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The Surprising Secret to Being on Time

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

For many years, the only way I knew to get from one place to another was to rush. I was chronically “running late.” In fact I couldn’t conceive of managing time in any other way. I usually would get to an appointment in the nick of time, but never without a rush.

Now, if rushing occurred in a vacuum, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. But the truth is, when we rush, it’s not just about moving faster. It’s an entire frame of mind. The world becomes our enemy—a jungle to machete through on our way to wherever. The nicest person can behave like a demon possessed.

There’s an old Disney cartoon from the 50’s called Motor Mania, starring Goofy. Baby Boomers will remember Goofy, a not-too-quick-witted but exceedingly amiable fellow with long black ears. But once Goofy gets behind the wheel of his car, he becomes like Dr. Jekyll and  Mr. Hyde.

His entire personality changes. His eyes begin spiraling in his head, his sweet smile turns into a vicious snarl, and every other driver on the road is in peril.

We all laughed at Goofy’s crazy behavior because it rang true. We’d seen our parents behave like this, and we would grow up to do the same. In our culture, being in a rush is an excuse to become less than human.

It’s common to treat each other terribly when we’re “in a hurry.” We get a pass if we’re in a rush. It’s considered “normal” behavior.

When my kids were young, I believed my job as a good parent was to teach my children how to hurry. My son Charlie was a particularly slow learner in this department. When he was in elementary school, every school day began in a rush. Well, mom would be in a rush; the kids, not so much. This would only add to my internal sense of pressure.

Arriving at school just before the bell, Charlie would casually start the long walk across the playground to his classroom.

The kid was infuriatingly slow.

“Hurry Charlie!” I would yell from the car.

Charlie would pause and turn, “What?”

“I said, ‘HURRY!’”

Sometimes he would turn and start walking back to the car, totally unflappable, a big smile on his face.

By this time there would be a queue of other late parents in cars behind us, irritated with me and my pitifully relaxed child for holding up the line.

I would be beside myself, wildly gesturing and yelling, “Hurry up! You’re going to be LATE!” By this time he would have walked all the way back to the car. “Oh, okay mom.”

Then he would turn around and slowly start walking toward class in the same casual way, immune to my attempts to infect him with the “hurry virus.”

I was seriously worried about my child. He seemed so bright, but had no inner sense of urgency. What was wrong with him?

The better question would have been, what was wrong with me? I was like the proverbial fish unaware of the water, swimming in a sea of hurry. It would take me years to realize that everyone was out of step but Charlie.

Several years later I heard a motivational speaker who touched on this subject. I wish I could remember his name, because his message changed my life.

The audience was roaring with laughter as he began making fun of his own behavior once he was in a hurry. How it caused him to become less than human. How he could so easily flip off another driver in traffic or worse, how he could so carelessly brush off his three-year-old son with the words, “Not now son, Daddy’s in a hurry.” How no one seemed to think this was not okay.

It was a light bulb moment. I vowed to give up rushing right then and there. If failed to be “on time,” that would be that. No more Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. I resigned myself to being late, but I would no longer live the hurried life. I would never again justify treating people I loved roughly simply because I was in a rush.

My new mantra was, “I am always in perfect time.”

Here’s the kicker—I stopped being late!

As soon as I gave up rushing, much to my astonishment, I started to be on time. All the time.  If I ran into traffic and arrived late, I just relaxed into it. More often than not the timing was perfect anyway. The other person would happen to be late too, or the meeting would be delayed.  This has my experience for the last decade or so.

I’m almost unfailingly on time, but not because I rush.

How could this be? I believe I’ve discovered a secret truth: rushing and being late are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. When we are in rush mode, we believe we have to not be late in order not to rush.

The truth is if you stop rushing, you’re far less likely to be late.

Test it out for yourself. It’s important that you really let go of rushing, internally as well as externally. It’s as much a mindset as a behavior that you are letting go of.

I must give you fair warning: if you stop rushing, other people may see you as simple-minded or even as “the enemy.”

It’s as though they believe you could be more helpful if you were in a rush too. Don’t let that sway you. “Keep calm and carry on.”

And my son Charlie? He’s all grown up now has done just fine. In fact he just started medical school.

Right on schedule. In perfect time.

Photo by Supreme-B

Avatar of Linda Gabriel

About Linda Gabriel

“Thought Whisperer” Linda Gabriel is an author and coach. She blogs about the power of the mind at http://thoughtmedicine.com.

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  • http://www.carlsbadvillageortho.com/category/blog Carlsbad Village Orthodontist

    I’m one of those people that my sister would yell at, because I take too long in the shower, and I take ages getting dressed whenever we have somewhere to be, and in response, sometimes I will purposely slow down just to stir the already heated pot.lols. But to be on the flip-side, it does feel like a battlefield when I’m trying to make it on time, and all I see is red whenever there is something/someone blocking my destination.

  • Ofili

    I will definitely try this and see how it works out. =D

  • Toni

    This just reminds me of how I feel I am never really in a hurry but see everyone else as ‘slow’ so I constantly hurry them along. I’m guessing that’s a bad idea and I’ll have to change, ha ha. :)

  • friend forever

    Linda, wow! Am impressed with Charlie…a loooooot. I wish I could say I too am like that, but sadly am not. My younger sister on the other hand is very relaxed and calm esp. when it comes to going to school in the morning. My mantra is to get up early and BEFORE time! It’s as if am stealing or hoarding time from time! I sometimes can’t believe am like that.
    One more thing. It’s a bit paradoxical also. Like you rush not to be late and you end up being late. Not to mention frazzled and hyper. When one slows down one actually is in stride with time.
    It was a very great post and I loved it! Now, I promise that I will work on becoming slow and present.
    All the best to Charlie from my side. I loved his role in this :) Wish I can be like that.

    Wishes and love

  • http://brianbbaker.com/about/ Brian B Baker

    My mom always seems to be in a hurry, my wife and I are like, “I’ll get there when I’m supposed, not before.” My mom is always late and my wife and I are always on time, or early.

    Great post. My mom could learn a lot from Charlie!

  • http://twitter.com/DStan58 David Stanley

    Stellar

  • smrcooper

    This arrived totally on time! It’s something I’ve been struggling with, which is quite embarrassing personally because I am a time-management consultant – it’s so much more obvious when it’s for OTHER people than when it’s about me. But my blood pressure is telling me … that it’s really time to listen to you! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/LeahtheHRdept Leah Carnegie

    Linda, I totally agree with your wisdom. I have always been in a rush until the other day I fell quite badly in the middle of a square. Not sure was was hurt the most my bruised knees and hands or my pride when I looked at a group of tourists laughing and my little boys staring at me in shock. This was life telling to slow my pace which I am trying, however some days I still have to have a serious talk with myself as I get caught up with other people’s agendas. Best wishes

  • http://www.facebook.com/KarenBaxter.Malibu Karen Baxter

    wonderful….

  • http://www.CritterWisdom.com/ Carmelo

    Very cool Linda. What a great lesson in your story. i made the same commitment years ago and it truly does work. I got to realizing, after seeing the unexpected benefits that the same principle holds true for other things in life.

    Hurrying is a form of chasing, isn’t it? We chase happiness, we chase success, we chase love … all sorts of things. I’ve found that everything is already within us. We are love, we are happiness and success. We’re just in such a hurry to find these things we don’t realize they’re already found!

    It’s really like finding out that you’re rarely, if ever, late again when you stop hurrying/worrying. It’s magical! Oh, and I loved your goofy reference. Yep, I’m a baby-boomer! (my picture gave me away. Ha!)

  • Jen

    I always seem to be in a hurry and I know if I stop rushing I do things better without mistakes. The school run is the hardest to stop rushing for but I try so hard maybe I need to stop panicking and go with the flow!

  • Ree

    I am a rusher and I am ALWAYS on time, but as an earlier poster said, at what cost? Frazzled , anxious, in need of a stiff drink. Lately I have found that it is just too exhausting. Part of my rushing smacks of perfectionism – I want everything just so before I get to my destination. I too have slowed down (a little – still a work in progress, ha!). The Goofy cartoon is me to a tee. But I find if I give myself enough time, not try to control every minute of the outcome, and just relax, the trip is a lot easier on me & everyone else. PS My adult son was/is like yours and oooh boy, we had some battles; I learned a lot from him. Luckily, I was never able to squash that aspect of his personality.

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    My cousin was also a “Charlie Mosey”. The vocation he started very young involved props and transportation, something not thrown together on a whim. He would get caught up in detail at every last minute and family would pick up his slack in record, and frustrating, time. I was inclined to share his shuffle, as well. Then we would speed to his appearances. He was always on time for curtain call, at the expense of his support system. I became immensely resourceful. He remained indulged.

    I grew out of this behavior very soon after reading (or hearing) the opinion that people who are habitually late do not respect those who are waiting, or rushing, for them. This struck home. I remembered the looks from those who were kept on edge, who were about to walk away. Disappointment, with a tinge of anger. I didn’t want to be the source of their disenchantment. I tired of the rush and following jet lag.

    I learned the honor and respect that are earned when putting others before me. I slipped from time to time, but had my history of resourcefulness to fall back upon to save the day. After a while I taught myself to engage these resources in advance, to anticipate the many turns that may occur from drawing board to implementation. I spent far more time on planning than on actual production. Others who were accustomed to plunging in and working feverishly to be done before deadline cursed my slower pace of practicality. I methodically planned, executed, and delivered above expectations. I treated each project with reverence, something not to be rushed. I was, after all, providing a service. The client was honoring me with a contract and respecting my work. I was obliged to return the favor.

    This learning experience changed my life. I turned that honor and respect for others back to myself. I treated me to my company time after time with the luxury of time well-spent. I planned assiduously and pulled myself through heartbreak after heartache by realizing that the “moment” is the time to regard as the only time I truly possessed. This removed the “then” and “later” from my lexicon and placed me entirely in the “now”. When I have something to do for myself or another I plan it and do it in the now. I have forever to reflect upon it. This attitude alone has removed any vestiges of lateness I may have possessed. I came to honor myself as I compelled myself to honor others. What I saw in others I soon reflected, deeply, in me. There was no longer a need to hurry, everything happened on time, in its own time. I now get a rush from being in no rush at all. And I love sharing that.

    Thank you, Linda, for your wonderful narrative and spark for thought.

    ~ Mark

  • http://www.hillcounseling.com/ Travis Hill, LPC

    My clients sometimes talk about how they are “so busy”. They rush to my office, then rush to leave, and feel like the session is their only reprieve. I then work on some present-focused mindfulness with them, and they realize they are rushing towards… nothing. The busyness (business? how ironic…) helps them feel important, but they quickly learn the destruction it’s causing them.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • http://twitter.com/TiceWrites Carol Tice – Writer

    Love this post, Linda! I was raised in a punctual family, but my husband is always running late. I find the secret is to leave enough time to get there! He’s always leaving when it’s time to BE there, apparently imagining he will teleport himself instantly to where he needs to be. It’s a terrible habit that causes a lot of traffic accidents…maybe it’ll help people to realize that by slowing down and allowing enough time you may be SAVING LIVES.

    And it’s so awful to ever feel we’re in too much of a hurry to listen to our children…I really try to avoid that.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks for the insight into the connection between hurrying and chasing! Glad you enjoyed the Goofy reference. We boomers need to stick together!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks Carol. I know it’s hard when someone you love has a different, ahem, “relationship to time” than you do! I just realized how perfectly the expression “running late” expresses the connection between being late and rushing. And you’re right, it could be a matter of saving lives, especially when we’re driving.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Your clients are lucky to have you Travis. Focusing on the present moment is certainly the key.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks for your thoughtful and meaningful comment Mark. “I now get a rush from being in no rush at all.” – may have to steal this quote!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Yes, our children are often our greatest teachers. I like that you’ve figured out the connection between rushing and perfectionism. You know perfectionism is really imperfectionism because we are always on the lookout for what’s wrong with things. Not the most fun way to go through life! Congratulations on making progress toward slowing down and relaxing. I’m betting you can do so and still be on time, only now you can arrive feeling so much better.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Yes Jen, you’re right about making mistakes when we are in a hurry. I believe there’s a kind of flow when we are moving at just the right pace so that things happen easily and with less effort. The flow can be our ally!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks Karen!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Uh-oh! Sometimes, if we don’t take a break, life provides us with some sort of a downfall. Interesting that you have discovered a connection between rushing and being influenced by other people’s agendas. Can you find a way to take good care of yourself while caring for others? So glad you weren’t injured!

  • http://www.hillcounseling.com/ Travis Hill, LPC

    Thank you Linda. I love my job! BTW, this site is great, it’s an excellent resource and you’ve done an amazing job.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks David! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Ah… an honest confession is good for the soul. I know just what you mean. This morning during a coaching call, I was chock full of wisdom for my client, and yet for myself??? LOL! This is why coaches need coaches! Thanks for pointing out that rushing can eventually become a health issue. Time management is really self-management.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks for being living proof of my thesis!

  • Linda Gabriel

    “When one slows down one actually is in stride with time.” Brilliant! P.S. I love getting up early – and not just for time reasons. It’s the best part of the day.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks for making me chuckle. And it’s important to remember this non-rushing thing is more of an inner feeling than an outer behavior.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Please let me know your results!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Aha! A self-confessed pot-stirrer… good to know! There’s a book titled “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” When you get the essence of this message, you realize there is no “there” that is better than “here.” The paradox is, when you let go of the urgency to be somewhere else, then you’re often more likely see green lights all along the path.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Credit for creating Tiny Buddha goes to Lori – I’m just a guest post author, which is a terrific honor. I agree, this site is an excellent resource!

  • friend forever

    “When one slows down one actually is in stride with time.”

    Very true! Both for our external as well as internal world. I am yet to see the effect on the latter as I grow in the practice :)

  • http://twitter.com/JohnLThornton John Thornton

    An excellent post, thank you. It reminded me that, as a child, I was frequently observed walking through the fields to school and labelled a slow coach and a “dawdler”, with no sense of time or urgency (and I was relatively untroubled, taking great joy in the surrounding nature).

    As an adult I became obsessed with time, with not being late but not being early either, and earned the moniker Justin (as in, just in time). Such precision required enormous amounts of brain power, often resulted in me actually being late, causing resentment among those around me and raised my adrenaline levels sky high.

    One day a wise man suggested I might be addicted to adrenaline. Of course, I deeply resented his assertion but after that, each time I rushed, I realised he was right, I’d got an adrenaline “high” followed by a depressing “low” patch.

    I no longer wear a watch, and try to avoid putting myself in those stressful situation. Thanks to arthritis I can no longer rush. And, one slow step at a time, I am re-learning how to be that dawdler again.

  • Toni

    True. That’s why I try to keep calm in my mind at all times. When I’m thinking on too many things at once on my to-do list, I tend to panic and rush through them rather concentratee on the more important ones. It’s funny how there’s always one item left unchecked at the end of the day no matter how fast I go.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Thanks for sharing your journey through time John. It sounds like you are finding balance. How interesting that such a calm child would become an adrenaline junkie. Perhaps spending more time in nature would be helpful since you enjoyed it so as a child, in fact I believe it benefits everyone. Nature teaches us how to experience ourselves relative to time cycles and rhythms that have endured for millenia and will be here long after clocks and watches have vanished from the earth. Wow, I’m getting cosmic! But it actually helps put things in perspective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzy.roberts.94 Suzette Roberts

    Great post Linda! So very true also. Twenty years ago when I was a nanny while going to college, I remember the youngest of my three kids making a statement while we were rushing to catch a flight on a summer holiday. Ash said in such a pleaing, soft voice, “Suzy, why the rush… this is our vacation… let’s have fun and enjoy it! Ash was 6 years old at the time. I’ve never forgotten that and it’s made me slow way down over the years and eliminate a LOT of things when needed, to focus and enjoy the bigger picture in life. We don’t get to ‘do-over’ today, so let’s revel in the things that truly matter… Thanks for sharing this post.

  • Vicky

    Funny I came across this post in “perfect timing” :) I am the kind of person that is ALWAYS rushing everywhere! Often times I pride myself in finding “clever ways” to beat the red light, etc. (As a 20something, I couldn’t relate to the Goofy reference… but I did watch it on YouTube.) How sad that I became Ms. Wheeler!

    About a week ago, I decided to go to the store and shop for clothes, I had all day to do this. Somehow, my habit took over without me realizing and was rushing to get to the store! Even when I wasn’t in a hurry I was rushed! I’m adopting your mantra Linda: “I am in perfect timing” …and I think its magic started just before I read your article! :)

  • Linda Gabriel

    So glad to know that Goofy’s Motor Mania is alive and well on youtube!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Our children are sometimes our greatest teachers!

  • http://www.facebook.com/justinMski Justin Michalski

    “When I have something to do for myself or another I plan it and do it in the now. I have forever to reflect upon it.” reads to me as if you are currently ‘plunging in’, planning as you go. I don’t believe that was what you meant though. Could you expand on that? Thank you for your story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justinMski Justin Michalski

    Thank you for your story Linda. I liked when you mentioned how, after adopting your new mantra, your new timing was perfect because events and circumstances just seemed to fall into place to make it so. I’ve come to notice these moments of synchronicity occurring often when people are in a focused mindset. Do you agree?

  • Mother

    Oooh, this is sooo true~

  • Linda Gabriel

    Yes Justin, I find synchronicity is a great sign post that I’m in “the flow” and on my path. It feels like a pat on the back from the universe. And when things don’t seem to go as planned and there are challenges, it helps to keep calm. That’s when my mantra really helps the most!

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    Hi Justin. What I said is what I do relative to taking action now. Throughout the years I have gained plenty of experience that enables me to methodically lay out steps and details of what I wish to accomplish. Before using this approach I would sit on it, contemplate on it and procrastinate. Then I would pitch in last minute and work at a feverish pitch to complete whatever it was I intended to do. It was almost a “do or die” scenario. One minute it was in my mind and the next it had to be completed. Through that nerve-wracking process I also learned Murphy’s Law. If anything could go wrong, it did. That, in turn, made me quite resourceful. But the cost was too high. I had skid marks all over me from last-minute dives into home plate.

    “Planning and doing it in the now” means I put the plan to paper or journal and initiate step one. I establish a deadline. I list the materials and resources I will need. I order them. I create a mind map. Develop priorities. I do first what I feel or know will take the longest. I commit to paper a checklist of what needs to be done for the day and add thoughts as I check off what I have done. Every process brings new light to what I may or may not have created before. What I NO LONGER do is just sit and think about what needs to be done. As the plan develops I commit to paper, computer, whiteboard or whatever medium best suits the project. If it’s “out there” in front of me I have to attend to it. Intent alone does not suffice. Distractions become easier to ignore. “Plunging in” is a result of knowing what needs to be done and committing to a process while the passion is high…focused. Some things do need attended to (inevitably) while on the fly. They differ from distractions in that they are part of the process. If they were unanticipated they will surely be considered next time.

    I will have “forever to reflect upon it” because I have relegated reflection to after the event, not before. There’s plenty of time for armchair quarterbacking once the deed is done, hindsight being 20/20 and all that. It’s one thing to plan a trip; it’s another to actually leave the garage.

    I hope this clarifies. Thanks for your interest.

    ~ Mark

  • kooky

    What about those of us that have a particularly difficult time keeping track of time? Has it been 5 minutes, 15 minutes ummmmm I don ‘t know. Help us, please!

  • Linda Gabriel

    I’m actually one of those people! In fact I’m not always sure what day of the week it is. Which makes my experience even more astonishing. So I suggest you try it out for yourself. Making a decision to give up rushing is not about giving up a good working relationship with time. It’s about managing your inner state whether or not you are “on time.” As a practical matter, when I have an appointment, I do try to be realistic about travel time and have a reasonable departure time I aim for. If I miss it, I miss it… and stay relaxed. It helps to aim to arrive early in stead of “on time” but to be truthful, I don’t worry too much about that. As a practical matter, it can help to set an alert on your phone to give you a 15 minute heads up letting you know it’s almost time to leave.

  • Esprit Nomade

    Believe the speaker you can’t remember was Gay Hendricks… I recognize the story about his son and the message about our relationship to time from one of his books – think it was “The Big Leap”. Thanks for the post.

  • Nicki

    Wonderful story! Especially loved the part about your son walking all the way back to car to say” ok mom” with a smile.. made me laugh out loud. ..Great advice and observation though. .I will definitely try to apply this to my life. Thanks

  • Amna

    This is so true…. I’ve stopped rushing and find myself being on time even if I’m running late.

  • Leticia

    This is so true. And actually it’s true about so many things in life. If you just relax, good things happen. And it reminded me about how many different types of time there really are. If you can find it, read Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time. It really changes your perception of time as a ‘thing’.

  • lmythl

    very nice message delivered. i have been experiencing the same thing

  • anonymous

    i should try what you said out btw There were some grammer issues