Three weeks ago I attended a really great talk by Professor Philip Zimbardo at the RSA.

Phil Zimbardo is probably best known for the (in)famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment in which the planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be
ended after only six days because of what the situation was
doing to the college students who took part. In that short time, the
"guards" became sadistic and the "prisoners" became depressed and showed
signs of extreme stress. More recently Phil Zimbardo has drawn parallels between his experiments and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

But what he was talking about at the RSA was his current research into the psychology of Time Perspective, focussing on the ways in which individuals develop temporal orientations that parcel the flow of personal experience into the mental categories, or time zones, of Past, Present, and Future. One output of the work is his latest book, The Time Paradox. I haven't read the book (yet), so can't comment on it, but the implications of the concepts he outlined in his talk were mind blowing.

In essence the message is that every significant choice or important decision we make is
determined by our individual perspective on time.  It influences our
relationships with friends and loved ones, sabotages our careers or helps us
gain promotions, and even makes us happy, or not. Yet we are virtually
unaware of its effects.

I was particularly taken by the stunningly simple suggestion he made for the cause of procrastination - "Procrastination is a combination of future orientation and perfectionism." He expanded on this by saying that it it isn't that procrastinators don't start things - rather they start but never think what they've done is good enough, so they throw it away and start again - repeatedly.

He says it all a lot better than me, so watch the video or listen to the audio on the RSA site.

The Time Paradox website is also definitely worth a visit - or in fact several visits, given the amount of content there.

While you're there you might find it interesting to take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory to get some insight into your own time perspective.

A couple of members of the audience dismissed it all as "pop psychology". My opinion is that the the book title edges into that territory, but the underlying research conclusions offer some really useful interpretation of human behaviour. 

What do you think?

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