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The psychology behind why some people are always late

Why you’re always late and how to fix it

Picture this scenario: You’re out to meet a friend for dinner, but they let you know they’re running 10 to 15 minutes late.

Sometimes, it’s a write-off; things can happen. But if you know someone who is chronically late, it can quickly start having an impact on your relationship with them.

Rana Khan, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto, says there are plenty of reasons why people fall into this habit. He says people often blame laziness or a lack of motivation when it comes to being late, but Khan says this often isn’t the problem.

READ MORE: How being late can be good for your health

“In fact, laziness and not being motivated is a response to the real culprit, which is avoidance,” he tells Global News. “Avoidance stems from fear. Fear is a powerful emotion and it is an emotion that is familiar to many of us.”

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When it impacts your relationships

Khan says if someone in your life is always late, communication is key.

“You could say, ‘I have been noticing that you’re often late, is there anything that I can do to help?'” he said. “Perhaps something is going on in their life which adds context to why they are always late.”

This person could be providing care for their family, struggling with their mental or physical health, or they have very little control over their own life and what happens.

“I think back to my own childhood and recognize how in my South Asian household it would take forever for me to leave the house because I would have to say bye to my grandparents, my parents — I would have to tell all of them where I was going, when I would be back, who I was going with … All such things were out of my control.”

READ MORE: Not washing hands after pooping is spreading E. coli ‘superbug,’ study says

Once you get to the root of why someone is always late (or what they could be avoiding or fearing), it will change the tone of the conversation.

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“Your likelihood of doing any harm and being met with defensiveness decreases when you approach someone with care and compassion.”

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor emerita of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tells Global News that when you don’t realize what being late can do to a relationship, it can hurt you both down the road.

“Even if your partner is understanding, the other people who expect you to be there on time will become irritated if not downright angry,” she said. “If you’re on the receiving end, you need to find a way to communicate to your partner how the lateness is causing problems.”

She recommends working with your partner to help him or her through some of those tips — yelling at them will not work.

How being late can be good for your health
How being late can be good for your health

Radhika Kowtha-Rao still remembers how she was treated when she was once late to pick up her child.

Her daughter was in a Girl Scouts program and right before she was going to leave to pick her up, Kowtha-Rao noticed her dog was missing from their home.

“It was November and dark, so I switched on lights and stepped out only to realize in panic that someone left the gate open and the [dog] took off,” she said. “I found him eventually, put him in and ran. I was late by 10 minutes.”

When she drove up, her daughter, her friend and her friend’s mother were still waiting outside. She apologized and explained to the mother why she was late.

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“She walked up to my window and glared at me and hissed, ‘You are late and I do not appreciate that. This is very rude of you Radhika,'” she recalled. “I was hurt and sad, and to this day, though we exchange pleasantries at common places, she continues to be cold to me.”

Can it be cultural?

There are some phrases like “Indian Time” or “Island Time” — ultimately, the idea that people from certain cultural backgrounds are more likely to be late.

In Kowtha-Rao’s experience as an Indian woman, it is not uncommon for people to be late.

“No one is expected to be on time. No one shows up on time,” she explained. “No one cares as much and it’s all one big loose structure.”

Of course, this is not to imply all South Asians are always late all the time or don’t get annoyed at others being late, but Krauss Whitbourne added that our own culture or upbringing can affect how we behave around time.

If you are used to being late to family gatherings or events, for example, and it is not looked down upon, it may be hard to understand why being late for a non-family gathering is a big deal.

“The problem arises when your own cultural, or sub-cultural, background doesn’t mesh with the norms of your workplace or even relationships,” she said.

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How to break your late habit

Khan says being late all the time becomes a habit when you know there are no consequences for lateness.

“If … you catch yourself feeling like you can get away with being late, you may be on track to formulating a habit,” he said.

To tackle this habit — if it is more than just being lazy — he says it is important to understand your fears.

“Often, what fear needs is more information, it needs clarity, and it needs some sort of control.”

READ MORE: 8 signs you’re in a toxic relationship — and how to get out

Identify why you’re always late, ask yourself how you can control the situation and monitor and evaluate how late you are when you have to meet others.

Krauss Whitbourne agrees, adding it is important to notice a pattern, but also to reward yourself when you are on time.

“Tell yourself the real time or date is earlier than what’s required and set reminders on your phone with plenty of advance notice,” she said.

Schedule realistic timelines for completion, whether it’s getting ready in the morning or finishing a big project, she added.

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“Check actual drive times for getting to places a day ahead of an event to take rush hour into account when planning your route.”

arti.patel@globalnews.ca