“Lazy” is a sticky label.
The word is annoyingly accurate, an on-target description of those moments when we possess the energy and capacity to do something worthwhile, and though there’s nothing particular blocking us from doing it, we just don’t.
No doubt my mother saw the truth of my inaction back in my teenage days, and not one to mince words, she often described me using that synonym of the indolent and slothful.
As I watched my kids laze around on beautiful days when all kinds of worthwhile productivity was to be had, I often had to bite my tongue, forcing “you’re lazy” back down my throat, determined to keep them as far from that label as possible. Turns out, psychology (and two now-grown, hard-working adults) confirms my efforts were not in vain.
Read this, and don’t ever call your kids lazy.
We’re all prone to laziness. Inertia and entropy are, after all, no respecters of persons. Robert McKee, of Story fame, asserts that in the beginning of a story, a protagonist, by nature, exerts the minimal amount of energy required to achieve her goal, thereby prompting the universe, by nature, to rise up to deny her that goal, demanding more effort. Stephen Pressfield, in The War of Art, names this universal pushback Resistance, and warns creatives (and everybody else) that Resistance is out not only to stop us from doing our work, but to kill us, to wipe us off the map. Each morning, Pressfield says, Resistance is waiting for us, demon-like, regardless of how many times we’ve beaten it before.
My hunch is that every day, a majority of us cave to resistance, don’t do the thing we have the capacity to do, and struggle against the moniker our moms slapped on us years ago.
Laziness is a myth, according to Dr. Laura Miller. She reminds us that the accusation of laziness is more character judgment than descriptor, and that we should stop calling ourselves lazy. Behavior—or lack thereof—labeled laziness is usually a symptom of larger issues such as fear or depression. Energy is better spent hunting down the bigger problem. Dr. Jon Jachimowicz calls laziness a complex series of “states and habits” each with their own causes. LiveScience reports laziness may be mostly biological, a brain problem, as suggested by studies of the differences in the brains of the motivated and non-motivated. Dr. Neel Burton adds that it’s evolution’s fault, our ancestors needing to preserve energy in case of drought and famine.
In terms of physical inactivity, laziness is deadly, says Dr. Nick Knight, and just how many steps and strategies are required to kick laziness to the curb depends on which advisor you read. 12, 7, or 2 seem to be the most popular numbers, though I’m partial to the one-step strategy peddled by Robert J. McKain back in the 1980s (found thanks to David Seah): “The common conception is that motivation leads to action, but the reverse is true — action precedes motivation.”
In other words, in one step, just do it.
The gap between my capacity and my action is no myth. The uphill battle from idea to action is a daily reality. The chasm between my reading chair and my just-up-the-street gym seems cavernous. My guitar, if I need to actually practice, seems to weigh a thousand pounds. The cognitive effort to organize my swirling thoughts into a form of expression that might actually communicate a helpful idea strikes me as Olympian, and I’m certainly not one of those.
Sometimes, the chair, my coffee, and the comfort of keeping my thoughts to myself trumps the good I have the capacity to deliver.
And the good remains undone.
I used to stare in the mirror and call it what it was.
I’m taking Dr. Miller at her word, though, re-upping a commitment I made years ago to stop calling myself names I wouldn’t call anybody else. I’m peeling off that sticky “lazy” label. No more “lazy” or “loser” or “you suck” (plug in your favorite pejorative) into the mirror.
These days, my gap between capacity and action is primarily a result of inertia and who knows what else. I’ve been trying to figure out the larger problem for years (reading, prayer, therapy, lots of conversations) and I’m taking a break from that boondoggle. These days, I’m working the McKain/Pressfield plan, holding Mark Sisson’s image of a rocket launch in mind as I accept that the energy required to get moving is usually massive up front, but that the sweet spot of an object in motion, humming along according to habit and quicker decision making, is always just a couple of months away.
Action precedes motivation; resistance be damned, do the work.
I can get from my chair to the gym. I can pick up my guitar. I can wrestle a swirl of thoughts to the page. I can do the next step in the project at hand.
And sometimes, I just don’t.
Do I understand why?
Yes, maybe, some, not really…who cares? List of excuses masquerading as reasons, while legitimate, and often worth my attention, aren’t all that interesting anymore.
Movement is medicine.
Less thought, more action.
Postscript: A quick (incomplete) synthesis of strategies out there to beat laziness: Face Your Fear, Feed Your Passion, Remember the Why, Break Tasks into Smaller Steps, Balance the Challenge and the Capacities, Visualize the Benefits, Take care of Your Instrument (Exercise, Nutrition, Sleep), and Make Deadlines and Be Accountable to Someone.