by Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.
“Fashionably late” is no longer in fashion. In today’s heavily scheduled world, it is the punctual who are respected and admired. Even though most of us know this, some people are always late, no matter how much time they have to get ready. You may be one of them. Do any of the following sound familiar?
- You’re always rushing at the last minute, even though you’ve promised yourself countless times that you wouldn’t let this happen again.
- You’ve tried setting your watch several minutes ahead, but you’re still late.
- You may be punctual for work (barely) but you’re usually at least 20 minutes late for meetings, appointments, class, church, theater or other non-work situations.
- You make excuses, such as: “There was traffic,” or “Something came up,” or “I was going to call you but I didn’t want to be even more late.”
- People become impatient or angry at your tardiness.
- You believe that you are more motivated when in a time crunch, or that you move faster under pressure.
If you can identify with two or more of the above, you have a problem with punctuality. Chronic lateness is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Nor is it a genetic condition, even though some people treat it as such. They say things like:
- “That’s just the way I am. I don’t like it, but it seems that I am incapable of being on time.”
- “My mother was always late; I’m always late, and so are my kids.”
- “I don’t mean to be late. It just turns out that way.”
Chronic lateness is related to procrastination. Latecomers and procrastinators have trouble NOT with time, but with self-discipline. They may also have underlying anxiety about the task they’re faced with.
If you have problems with being punctual, especially for things that are a bit threatening, such as doctor’s appointments, new social situations, or meeting with people you don’t like, then your lateness is anxiety-based. Putting off the inevitable is how your mind tries to cope with anxiety.
But if you are habitually late for routine business and for events that don’t cause you much discomfort, then the problem is mainly with self-discipline and your “inner brat,” the part of you that balks at exerting itself, and at being told what to do.
Here’s an example of how your inner brat sabotages your efforts. Suppose that, in order to be at work by 8:00 a.m., you must leave home by 7:30. So you set the alarm for 6:30 — no, let’s make it 6:15 just to be safe.
The next morning when the alarm rings at 6:15, your inner brat says to you, “Just press the snooze button. You didn’t really intend to get up till 6:30 anyway.” And 9 minutes later when the alarm rings again, your inner brat says, “Just one more time. It’s not 6:30 yet.”
You might press the snooze button two or three more times. By the time you do roll out of bed you feel a little rushed, but you convince yourself that you can still make it out the door by 7:30 . . . 7:40 at the latest.
Oops — what have you just done? You have inadvertently allowed your inner brat to negotiate. The 7:30 departure time is no longer firm. Now it’s moved to 7:40. Plus, you have opened the door to further delay as you get closer to 7:40.
As your morning routine progresses, you find several little things that didn’t seem urgent last night or the day before, but which need to be taken care of right now. Checking your watch (which you’ve set 10 minutes fast) you see that it’s 7:35. “It’s really only 7:25,” you remind yourself. Your inner brat adds that you have at least 15 minutes, since you can still make it to work on time if you leave at 7:40, providing traffic is not too bad.
Next thing you know, it’s 7:55, and you go flying around looking for your shoes, your keys or that recipe you promised to Gladys at work. Now there’s no way you’re going to be there by 8:00. But tomorrow for sure . . .
How did this happen? You can see that the problem is not lack of time — you have enough time to get ready.
The problem is what you do with the time. Your inner brat distracts you, makes excuses about the urgencies of nonessential tasks, or rationalizes that you don’t have to conform to a rigid schedule.
And it’s not just work or other obligations that your inner brat resists. It also balks at preparing for things that you’re looking forward to. Just as with work, getting ready for positive events requires focus and blocking out distractions. Since these involve effort and concentration, your inner brat wants nothing to do with them.
As you can see, if you want to be successful at mastering your chronic lateness, it’s not enough to merely rearrange your schedule. You must also understand how your inner brat sabotages your best efforts to be on time by distorting your priorities. Once you get to know your inner brat, you’ll be on your way to breaking your lateness habit.
About the author: Pauline Wallin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Camp Hill, PA, and author of “Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-defeating Behavior” (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001)
Visit innerbrat.com for more information, and subscribe to her free, monthly Inner Brat Newsletter.