Friday, August 09, 2013

CHEAP THRILLS: The joys of tardiness and procrastination

Yesterday, a friend posted a link on Facebook to a two-year-old blog post from, titled "Procrastination is not laziness." 

Reading that piece revived the memory of something that I've intended to write about ever since it happened a couple of years ago:

I had an appointment Downtown with a friend at something like 8 a.m. I arrived late, she forgave me, and we had our meeting.

Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual was what happened along the way.

As I was preparing to leave, and I saw that I was running late, I became hyper-alert, evaluating every action in terms of whether it would speed up or slow down the process of getting to the appointment, and issuing myself commands like, “Put shirt on before pants so that you don't have to undo pants to tuck in shirt,” and “Stuff tie in pocket and put it on and tie it while in the car, at stop lights.”

That's not the unusual part; that happens often when I'm running late. The unusual part was that this time, for the first time, I realized that I enjoyed it.


In the last minutes before the house and in the car on the way Downtown, I was so aware of both my behavior and my environment, I felt so much in control, I was so decisive, and so just plain smart in judging the outcomes of specific actions, that I was totally jazzed.

All because I was running late.

That realization evoked a couple of questions. First, “Do I tend to run late for appointments because I get such a rush from running late, because I enjoy the hyper-alertness so much?” Second, “Can I learn to experience that hyper-alertness without running late – or more precisely, how can I learn to experience that hyper-alertness without running late?”

The answer to the first question is, “Well, DUH!” It's a cheap thrill.

I consider the second question more useful, and am a bit annoyed with myself for not having thoroughly followed up on it. I really like the guy that sometimes emerges when I'm running late, and want to see a lot more of him, without having to trigger anxiety or to jack up my reputation to do so (avoidable tardiness is rude, after all).


Missing appointments times is not the only way of running late. One can also run late by missing deadlines for doing things.

And dang it, I've found a way to experience a thrill with that, too.

I'm sorry to say that I learned this – trick? Technique? - I learned of this possibility in fifth or sixth grade. Here's how:

There was some sort of class project with a deadline. A fundraiser, I think. I waited until the last minute to do it, then did a good enough job that my teacher praised me, in front of everybody - not just for doing a good job, but for coming from behind and pulling it off at the last minute.

Which taught me that one way to gain public praise is by pulling things off at the last minute.

Man, I wish I could unlearn that lesson.


But perhaps I don't need to unlean it; perhaps ignoring it will suffice. It may help if I pay more attention to a different memory, a different type of memory.

I was early once.

Okay, I've been early more than once, but this occasion became special. Again, I had a meeting Downtown, and this time I arrived early enough so that I spent some time sitting in my car, in what was then Kaufmann's parking garage. I don't remember all that I did during that time, but I do remember this.

I loved it.

The absolute lack of anxiety provided its own thrill, one that I want to remember more often, in order to seek it more often.

I think the key to change in this area is not to make myself feel bad about being late – I've tried that a lot, for a long time, and it hasn't worked – but to help myself feel great about being early.


So here's the dream: not just to be on time, nor just to be early, but to gain a reputation for being early.

What if I was the guy who was already at the meeting place when the other person arrived? How would that feel?

What if, when people came to pick me up, I were waiting on my front porch? How would that feel?

What if someone who met me tomorrow would say a year from now, “I've never known him to be late.”?

Now, THAT would be a thrill!

How do I become that guy? I can start by acknowledging that I already am that guy – he's in me, I just need to let him out more often. At some points in my life, I have already engaged in the specific behaviors needed to be early. I just need to engage in them more often.

But hey, I'm open to suggestions. Have you overcome tardiness and/or procrastination? How? For my neuroscience friends, do you have any brain-based strategies to suggest?
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