The Time Paradox: the new psychology of time that will change your life.

Not by chance did I read the latest book by Zimbardo and Boyd, called The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life shortly before Christmas. Doing so, I had two goals in mind. Firstly, I am establishing a custom of giving personal Christmas gifts, i.e. books that I like and specifically chose for someone in particular. Therefore, when Christmas approaches my books-to-read list is filled with titles that I have gathered throughout the year as potential presents. My second goal concerned the topic itself - time. I was hoping to find advice about how to make time work to my advantage. By this, I do not only mean “how to get everything done” before Christmas, as there are enough books on time management. What I mean is the perception of time: How to make moments with family and friends at the Christmas table feel longer and the waiting time in endless supermarket queues feel shorter?

Time is a fashionable topic. Bookshelves bend under self-help books about time management, therapists use mindfulness techniques to help their clients overcome depression, and the cosmetic industry promises time-reversing treatments. Time permeates all areas of life and is literally a matter of life and death. Thinking about time is probably as old as the human perception of time. However, although time plays such a crucial role in philosophy, literature and in our life, we are mostly unaware of its influence. Zimbardo and Boyd call this a paradox of time. They set on to identify more such paradoxes and explain them from a psychological point of view.

Philip Zimbardo, one of the most known social psychologists, became famous for his Stanford Prison Experiment in which he arbitrarily divided students into two groups, one playing prisoners and the other playing the role of prison guards. After about a week, the conflict between prisoners and guards escalated to the point that the experiment had to be terminated. The study raised a lot of controversies about the contextual factors that influence human behavior and may stimulate “good people to do bad things”. The experiment was also harshly criticized for violating ethical standards. Now Zimbardo has turned to a less controversial, yet equally influential subject - time. Together with John Boyd, a psychologist and economists, co-author of the Time Perspective scale and research manager at Google they have written a book combining solid theoretical knowledge with practice-oriented examples.

The first chapter gives an interdisciplinary overview of perspectives on time: from Greek philosophers, throughout literature, linguistics and sociology to pop music. The variety of examples that the authors have gathered is truly impressive and shows how diverse the views on time are. The second chapter introduces a psychological concept created by Zimbardo and Boyd – the time perspective. Time perspective constitutes individuals’ attitudes towards time that are learned through personal experience and passed through the culture. Readers get the opportunity to fill in a questionnaire to determine their own time perspective and a personal profile can be created by scoring differently on the subscales. The following chapters of the book present and explain the different time perspectives in greater detail by comparing their benefits and costs.

The book is accompanied by a website ( that allows filling out the questionnaire electronically and having one’s profile calculated by the programme. It is also possible to compare one’s results with the average responses of other users and with the profiles of Zimbardo and Boyd. The authors share not only their own profiles with readers but also personal experiences that have shaped them. For example, Boyd recalls an encounter with an Indian shaman who offered him consciousness (and time perspective) changing drugs at the Stanford University. The personal anecdotes from the authors’ lives used to illustrate the scientific results make the book an amusing read. Additionally, the authors cite interesting facts illustrating the influence of time on human functioning: an increase in the number of car accidents after the spring time change, for example, or pilots who miss their final destination because they are both asleep.

Zimbardo and Boyd often comment on social issues and try to interpret them from a time perspective point of view. Why do Muslims become suicide bombers? The authors argue that suicidal attacks cannot be explained by economic or religious factors. But if one looks at terrorists’ time perspective profiles, most of the them score low on the present perspective (hedonism), but score high in future transcendental perspective (promised heaven), which means that life after death is much more alluring than their present life. This has interesting implications for fighting terrorism by making the real future more appealing than the transcendental future. However, as a sample of suicidal bombers that can be interviewed is for obvious reasons limited, these are only cautious estimations.

The book also has some self-help book ambitions. The authors offer practical exercises (similar to the principles of cognitive - behavioral therapy) as to how to acquire a different time perspective and its associated benefits. The most preferable combination of time perspectives, according to Zimbardo and Boyd, is enjoying the present, but working hard for the future. However, what I found a bit disturbing is that their advice is sometimes too normative and unrealistic. Of course, everyone knows that it is better to eat healthily, but I wish there were more practical suggestions as to how to concentrate on my future health, when I am confronted with a very tempting chocolate cake in the present!

To sum up, the authors very skillfully explain the basic principles not only of the psychology of time, but also provide readers with general psychology and cultural knowledge about time. I would definitely recommend this book to non-psychologists interested in this topic. However, for psychologists and graduate psychology students most of the cited literature should be already known, which makes some passages rather boring. So in case you have already heard about the “marshmallow” experiment or the studies on false memories by Elisabeth Loftus, there is probably not much more psychological material that you will learn from this book. It is still an enjoyable read though, and a very well written popular science book: competent but comprehensible.

And as for my personal goals? After reading the book, the time still passes slowly when I wait in queues, but I can enjoy it more by being mindful of the moment. As for the Christmas gifts - I learned that by spending more time on choosing the right gift, you don’t really waste time, and you give a very precious gift – your time invested in reading and thinking about the particular person during the process. I wish you all happy reading and a good Christmas time!


Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (2008). The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. New York: Free Press.

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