I am chronically late. Rarely do I get somewhere on time. It usually doesn’t matter where I’m going or who I’m meeting, I’m always running late. Of course, when I’m scheduled to see a movie or a show, I make darn sure to leave extra time. But for everything else, I don’t seem to care that much. Until now.
I’m not one of those people who have no concept of time. If I were, then at least I’d have a valid excuse for my tardiness. The truth is I’m actually a good judge of time. I can usually approximate how long it’s going to take me to do something. It’s just that I choose to piddle away my minutes until time has taken the lead. Then my fight and flight response kicks in, and I’m running out the door.
The ironic thing is I hate to rush. It throws my equilibrium off, and I inevitably wind up forgetting something. Over these past few months I’ve really started to notice how my lateness affects me as well as others. When I realize that I’m late I immediately get anxious, irritable, and stressed. Most of the time I take it out on my family. I snap at my husband when he asks, “What takes you so long to get ready?” Or I yell at my three and a half-year-old son for not moving fast enough in the morning. By the time I take him to school, we’re ten minutes late and I’m interrupting the class Pledge of Allegiance. Running late starts my day off on the wrong foot, puts me in a bad mood, and gives me reason to berate myself. Every day I tell myself that I’m going to be on time, but I still find myself trying to beat the clock.
I often wonder why lateness is such a problem for me. Am I deliberately trying to arrive late so that I don’t have to wait around for someone else? Could it be plain ol’ procrastination? Is it some passive/aggressive tendency at work or am I just trying to sabotage myself? I can usually rationalize why I’m late: I needed to finish what I was doing. I’ve tried various ways to fool myself into leaving on time. This includes setting the clocks ten minutes fast or mentally tricking myself into leaving fifteen minutes before I really need to. But my estimated time of departure never seems to make much of a difference.
I recently read an article by Dr. Phil that said one way to cure chronic lateness is to “add negative consequences to your behavior.” The penalty, he said, needs to be something that is unsettling to you. For instance, on the days that you’re late you could decide not to shower in the morning. I haven’t tried that consequence, but I did notice something else. I recently took a graduate course at night and wasn’t late once. (I got there at 7:00 p.m. sharp!) I think the reason was because I didn’t want the teacher to comment on my lateness. “Excuse me, Ms. Hong, the class started ten minutes ago.” That would be rather embarrassing. Another reason was because I didn’t want it to affect my grade. “Ms. Hong, the next time you’re late I will have to take points off your paper.” Although I didn’t set out to give myself a consequence, I felt that showing up late for class would have had a negative outcome.
Sometimes I think that my perpetual lateness is because I’m trying to control something. No matter what it is, I feel that I have to continue what I’m doing until I’m up against the clock. However, I know that when I make a conscious effort to leave enough time to get somewhere, I feel so much better. I’m calm and happy with myself. I’m not making myself crazy. I realized that all it really takes is some pre-planning and a conscious effort to want to change my tardiness. Uh, oh—gotta go!