To fix a chronic lateness problem, check your neural pathway

The key to breaking a lateness habit is patient brain retraining.

Rushing to make it

Have you ended friendships over someone’s chronic lateness? When someone’s late all the time, it’s difficult not to draw the conclusion that they value their time more than yours. It feels insulting, and it also ruins any plan as you find yourself wondering if the person will show up on time, and when they don’t you have to decide if it’s gotten too late to proceed, and then you need to strategize how on earth to deal with your clueless friend if/when he or she does arrive.


But lateness is a tough problem to kick, as many of us know. We know that being late, or even almost being late, creates unnecessary pressure, causes us to race into appointments stressed-out and making us forget what we meant to bring. We risk, and sometimes do, miss things altogether. What kind of person puts themselves and the people around them through this?

Psychologist Linda Sapadin has written How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, and she’s found that a person who is often late tends to be one of these people:

  • The Perfectionist—This person arrives late because they can’t leave something unfinished, or because preparations for the appointment go on too long. Sapadin’s advice: Try to stop sweating the details so much.
  • The Crisismaker—This thrill-seeking type of person prefers the exhilaration and energy of being under pressure. Sapadin’s advice: Find a healthier way to stay energized, like working out.
  • The Defier—This person’s sending a message with lateness. Sapadin’s advice: Consider being less reactive to your victim and being more pro-active about what’s bugging you.
  • The Dreamer—This person uses magical thinking to estimate the travel time, and imagines there’s time for stops along the way. Sapadin’s advice: Get more specific about required time and realistic about your expectations.

It’s tough to break any habit, including lateness. According to cognitive scientists, when we perform an action, we create a neural pathway in our brain. This is true of constructive actions and destructive ones. The more we repeat an action—that is, do it again and again—the more well-established that neural pathway becomes until it’s just essentially our default behavior. Author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin points out that while it may seem you’re repeatedly making a bad decision each time you’re late, it’s actually the opposite—what’s happening is that you’re not making a decision at all: You’re on autopilot, so your default neural pathway is the one down which you trippingly go.

It’s the same reason it’s hard to correct our mistakes: It takes consciously deciding to do something different to begin to develop a new neural pathway.

Retraining oneself requires a commitment and patience, since it can take a while to achieve. Organization consultant Rachelle Isip of The Order Expert suggests that breaking down regular daily habits to identify one appointment that's hard to get to on time provides a good place to begin. Other problem appointments can be addressed later.

Here are some ideas:

  • Back up the appointment time by 15 minutes: If an appointment is really at 9 am, treat it as being 8:45 am.
  • Physically rehearse the route to the appointment and time how long it takes.
  • Artificially inflate the travel time to build in a buffer for surprises.
  • Once you know the travel time, don’t add in stops along the way.
  • Use an alarm to make sure you leave on time. Whatever works,

It’s important to repeat the winning formula a few times to solidify the new habit—after all, this is about building new neural pathways.

Eventually, the new methodology will become standard operating procedure, which is to say the new default behavior. And wouldn’t it be nice to arrive somewhere early enough to chill a bit before everyone else is ready?

 

 

Headline image: Georgie Pauwels

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Should you grow a beard? Here's how women perceive bearded men

Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"

Photo Credit: Frank Marino / Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
  • Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
  • Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Keep reading Show less

Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

Keep reading Show less

Ultracold gas exhibits bizarre quantum behavior

New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.
  • Keep reading Show less

    3 cognitive biases perpetuating racism at work — and how to overcome them

    Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."

    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
    Personal Growth

    Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.

    Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast