I meet with other lawyers on my team about once a week. We meet in the polished client-ready conference rooms on the top floor of the building, the ones with expansive views of the lake. Without fail, I always show up first and sit for a few minutes. I look at the lake and I check my email in my phone. I quell the surprise I still feel when I am the first one in a room.
It’s not easy for me to be on time. I’m not naturally a detail-oriented person, and a few minutes on the clock are a minor detail to me. They didn’t matter until one day they did. My second day as an intern at a law firm, I strolled into an orientation meeting 1.5 minutes late and half the kids in suits stared at me and the other half the kids trained their eyes ahead, embarrassed for me, and it became clear to me that 1.5 minutes did matter. Maybe not to me, but to people I wanted to work with. That’s a good enough reason for me to shift my priorities with respect to something so minor. It’s still not easy to be on time, but it is easy to set an Outlook reminder to go off five minutes before a meeting and leave when it goes off, even if the room I am meeting in is only two minutes away. And slowly, slowly, slowly, I am learning to show up on time when I have to go other places. I thought this was a fundamental inability to respect little things that don’t matter to me, this chronic lateness, but it turns out I can reshape it.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, except to say that I’m constantly astounded by my own capacity for change. It feels like nothing when it’s happening. I mean, it feels like setting an alarm five minutes early and moving when it rings. But when I’m alone in that conference room and the three minutes before the meeting starts feel momentous, it feels like something.
This is an example of using discipline to pretend to have willpower, as discussed by Penelope Trunk.