The Psychology of Lateness

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It’s Monday morning and the cyclical chaos of the working week dawns on us all. It’s time for the usual (whatever your routine may be). In the uni-goers case, it is that vexing knowledge that taps softly on the back of our heads on Sunday night warning us of the impending doom that is Monday morning. Another studious (cough cough procrastinating) week calls for early starts, busy commutes to the campus that is a source of great intellectual stimulation and a catalyst for academic loathing, we are all rushing hoping to board the right train and make it, in the nick of time, to class. Or, for the lucky ones, the commute constitutes a breezy ten minute stroll through the Monday morning October chill in the heart of Tower Hamlets.

No matter how far we live there can be those naughty students who have the potential for academic brilliance but con themselves into faltering by being one of those chronically late persons (shamefully myself included). Is incessant and repetitive tardiness really a mark of disrespect as it is typically perceived or is there another explanation?

Social psychology proposes passive-aggressiveness and control as being factors that manifest through lateness. Anger can fester inside us and may not always have a healthy outlet; a mild irritation that your morning coffee tasted like dirt may be aggravated  by that douche driver who sprayed you by driving too close to the drenched road – whatever the cause, it can worm its way into our heads and persistently nag only to increase the toll of the irritation. The passive-aggressive behaviour finds a way of expressing itself covertly because an open expression of anger would cost us dearly – we would be the centre of judging eyes that would label us a social pariah for not following Freud’s favourite reality principle. This can manifest in lateness and may be perceived by the person who we are late to meet as a sign of disrespect i.e. “Her time is more important than mine.”

The opposite, however, is believed to be true: regular latecomers may not believe themselves to be important enough for others to care and so being late is a form of exerting control on the situation. It may be a questioning of self-esteem; we may not see ourselves valuable – not important enough to be valued in the company of others – which may beg the question, “Why show up?”

One of the magic solutions on offer is chanting the mental mantra of “I am worth your time, you are worth mine” and thus building up our own confidence. Learning to accept that human beings are social creatures and, since the company of others is a life-long commitment we have to accept, convincing ourselves that we are worthy of said company is a step forward.

A fun suggestion for the unwarranted but habitual behaviour is given in an article in The New York Times. ‘Ms Diana DeLonzor (author of Never Be Late Again) says she has found that many late people can be divided into two categories. First there is the deadliner, who, she said, is “subconsciously drawn to the adrenaline rush of the sprint to the finish line.” Then there is the producer, “who gets an ego boost from getting as much done in as little time as possible.”’

This one may resonate with quite a few of us as when the busy assignment-submitting time assaults us every December and the exam period cautiously creeps up on us every June, our already crumbling motivation shudders with full force at suddenly being needed again. Motivation to work at the start of the semester is at its peak, then as the term progresses it slowly but steadily begins to decline, the Christmas break may give us the respite we need, but that ‘new semester, new me’ attitude will not liven but only continue to wane.

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