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The Perception of Time (Week 21 of Wisdom)

Your time is finite, and it does not care about how you choose to spend it, or which attitude you choose to have towards it.

This leads to the paradoxical state you find yourself in. Despite how important your attitude towards time is in shaping your life, you rarely recognize it. Society has conditioned you to view time in a certain way, and all your choices are a by-product of such a point of view.

There are no superior attitudes for how to perceive time. Each has its philosophy, and no philosophy is inherently unreasonable. The hedonistic man who sees nothing but the present moment, is in no way inferior to the prudent man who lives wholly for the future.

But there are more attitudes towards time, other than being hedonistic or prudent.

In the book, The Time Paradox, Zimbardo adds two more perspectives: The past and the transcendental future.

The Past: If you see the past negatively, then you will be less excited about the present and future, you will make poorer choices.

Transcendental Future: A belief in the afterlife arms people with resilience and brings calmness of mind, but overinvestment in the transcendent can steer people towards ignoring the present.

Each time perspective comes with a cost. The only time perspectives that are never useful are past-negative and present-fatalistic. When you remember the past as a horrible time, then you will not be so invested in the present or future.

“Remember that people are more likely to regret actions not taken than actions taken, regardless of outcome.”

The Time Paradox

But If you are very conscientious, you are naturally aversive to hedonism. You will not have much fun because “fun” is not a priority. The way to overcome this problem is to be vigilant about fun the way you are about work, that is, to make sure that parts of your day or week are reserved for personal leisure and enjoyment.

If you are a present hedonist, you must take the future more seriously. You must think more about the consequences of your present decisions and accept that your lifestyle will not be sustainable over time. You must learn to structure your time better, to work more effectively, and to sacrifice leisure more regularly.

Regardless of which time perspective caters to your natural proclivities, challenge yourself to look at time differently, especially if your perspective of the past and present are negative or fatalistic.

Zimbardo argues that all extreme attitudes towards the past, present, and future are to be avoided. Like Aristotle’s Golden Mean, all is good in moderation.

The perspective you have about time changes, depending on which events you are going through, which stage of life you are in, and who you are influenced by. It is difficult to not be negative about the past when the past has been negative. Such an exercise would be contrary to reason.

It is more useful here to investigate why the past has been fatal, and whether anything can be done about it in the future, It is not merely a change of perspective that is required, but often, a change of action.

Your attitude towards the past and present may be more instructive as gauges for quality of your choices, than they are as levers that you can push or pull at your command.  

As for the hedonistic versus the hedonistic outlook. It is again, not something that can be forced. There are times when necessity imposes a sense of industry on man, where he is forced to think about the future, and other times, when the ease of circumstances produces an attitude of laxity that is too attractive to forego.

It is more interesting to be aware of how such changes in perception occur, rather than attempt to change the perception itself. The more you try to control how you want to perceive the past, present, or future – the more difficult it will be do so.

But once you understand how contingent your perspective on time is on external circumstances, and the choices you have made – you will better appreciate your moments of laxity and be more focused in your moments of industry.

In summary, what ought to be changed is not one’s perception of time. That is, it is not so much perception of reality that should be changed, but the perception of perception itself.

Instead of being fatalistic towards perception, you should understand that it changes, that it depends on your gut bacteria, the economy, who your friends are, as well as the individual choices you have made,

Instead of being taken hostage by something as ephemeral as perception, you should put more emphasis on action, and only use perception as a means of improving action.

And as we have learned from the East, there are some case where your perception may teach you that it is not action, but non-action that is missing.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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