians, ironically, who’d prepared a talk on the Good Samaritan.
The irony of my own situation: The class I was rushing to yesterday was a Feldenkrais class, in which you learn to ease physical pain and stiffness through movement sequences done mindfully and very…very… slowly.
Not to make too much of the incident—the day was sunny, the couple looked fit, there were lots of people around who may well have given them the directions they needed. I’m pretty sure they eventually found their bus.
But still. How many opportunities for connection do I miss when I’m rushing?
Practice giving the gift of time to others, advise Zimbardo and Boyd.
Never mind Frisbee. This is the kind of present-focus I could use more of.