To understand this page you will need to be familiar with types that I have discussed in previous pages on this site. So, if you’ve come to this page directly, I suggest that you:
first read the pages on how punctual and late people are motivated, starting with Motivations for Punctuality, before you return to this page; or
go to Summary of Causes, where you will find short descriptions of the types along with links to detailed descriptions and cause-specific solutions.
Increasing Your Motivation for Punctuality
Strengthening your motivation for punctuality is a good idea even if you aren’t late as a result of weak motivation. You will be more likely to devote time to effective planning and will be more resistant to going off-plan.
For a start, re-read the page on what motivates punctual people. Are there any motives which resonate with you? The goal is to find the thinking that will trigger the most motivating emotions.
Generally speaking, self-evaluative motivations based on your own values will motivate you more consistently than social and professional consequence-based motivations or destination-related motivations. Positive emotions associated with being on time are particularly helpful because they boost your self-esteem.
If you are a consequence avoider or believe that you are consequence immune chances are that you are focusing only on immediate consequences for lateness; you might benefit from taking time to consider possible medium- to long-term consequences.
Creatives and absent-minded professors can benefit from getting in the habit of considering social and professional consequences for lateness—their habitual focus on their inner world distracts them from considering consequences in the world around them.
You might also come up with motivations that punctual people don’t have. For example, a chronically late client of mine became far more motivated to be on time when he realized that he hated the stress of the last minute preparation rush and the self-blame and frustration he felt while running late during his commute.
Once you have identified thinking that results in punctuality-promoting feelings, you can reinforce these motivations by writing the thoughts down—there is something about written language that gives a thought more authority.
In order to create stronger word-triggered motivations start your written statements with:
“I don’t want to be late because…” followed by reasons that make you feel negative emotions.
for example: “I don’t want to be late because I feel bad about keeping others waiting.”
“I want to be on time /punctual because…” followed by reasons that make you feel positive emotions.
for example: “I want to be on time because I want to succeed at my job.”
Listening to the sound of your voice as you read these statements out loud may imprint these ideas more strongly in your thoughts.
You’ll also be more likely to remember the idea and feel the emotion during preparation and transit if you review these statements before you start preparing. With repetition, these ideas and the emotions they trigger will become more habitual.
In addition, visualizing the specific consequences of lateness may trigger more intense emotional reactions than thinking about them as abstract ideas. For example, when you consider going off plan, imagining the people you will keep waiting if you are late may intensify empathy and guilt that motivate you to be on time.
Another approach is to make fear of lateness happen earlier in the preparation process by setting clocks, watches and phones fast by five or ten minutes. For some people, seeing the time they are supposed to leave on their timepiece triggers an emotional reaction, even though they know that it isn’t the real time. This approach is even more effective when people forget that they’ve moved the clock: a client of mine who had set her watch ten minutes ahead once apologized for being late even though she was actually two minutes early!
If you are consequence-resigned person suffering from low self-esteem you probably won’t be moved by positive emotions and the negative emotions won’t be motivating. I suggest checking out the self-help section of a bookstore: “Feeling Good” by David Burns is a cognitive-behavioral classic. Psychotherapy and possibly medication are worth considering if you are dealing with depression.
Reducing Motivations for Lateness
If you are someone who plays power or love games you too might benefit from considering the medium- to long-term repercussions of your behavior: Is the emotional satisfaction you feel in the moment is worth undermining careers and relationships?
The positive feelings you experience when you imagine others’ reactions might be keeping your attention focused on the short-term, preventing you from thinking about the longer-term consequences of lateness. Power and love games may be subconscious habits you developed in childhood before you were capable of long term thinking.
If victim resentment motivates you to get even by being late, you might find that you will ultimately feel better if you tell others how their behavior impacts you. Even if they don’t apologize or change their behavior, standing up for yourself will probably make you feel more empowered than passive-aggressive retaliation.
If you are a game player you might also find that working with a psychotherapist helps you find more productive ways to feel empowered and cared about. Understanding how your early experiences with parents and others biased your attitudes to the world may help you gain a new perspective on those attitudes. The experience of working collaboratively with someone who is empathic and has your interests at heart can also shift how you perceive and relate to others.
Making Subconscious Motives Conscious
While you were reading the section on subconscious motivations for lateness, you might have begun to wonder if you might be late as a result of motivations that you aren’t aware of. You might —incorrectly—believe that if you repeatedly do something that gets a certain result, you must want that result: You might reason, as others probably have, that if your lateness makes people angry you must be playing a passive-aggressive power game.
Although you might find it interesting, there’s no point to speculating about what you might be feeling and wanting. In order to have a basis for thinking that subconscious motivations are at play you need at the very least to identify a motivating feeling.
You might not be aware of your motivations because you don’t pay attention to your feelings. If this is the case, you can make a point of tuning into your feelings while you plan, prepare and travel to your destination, especially at points in time when you make decisions and behave in ways that you know will risk lateness.
You can also test for subconscious motivations for lateness by paying attention to how you feel when you imagine situations that could trigger those motivations. Imagine someone who you feel has wronged you fuming as they wait for you. Do you feel good?
Another approach to uncovering subconscious motivations for lateness is to allow yourself to fantasize about how you would like people to react when you arrive late. If you imagine everyone excited and happy to see you, or worried about you, you might be motivated by subconscious love-entitled or love-tester motivations.
Word-triggered motivations for lateness may also be a source of subconscious motivation. When you think “late,” do you notice a positive feeling? Does thinking “on time” bring up anger?
Needless to say, it helps to become more skilled at identifying your emotional reactions. The body-focus exercise I described earlier can help you do this. Another way to identify emotions is by noticing the impulses that they create: if you feel like raising your voice you’re probably feeling anger.
You might also consider working with an empathic psychotherapist who can help you identify your emotional reactions by making you aware of your facial expression and tone of voice. He or she can suggest feelings that you might have felt in a specific situation, helping you develop a vocabulary to label your feelings.
You will need to be particularly sensitive if guilt and/or shame are blocking your awareness of a positive emotional reaction to lateness: you may only have a split second to identify the emotion before it is repressed. A psychotherapist might help you reduce the intensity of repressive guilt and shame by becoming more curious and less judgmental about your positive emotional reactions. Understanding how these emotions relate to childhood experiences may also reduce guilt you feel about them.
It may be the case that you are able to identify a feeling that contributes to your lateness without being able to figure out why you are feeling that way. Looking to your childhood might allow you to create some theories that can make this less bewildering. Ultimately though, you will need to find ways to deal with the feeling itself.
The failure to articulate in words a decision to be late can also limit self-awareness. Putting your emotionally-driven goals into words might trigger a different set of emotions. This is particularly the case if you write them down, or even better say them aloud to someone. If you are a self-saboteur, when you say “I’m going to be late for the interview because that way if I don’t get it I can blame it on lateness.” the idea of intentionally undermining your chances might produce anger at yourself that can motivate you to prevent lateness.