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Punctuality Counts

Punctuality Counts

Punctuality Counts

    For years, I could be counted on to be late. Got a lunch meeting at 11:30 am? Dustin will be there at 11:40. Got a class at 9:00am? Dustin will be there at 9:20. Is there a meeting at 6:00 pm? Dustin’s there by 6:30. Work hours are 8:30 am to 5 pm? I’m in by 9:00.

    People joked about it. It was my “thing” — I was on “Dustin time”. It was all very funny — until I realized that the same people that joked about it showed, time and again, that they didn’t trust me to get things done — that, indeed, they saw me as an incompetent person who couldn’t even get it together enough to be on time.

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    Being punctual matters, at least in today’s Western societies. Being on time, every time, conveys far more than just a good sense of timing. It tells people that you’re on top of things, that you’re organized, that you can be counted on, that you value them, and, ultimately, that you value yourself.

    Punctuality shows mastery

    Being on time consistently shows everyone around you that you are the master of your life. It demonstrates foresight — the ability to predict possible hang-ups — and adaptability — the ability to change your plans to accommodate those hang-ups.

    On the other hand, being late all the time shows that you are a victim of the winds of fate, that you’re incapable of anticipating possible problems and either dealing with them or altering your course to avoid them. It sends the message that you’re harassed by time, not in control of it.

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    Punctuality shows competence

    Someone who shows, over and over, that they are the master of their time is someone who will be taken seriously in areas far removed from time management. That foresight and adaptability that gets you where you need to be, when you need to be there, tells the people around you that you can handle whatever is thrown at you.

    Conversely, people assume that if the chronically late person can’t even consider the possibility of a little extra traffic, s/he won’t be able to consider other obstacles that might stand in the way of getting a project or task done.

    Punctuality shows integrity

    Punctuality is also a trust issue. When you make an appointment, you are making a commitment to be where you said you’d be when you said you’d be there. The only way you build up other people’s trust in you is by consistently meeting your commitments — and that starts with being punctual. The person who is always on time is someone others can trust to be as good as their word.

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    In contrast, the person who is perpetually late is, plain and simple, someone who lies to you repeatedly. You said you’d be here at 9 o’clock, but you’re not here; if your word isn’t good enough about something as trivial as showing up on time, how can your word be any good about anything more important?

    Punctuality shows you value people

    People are busy — too busy to be waiting on you while their other work goes unfinished. Being punctual shows, clearly and truly, that you value their time and, by extension, that you value them as a person. It says, “Let’s make this time we’ve arranged as productive as possible so we can both get on with all our other important stuff.”

    Compare that with the attitude of the chronically late person who, when confronted, says, “But I’m always on time for the things that are important.” The message this sends is that, when I’m late, it’s because I really don’t feel that whatever I’m late for is all that important — if it were a date with a cute woman or man I met at the Starbucks, I’d have been on time; if it were a Moby concert, I’d have been on time; but since it’s just a meeting about the status of the big project I’m working on, I feel I can be late.

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    There’s another kind of always-late person: the person who makes a “big entrance”, using their lack of punctuality to show their status. Let’s face it — showing off your importance by having other people sit and wait on you clearly says “you’re not important to me.” And everyone knows the solution — don’t show up, or wait until the moment’s just right, and stab that high-and-mighty loser in the back. If you like to make the grand entrance, don’t worry — someday soon you’ll make a grand entrance to an empty room.

    Punctuality shows you value yourself

    Finally, being on time shows you value your time — and yourself. First of all, being repeatedly late is a self-destructive behavior — why else would you risk not landing the big client, losing your job, or insulting those around you? And everyone knows that most self-destructive behavior follows from low self-esteem. Even if it’s not true, that’s the perception you’re allowing others.

    Second of all, punctuality shows that your time is too valuable to waste stuck in traffic, on the phone dealing with trivial matters, or otherwise occupied in anything other than the business at hand. Being late demonstrates, plainly and clearly, that you’re interruptible, that your work is never as high a priority as whatever trivial thing comes along, and that you’re unwilling to set priorities in your own life. If that’s the case, why should anyone else care about your time? Why shouldn’t they interrupt you whenever they feel like it, dump meaningless busy-work on you, or dismiss you entirely?

    It took me a while to figure all this out (late to the party, as usual) but once I did, I made a concerted effort to be on time — or, usually, early — for every appointment. With few exceptions, I am on time, too — and every exception is an opportunity for me to learn how better to manage the same circumstances next time.

    If you’re perpetually late, it’s time to stop — right now, not 10 minutes from now. Consider the message you’re sending to those around you, and consider the message you’d like to be sending, and act immediately to match those two up.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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