The Science Behind Why You Love Cancelling Plans | Men's Health Magazine Australia

The Science Behind Why You Love Cancelling Plans

To all the people who’ve ever cancelled on me at the last minute . . . thank you from the bottom of my soul. We’ve had a lunch on the books for weeks and you email me an hour before and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry, but . . .”? Well, I’m spinning around in my office chair pumping my fists in triumph. You tell me you have a family emergency and you can’t have a drink tonight after all? There’s a 20 per cent chance you’re making it up, but I don’t care. Thank you, thank you, thank you for such sweet relief.

It’s not that I don’t want to meet up. I do. And we have things to discuss. But my excitement for meeting up is always dwarfed by the excitement I feel when we don’t.

But . . . why the JOBCO (joy of being cancelled on)? Do I have undiagnosed social anxiety and feel relieved that I don’t have to perform? (I don’t think so.)

Do I just have JOMO, the joy of missing out? (Nah, I actually want the appointment to happen.) Or has my brain become so accustomed to my being overscheduled that it’s engaged in a stress response, as Duke University neuroscientist Dr P. Murali Doraiswamy suggested to me?

“Too many meetings can worsen time pressure and push the brain into a state of learned helplessness, especially if we are on the receiving end of work,” Doraiswamy says. Or perhaps I’m actually angry. According to psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, the relief may mask the hostility and resentment I feel because all the time I spent preparing for the meeting has been disrespected. “You’ve been prepping for the last few days in your mind, right? And now it doesn’t matter. And if you’re dealing with a chronic canceller, neither do you.”

Maybe? Even so, it wouldn’t offend me, because relief is all I feel – a minor ecstasy, in fact. Which is why I don’t feel so bad about cancelling on other people. I figure I’m giving them a gift, that they’re quite possibly firstpumping as they read my text.

Even if I’m cancelling five times in two months, like I did with food and restaurant publicist Jesse Gerstein, whom I’ve known for more than 10 years. Jesse’s one of my favourite people. He never seems like he’s selling me anything. And he asks me to lunch (always at one of the amazing restaurants he represents: il Buco, the Modern, Sfoglina) without any clear agenda. Jesse has asked me to lunch even when I’ve been between jobs. He spent one lunch trying to figure out what my next job should be. (He’s a solid guy whom no one should ever cancel on.)

Man running late

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Recently, Jesse asked me to dinner. We settled on a date, and then a couple of days before, I had to cancel. It was fine, Jesse said. When I cancelled again (this time for lunch), he said that was fine, too. When I cancelled for a fifth time, he said it was fine!

But was it?

“I’d be lying if I said I never feel relieved when somebody cancels,” Jesse told me. “But it depends on when people cancel, and it depends on what they’re cancelling for. I go out a lot, so the chance to be home with my kids and on my couch eating takeaway Chinese is not always a bad thing.”

What did he think when I kept cancelling?

“We’re the most overplanned, overstretched, overcommitted society. Sometimes people just want a night off, and it’s nothing personal. I just want to get something back on the books.”

The books. I’ve always hated the books. The relationship schedules. The calendars of interaction. The books keep trying to organise and order my friendships – both personal and professional. When someone cancels, things get disordered back to a more natural state, marked by flexibility and nimbleness. Freedom! And victory. It feels like I scored a last- And productive. more of We’re overplanned, for more for it now. we’re getting or getting relief might experience immediate Now? second goal. And the books lose.

My interview with Jesse about this whole thing never made it to the books. It happened because I sent him a text asking if he had some time to meet up this week. His response was efficient, elegant, and honest: “Now?”


We did it live. We met up at a bar right then and had a great chat. It was organic and human.

And productive. There should be more of it.

We’re overscheduled and overplanned, and we’re looking for more time, and we’re looking for it now. Doesn’t matter if we’re getting out of something or getting into something. The relief might be that we get to experience right now in an immediate way.

Now? Now is perfect.


For time-management guru Julie Morgenstern, who coaches executives, the chronic cancelling of plans is hierarchical. “If it happens to you frequently, you kind of know that you’re the bottom of the heap, right?” she says. A lot of her clients don’t see the damage they cause because an assistant does the work. “When you reschedule a lot, you seem not in command and unreliable. Do you really want to communicate that?” According to Morgenstern, both sides suffer reputational damage

So don’t say yes to meetings you don’t really want to have. For the purely elective appointments, schedule with intent. This lunch that’s being proposed, either by you or the other party, if it were to happen now, would you want to do it? Because your desire to have the lunch won’t change. You’re not going to be more inclined to have it a few weeks down the road. “If the answer is no today,” says Morgenstern, “then don’t put it on your schedule. In three weeks, you’re going to get to the day before and say, ‘What the hell is this doing on my schedule?’ ”

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