The surprising reason why some people are chronically late

by 1389 on June 21, 2015

in 1389 (blog admin), the human condition

Psychology Today has the story:

Man suspended from clock hand

For a good percentage of Americans, three little words habitually accompany their entrance into a business meeting, gym class,  dinner with friends, or a date:

“Sorry, I’m late.”

Does this sound like you? Much important work has looked at why some of us are chronically late. The truth is that there are many reasons why people just can’t get somewhere on time. But there seems to be one common thread running through the behavior of chronically late individuals that may be the most universal reason for their perpetual tardiness—and yet it is consistently overlooked:

People are late because they don’t want to be early.

For the punctually challenged, this very basic motivation drives behavior whether consciously or unconsciously.

Most of us know people who are always on time because they hate being late. I fall into this category; in fact, I’m paranoid of being tardy. I get to places embarrassingly early, which sometimes requires me to park my car around the corner and wait surreptitiously just so others don’t notice the real time I arrived. (Sometimes I think that if I was a ninja, I’d still get to places dreadfully early, yet would be comforted by the fact that since I was a ninja no one could tell if I was there.)

Because people like me hate to be tardy, we are always on time. But just as we hate to be late, another cohort hates to be early. These anti-early birds really want to be punctual—they just prefer to be right on time.

Wanting to avoid being early, then, is a strong motivation for why many people are chronically late.

When you ask someone why they are perpetually late, they will often inform you that the typical or assumed reasons do not necessarily explain their habit. Even when they try to be organized, consider the time of others, or set an alarm, they still tend to be late. And they are usually behind by the same amount of time—5, 10, or 15 minutes—late enough that it isn’t detrimental to their event, but still annoying to those around them. Though desperately wanting to break the habit, the conflicting motivation to not be late or early poses a real problem.

It is hard to reconcile these two competing ideals.

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