The Perfect Time Balance, According to Philip Zimbardo
Philip Zimbardo, the researcher behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, wrote a book about time during the Great Recession. It’s an incredibly psychedelic book with lots of practical information… So practical, in fact, it’s essentially radical.
His theory is simple: Our cognition is centered around our internal concept of time.
As we age into adulthood, we are pretty set in our ways in regards to how we perceive time unfolding. Do we generally look back on our past with nostalgic warmth? Do we look back at our past with bitter anger? Do we look toward the future with optimism… Or look into the future at all? Etc etc etc.
The second fold of his theory is the radical part: Our experiences shape our perception of time… But if we become conscious of our perception of time, we can mold our perception of time willfully… And this, in turn, will change the direction of our lives & our experiences.
Said another way: Life does not dictate how we perceive reality and our time on this planet. We dictate (to ourselves) how we perceive reality. Due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, it’s actually possible to alter the grooves in our brain in a different direction.
So a bitter pessimist, who claims they see the world that way because “that’s the way the world really is” is capable of becoming a future-oriented optimist… And suddenly, by doing that willfully, will notice the world is suddenly a different way. Their life experiences will change. Their brain will filter out things that don’t fit the future-oriented optimistic worldview.
Why is this important? Because according to Mr. Zimbardo, an unbalanced time perspective is unhealthy. It leads to poor mental & physical life choices, which ultimately lead us to our own oblivion. It’s common sense. For example, If you’re too high in present fatalism, you’re more likely to OD on toxic drugs.
If you’re too high on past-negative perceptions (looking at your past, or The Past in general, with negative emotions) then you can very quickly become unmotivated to do anything. I mean, why bother? It’s all sucked anyway. This is where a past-negative time perspective will lead you.
Using a variety of research methods across decades, Mr. Zimbardo has zoomed in on what he considers to be a healthy time perspective balance, which is capable of driving a human brain toward happiness.
• High in past-positive time perspective
• Moderately high in future time perspective
• Moderate in present-hedonistic time perspective
• Low in past-negative time perspective
• Low in present-fatalistic time perspective
Understanding that it’s not easy for a person to simply change their brain & thought patterns over night, he gets into further detail in his book on how to target specific time perspectives inside of you, and shift them in a direction that benefits you (as opposed to self sabotage).
I know this kind of work is massively difficult from personal experience. I read this book almost a year ago, and have tried to apply these things into my own life, and yet I feel like I’ve only made about 1-4% improvement since that time LOL. It’s not easy. But the science is the science. It works!
A little bit here, a little bit there, next thing you know… You’re doin’ alright! 🤷🤷🤷
In the last few months, I’ve really been struggling with my own happiness & sense of purpose. It’s easy to slip into past-negative / present-fatalistic thought patterns… especially when bad shit happens to you, and a lot. But like The Beatles song Rain says, “When it rains & shines / It’s just a state of mind.”