Returning to work after lockdown may literally be a totally new experience for the 20% of the population who struggle with a lateness habit – they should now find it no problem to be punctual, or even early – but will it last?
The daily commute can be a painful routine for the 1 in 5 workers who each morning intend to get to work on time, but through self-sabotage, end up arriving late at least once a week. After months of lockdown, these workers will find they have no problem arriving early in the first few days. Uncertainty about traffic and trains will make the journey unpredictable, and therefore it will be easy for them to leave home in good time. Whether they can sustain this new pattern in the longer term will depend on whether the long weeks of lockdown can break their addictive behaviour.
The new book “LATE! A Timebender’s Guide” identifies adrenaline addiction as one of 3 possible reasons behind a lateness habit. Since adrenaline is a drug which is delivered without conscious control, ‘rehab’ for Timebenders has always seemed like an impossible concept – until the arrival of COVID-19, when the world went into lockdown, and they had a glimpse of how life feels for the rest of the population. The regular morning adrenaline hit produced by rushing to get to work on time was replaced by the minimal effort of signing-in to a Zoom meeting. The stress of getting showered, dressed and out the door was replaced by a basic hygiene routine and the ease of pulling on a pair of sweatpants. The tension triggered by grabbing a coffee and Danish on the go was replaced by the leisure of eating a healthy breakfast. Life in the slow lane was suddenly the new normal.
People who are always late may find it hard to believe, but that horrible stomach-gripping fear they experience when they realise they are running late is something they must crave – or they wouldn’t keep repeating the behaviour. The panic triggered by “OMG! Is that the time?” releases a flood of adrenaline which increases the heart rate and blood pressure, deepens breathing, and speeds up the blood flow to larger muscles. This creates an exhilarating surge of energy which makes us feel alive. People with an addictive habit have been shown to have a neurochemical variation which means their brains become extra-saturated with the drug. A 30-90 day adrenaline detox – delivered courtesy of Dr Lockdown – will have allowed their bodies to become accustomed to normal levels.
Whether this period of isolation from the triggers which make them late has given Timebenders more control over their behavior has not yet been tested, but sadly, adrenaline addiction is not the only reason for their persistent lateness. People who develop addictions typically find that, over time, the desired substance no longer gives them the same reward — an effect known as tolerance. However, the memory persists, and prompts addicts to keep repeating the experience. Hence lateness can eventually become nothing more than a tired old habit.
This will be the challenge for people addicted to lateness. Will they be able to use the unprecedented experience of COVID-19, and their unexpected release from the stress of getting to work, to kick their unwanted behavior patterns?
As with so many of the COVID-19 experiences, this is a unique global experiment – only time will tell.