Slow down to make the right choices

When you think about optimising time in your life, ask yourself one question ‘What makes my life worth living?’

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As a psychologist, a researcher, a coach, a mother and a wife I am always challenged by the word TIME.

Most of us rush to get to work, rush at work, and rush to go home! We often feel that we do not have enough time to savour our families and friends, a good movie or a nice book. We repeatedly complain that we can’t make the time to start that dancing class or do that photography course that we were putting off for such a long time that cameras had turned from analogical to digital….

So, the time and time management have become pretty big issues in our lives! Probably, bigger than ever before in the history of mankind, despite living in the era in which life expectancy increased 300%, as Zimbardo and Boyd point out in their book The Time Paradox (2008).

Another strange fact relates to the quality of our lives. Again as never before, our living standards improved in a way that people can spend more time on entertainment, travel, hobbies, and having fun (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). But aren’t these great achievements nothing more but a great trap? Are we not implicitly governed by the idea that living more is a synonym for doing more? Usually, when people talk about time management they are thinking of how they can manage to fit other activities into their already busy lives and schedules.

Aren’t we just like the firemen, always rushing to fight the fires of dozens (if not hundreds) of daily e-mails in our inbox, of the final reports and budgets that we have to deliver on time and of the complex and demanding households that we have to take care of. In this sense people often see time management as the process of finding the time between putting these fires out to actually work on the activities listed on their to do list (shouldn’t it be named wishlist to reflect the reality?).

Is this really the way to go? When we think about optimising time in our lives we should ask ourselves ‘What makes my life worth living?’!

Is it about doing less? Maybe! Yet, I think that for most of us the right answer is about doing differently! By slowing down we can assure that we make the time for what really matters in our lives!

How CAN we slow down? Cichés like ‘carpe diem’ or ‘live in the here and now’ easily come to mind…. Unfortunately, easier said than done, as always. Slowing down should be the trend for the next fashion season, as well as for the next season of anything! Yet, it is not simply about living in the present moment. It is about focusing on having a more balanced approach to time and life, in which we value our past experiences through the way we live our present, enjoy the here and the now, and use the present to visualise and act out the future we wish to attract (Boniwell & Zimbardo, 2004; Boniwell, Osin, Linley & Ivanchenko, 2010; Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008).

Actually, having a balanced time perspective has many benefits. People are happier, they have better relationships with family and friends, enjoy their communities a lot more, have less stress and a better health, are more successful in work and career, and have a more positive perception of time (Boniwell et al., 2010; Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). Still, what is this balanced time perspective? I believe that it is what positive psychology would define as flourishing: a life that truly balances both hedonic and eudaimonic approaches to happiness.

Hedonic happiness is simply about positive experiences and pleasure. To be happy we need to have some leisure, fulfilling rest or fun time, cultivate positive relations, and have a sense of achievement in our careers.

Within a eudaimonic perspective we should focus on personal development and transcendence. Thus, it is about learning and developing our potentials and skills, finding flow and creating meaning in our daily lives, as well as being committed to something larger than ourselves (Boniwell, 2011).

And how can we actually put it into practice day after day? Here are some tips to slow down and exercise a more balanced hedonic-eudaimonic approach to time in your life (Boniwell & Zimbardo, 2004; Zimbardo and Boyd, 2008):

·spend time with your family and savour it - play with your kids, go out with your partner, and listen to grandma’s old stories;

·spend time on you and value it: play, party, exercise, and take the time to enjoy yourself without feeling guilty;

·at work do not focus only on the end result and try to find flow in being productive and creative;

·avoid taking work home;

·take some time to do absolutely NOTHING, enjoy the boredom and indulge in the “dolce far niente”, again without blaming yourself;

·laugh (!);

·indulge your desires and passions;

·savour the small things in life;

·and finally, don’t forget to meditate.

Yet, to accomplish all of the above, aren’t we back to the idea that we have to make the time to do more? Is this how slowing down really looks like?

This is not about doing more. This is about making the right choices. Every time you have to choose, get back to the question “What makes my life worth living?”. As Peterson points out in his book Pursuing the Good Life (2013) we should focus not just on doing the activities, but instead on choosing the ones that bring more enthusiasm and joy to our lives, that are more engaging and meaningful. So why not just slow down and focus on the «good work, good love, good play and good service»(p. 13)?

By the way, if you fancy learning more about your own time perspective, as well as your overall time intelligence profile, go to and enter the voucher code Yellow2014 to complete the survery for FREE (usually £20).


Boniwel, I. (2011). Positive Psychology in a Nutshell – The science of happiness (3rd. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Boniwell, I., Osin, E., Linley, P. A., Ivanchenko, G. V. (2010). A question of balance: Time perspective and well-being in British and Russian samples. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 55(1), 24-40.

Boniwell, I. & Zimbrado, P. (2004). Balancing Time Perspective in Pursuit of Optimal Functioning. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 165-178). New Jersey: Wiley.

Peterson, C. (2013). Pursuing the Good Life – 100 reflections on positive psychology. New York: Oxford.

Zimbardo, P. & Boyd, J. (2008). The Time Paradox – The new psychology of time that will change your life. New York: Free Press.

Dr Ilona Boniwell

Strategic Programme Leader, MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and CEO, Positran, Positran and Anglia Ruskin University

Who am I? I suppose, the very first answer would be a “positive psychologist”, since all my career and professional achievements have something to do with this wonderful area of scholarship. I founded and headed the first Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) in Europe, created the European Network of Positive Psychology, organised the first European Congress of Positive Psychology (June 2002, Winchester), and was the first vice-chair of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Nowadays, I run the iMAPP, international MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, teach positive leadership at l’Ecole Centrale Paris (a top engineering school in France) and run Positran, a busy consultancy dedicated to achieving transformation through positive psychology. When it comes to my areas of expertise, I have quite a few passions: psychology of time, resilience, eudaimonic well-being and applications of positive psychology to oneself, leadership, coaching, parenting and education. I am the author or editor of six books (including Positive Psychology in a Nutshell and the Oxford Handbook of Happiness) and multiple academic and popular articles. My media work included BBC, Guardian, Times, Psychologies, Top Sante and Cosmopolitan. I am often invited to give keynote addresses to psychologists, coaches, and other professional audiences, including delivering a TEDx talk last year. Every year, I teach hundreds of leaders and mature students in the UK, France, Portugal, Singapore, Japan and many other countries across the world on how to use positive psychology in very real, tangible, nuts-and-bolts ways. Who am I personally? First of all, I am a wife and a mother or step-mother to five children (2, 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old). In fact, I progressed from having two to five children in the space of one year, so I had to really learn to walk the talk when it comes to positive parenting. Since last November, I've had the pleasure and the privilege to be a monthly Psychologies columnist, writing about the triumphs and challenges of running a large step-family; being friends with the ex-wife and negotiating educational expectations… I speak four languages, and can no longer clearly say where I am from (mixing Russian, Latvian, British and French origins and experiences). I have two cats and one dog, and I love ideas, making sense, creating something new from existing elements, and making tiny baby steps to changing the world towards something better.