How To Use Time-Travel To Make Your Life Better
Ok, I understand that actual time-travel isn’t possible… yet (I’m still hoping to see a DeLorean appear on my street with flaming tyre-tracks behind it one day.) But moving between the present, future and past in your mind is a powerful way to better live intentionally.
The “live your day again” theory of Viktor Frankl can maximise your productivity. The Sam Beckett (Quantum Leap) approach of asking the right questions can help you find your purpose. And truly understanding the temporal nuances of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ can help you discover what will really make you happy.
Join me in the time tunnel and let me explain…
Imagine You’re Living This Day For The Second Time
Viktor Frankl published a short, but very influential book called ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ in 1946. In it, he described his own experiences of German wartime concentration camps. His insights led to a theory that each person needs to find something in their own life to give it meaning.
With a defined meaning to your life, Frankl reasoned, you could use a simple psycholgical trick of imagined time-travel to maximise your productivity:
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended.” — Viktor Frankl ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’
It takes some getting your head around, but once you do it, this idea is transformational.
We’ve all had those days where we just can’t get started on anything. Our focus tunes in and out. We start, then stop, then switch, then distract. Other days we can sense we are about to behave in an unhelpful way and feel powerless to stop it.
Using Frankl’s technique stops you in your tracks. You imagine that this is the second time you are living this day. You messed it up last time, but this time, you can do better.
Not only do you make more positive choices, but there is an odd pleasure in the you “from the future” helping the you in the present. It’s literally self-help, with the added bonus of time-travel.
“Oh Boy!” Discover Your Purpose, Sam Beckett Style
Quantum Leap was a classic 80’s sci-fi TV series. Dr Sam Beckett would “jump” into the life of another person, in the past or future, and live as them. During the course of the episode he had to work out where he was, who he was, when it was, and, crucially, discover the “purpose” of his leap.
There was a reason he had jumped into that person. Usually it was to help — to right a wrong, or fix a broken situation. The genius of the concept was that, as the viewer, you were trying to work out what was going on just as much as Dr Beckett was. Sam had a helper, Al, who had — I’m serious — an actual smartphone… 20 years before they’d even been invented!*
*OK, it wasn’t technically a smartphone, but it was a handheld electronic device which (after a quick whack) would give Al pretty much any bit of information he needed to help Sam.
Inevitably Sam would “leap” into a dramatic moment of danger, embarrassment or emotion. At that moment he would, in familiar careworn style, utter his catchphrase… “Oh Boy!”
Now you’re an expert on Quantum Leap (sorry for the detail, I just loved that series), here’s where the relevance is to making your life better. It’s all about purpose.
Every minute of every episode, Dr Sam Beckett was trying to work out where the need was and how he could help. What was the wrong that needed righting?
He asked subtle questions constantly, mainly of the people surrounding him in his “new” life. He also relied on his trusted helper Al (and his proto-smartphone which accessed a super-computer called Ziggy.)
Sam never gave up because he knew he wouldn't leap again until he had served his purpose, and he always hoped that the next leap would be his leap home.
Oh, there are so many useful parallels here (*rubs hands with glee*)…
Let’s time travel in our minds again. If you leapt into your own life, what would be the wrong that would need righting? Are you putting all your energy into finding it? Are you asking enough of the right questions to find out?
How could you — using all your skills and attributes — help you if you leapt into yourself, but were seeing your life for the first time?
This Quantum Leap time-travel mind trick can instantly give you the objectivity you’ve been missing. And you’re not alone. Who is your Al? What is their superpower skill that is their version of Ziggy?
And what does “home” look like to you? When you’ve righted all the wrongs, and made all the leaps, where will you end up?
Oh, and Ziggy’s the internet. Obviously.
Don’t Worry, Christopher Nolan Has Worked Out The Secret To Happiness
‘Interstellar’ is a very hard film to understand completely. The combination of Christopher Nolan’s storytelling style and temporal ambiguity, can — as we recently discovered with ‘Tenet’ — leave us all mighty confused.
It’s set in 2067, crops are failing due to dust storms, and it’s accepted that humanity needs to find a new home for when Earth becomes uninhabitable. NASA has sent a few brave scientist volunteers on a one-way trip to other planets to assess if they can be potential new homes.
Now, with time of the essence even more than they thought, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) volunteers to fly a mission to visit the target planets and find out the answer — can the human race live on one of them?
Now, there’s no way I can fully explain what happens in the last act of the film (when the time-travel stuff kicks in), but put it this way — a black hole makes all kinds of weird time-shifts possible and we end up in a situation where Cooper is ageing at a different rate to his daugther.
Cooper is also able, via a time-matrix of sorts, to access his daughter’s past in order to leave messages.
How does this help make our lives better in the here and now? Well, our linear time means we can’t access our loved ones from the future or the past, but it’s very powerful to imagine that we could.
Most of us, if given the chance to time-travel, would choose to use it to spend more time with people we can’t be with any more. This gives us a big clue to what is going to make us happy in this life.
It’s two things — people and love.
Cooper is able to leave his daughter, Murph, a vital message only she would understand, using an item that he knows she will have with her because of its sentimental value. The sentimental value comes from the love between father and daughter that has built up over the years.
So, love saves the day. But it works through people, and time.
Are you making people and love your priorities? How are you spending your time? If the person you most miss could leave you a message from the future, to help guide your life right now, what do you think they would say?
If you ended up younger than your kids and had a conversation when they are older than you now, what insights do you think you would gain?
Interstellar messes with your mind, but in an incredibly useful way.
Time travel isn’t possible in the real world, but it is in our imagination. This makes it fertile ground for great books, TV and films. But it also gives us a convenient superpower in working out how to live our lives better. Use these three temporal mind-tricks to help you find fulfilment:
Frankl’s Second Time Around — imagine you are living this day for the second time. What would you not do, that you’re about to do?
Quantum Leap into yourself— create more objectivity , plus ask the right questions and get help from people and tools, to work out your purpose.
Find happiness in Nolan’s time matrix — imagine what advice those you miss would give you from the future, plus focus on people, love and time.
These are concepts that require some mind-bending, and they’re off the beaten track in terms of self-improvement theories. But, if you’ve given the usual stuff a go and not progressed, and there is a unique alternative to try, then… isn’t it about time?