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Live Life Fully: How does being late affect your life?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's time to come clean. I've been punctually challenged most of my life, and I'm finally ready to do something about it. Not that I haven't tried before.

This all started when I was a teenager. Years of experience analyzing this habit -- and a master's degree in psychological counseling within reach -- I've come to the conclusion I developed the habit of being late as a passive-aggressive way to control situations earlier in my life.

Here's my theory. I believe my pattern of being late stems from a family environment in which I was the peacemaker, in contrast to my rebellious older sister. I avoided conflict at all costs -- and stuffed down feelings of anger and resentment when they came along.

Eventually, this internalized angst needed an outlet. Since I was not one to rock the boat, I subconsciously developed this approach to controlling situations. Yuck -- definitely not my best look. Then again, being late is much more socially acceptable than other methods of acting out. While it's annoying, it doesn't result in the damage done by other habits and addictions, right?

Make no mistake, it does result in damage -- internally and externally. The real kicker is that this behavior totally goes against my philosophies in life. For one thing, it's disrespectful to other people. And, depending upon the circumstance, it can come across as arrogant or rude. Yikes!

Chronic lateness afflicts nearly 20 percent of the American population, according to Diana DeLonzor, author of "Never Be Late Again." So, chances are you're suffering from this yourself or you're around someone who is.

DeLonzor describes several types of habitually late people: Rationalizer, Producer, Deadliner, Indulger, Rebel, Absentminded Professor and Evader. My roles of choice are the Producer and Rationalizer.

Rationalizers explain their lateness by attributing it to factors beyond their control or minimizing the selfishness of the act. Yet, in failing to take responsibility for their actions, they hamper efforts to improve. To combat this, I'm beginning to think of lateness as a promise broken, or as a loan unpaid. In my Producer role, I'm examining my old patterns of squeezing in too many activities and the temptation to say, "If I just hurry, I can ... ."

There always seems to be a noble reason for the tardiness -- or so I tell myself. As a high achiever, I'm always trying to be accomplish as much as I can. I've learned the hard way, though, that airplanes don't wait. So, I've modified my behavior to get to airports on time, although I often cut it very close, much to the chagrin of my husband and traveling companions. Then I beat myself up with internal chatter that berates me for creating so much stress and tension.

I often say we teach people how to treat us, and I guess I've trained others in my life to accommodate this annoying habit. But at what cost? Of course, we all joke about it at times. Some friends tell me an earlier time to be somewhere, factoring in the five- or 10-minute delay they've come to expect.

I just don't want to live like this anymore. I've tried numerous methods of time management, and then I backslide. I convince myself it only takes a few minutes to answer those emails or take that phone call. Before you know it, I've pushed myself so close to the deadline I have to drive really fast to get where I'm going (another negative consequence).

Whatever payoff I got in those early years certainly doesn't need to haunt me today. I now deal with conflict in healthy ways, and I don't need to control situations. Sounds so logical, doesn't it? Just why do I think my resolve will be different this time? A firm commitment that changing this behavior has to be a top priority. No matter what. I've taken an inventory of contributing factors:

  • Not allowing enough time to get from Point A to Point B.
  • Not allowing for any contingencies.
  • Being overcommitted.
  • Regularly "buying time" -- arriving late and rationalizing it's OK because I called from my cellphone to explain I was on my way.
  • "Getting by" because I'm usually able to smooth things over once I arrive.
  • Rationalizing it was more important to do that "one more thing."
  • Getting an adrenaline rush.
  • Thinking that being early is a waste of time.
  • Abandoning "all or nothing" thinking if I relapse -- "I'm always late."
  • Back to the payoff. If we get something out of being late --stimulation, attention or more time for ourselves -- our behavior is reinforced, and we'll continue to be late. If we get nothing out of being early, we'll associate earliness with a lack of rewards. Naturally, we set ourselves up for failure.

    Rewards are positive motivators, so I'm instilling systems to associate positive feelings that will help me "welcome the wait." (Thanks to John Nelson and Barbie Dallman for this powerful insight!)

    For me, this is about much more than being on time. It goes to the very core of self-trust. It's about setting boundaries on my time and energy that result in internal validation. The one person I need to trust the most is myself -- and, yet, I've let myself down, time after time. I need to earn that trust.

    Bad habits are really nothing more than the wrong decision made over and over. I'm incorporating a plan for myself, much like one I'd create for a client. I'd also like to hear your stories, if you care to share.

    And my top secret weapon for success? Now I have to be accountable to all of you!

    Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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