Why You're Lazy and What to Do About It
“People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals — that is, goals that do not inspire them.” — Tony Robbins
I think our buddy Tony might be onto something — people who are lazy just haven’t found something worth getting off their ass and chasing. Without a clear goal in mind, or one that you actually care about, you’ll procrastinate by distracting yourself with other more immediately rewarding tasks such as cleaning your apartment, grabbing a snack, browsing Reddit, or watching a TV show.
Though you’re doing something, you’re just not doing what you ought to be doing because you don’t care enough to do it.
What can you do about this? Define a longer-term goal worth chasing, and then ask yourself, “what’s the very first step I need to take?” then go do that.
But hang on a minute. Tony’s quote hardly paints the full picture.
Lack of goal definition and/or undesirable goals is one reason for laziness. There are at least a few other reasons people choose to be lazy:
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a time of scarce resources and not-so-scarce predators. This meant they had to be smart about conserving energy and using it only when the time came to kill or be killed.
According to researchers, only 57% of humans back then reached the age of 15. And of those that did, 64% continued on to live past the age of 45. This put the average life expectancy somewhere between 21 and 37 years old. Life was fragile and there wasn’t much need for long-term planning, because who knew if tomorrow you’d be stricken by disease or mauled by a bear.
Given the choice between conserving energy or an activity that MAYBE benefited you down the road, it almost always made sense to “be lazy” in the name of survival.
Today, humans are fortunate in that we expect to live fairly long lives, which means the status quo has flipped. Now it’s long-term strategies that yield the greatest rewards, yet our instincts to conserve energy still exist.
What can you do about this? Try gaining some perspective through experimentation. Conduct a simple experiment, such as meal planning for the week, that leads to longer-term gratification, aka not having to cook or buy meals come Thursday or Friday. Though you can’t eradicate your instincts, some perspective can help override your natural tendencies to conserve.
Lack of immediate gratification
Though long-term strategies are the key to success in the modern era, our need for immediate gratification still exists, and it would be silly to flat-out ignore. We need “wins” to feel happy and fulfilled. That’s why “thank you’s” and pats on the back feel so damn good.
Imagine embarking on an effort, such as building a blog or an e-commerce store, that may not bear any fruit for at least 6 to 12 months. That’s a long time to stay motivated to put in the massive effort required to see any sort of success. Without any sort of immediate gratification, you would need to have some serious faith that the returns on your labor would someday outweigh the pain of the daily grind.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for burning out, feeling lazy, or unmotivated, no matter how passionate they were about their goal.
You need immediate gratification to keep going.
What can you do about this? Build milestones and small wins along the way. Even if you don’t gain anything directly from your work by reaching a milestone, create your own rewards, such as small purchases, nights off, or delicious meals. These rewards will psychologically satisfy your need for short-term gratification and motivate you to make it to the next milestone.
Fear is a two-way street when it comes to laziness and procrastination. I think the more common reason fear prevents people from chasing their dreams is an innate fear of failure. Trying your best and failing, which is largely unavoidable in anything worth doing, isn’t a great feeling. And some people just can’t handle it, especially when they’re the only one to blame.
So, it’s easier to procrastinate because then you haven’t failed, you just never tried.
On the other hand, fear of success is also a problem. Some people, like I suspect myself, fear they don’t deserve success, or they don’t have the self-esteem to be comfortable with success, and so laziness is a means to delay or sabotage their efforts.
What can you do about this? To me, not trying isn’t a great way to deal with fear of failure because it eats at your very soul, even if you refuse to acknowledge it to the outside world. Instead, it helps to become comfortable with failure so that you no longer fear it. Failure is synonymous with losing, so some quick ways you can experience that are by playing sports and/or video games. These are relatively safe sandboxes where you can get accustomed to losing.
For fear of success, you likely just need greater self-esteem, which you can build through actions such as practicing positive affirmations, mastering new skills, getting in shape, or helping others.
Lastly, sometimes people who procrastinate simply do so because they feel like “there’s just no point in really trying” which is ultimately their lack of self-confidence showing. People who think like this don’t believe in their own abilities to turn hard work into success.
What can you do about this? The answer here is a combination of perspective and building self-esteem, both of which we covered earlier. To change your perspective, design mini-experiments that show the benefits of doing work leading to delayed gratification. For building self-esteem, practice the actions suggested right above this section.
Having covered the psychology and various reasons for laziness, now’s the time to ask yourself, “which is me?”
- Identify your suspected reason for laziness
- Do something to counteract it. Use the “What can you do about this?” sections above
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