Have you ever asked yourself this question?
“Why am I so lazy?“
Because it’s a question I know I ask myself all the time.
And there’s a painful realization lurking behind this thought. It’s the idea that you’re not living up to your potential.
You’re not living up to your own standards.
And that hurts a lot.
Procrastination makes you lose time, money and opportunities.
But there’s a way to beat it…
Is Lazyness Really Your Fault?
Most of us assume the answer is Yes. We abuse ourselves with counterproductive thoughts that actually make our problems worse.
“I’m so lazy. I wouldn’t be in this mess if I just did what I was supposed to do.“
If you’re like most people, you’ve had thoughts like these from time to time.
Does it help?
Do you suddenly spring into action after you’ve spent 10 to 15 minutes yelling at yourself?
People use the term “laziness” as a catch-all term to describe those moments when you’re not motivated to do anything and not doing what you know you should be doing. .
We tend to confuse laziness with several other problems – some we’ve never heard of before. We need to figure out what laziness is before we can stop it.
Do You Know What Laziness Is?
Laziness is not establishing habits to change your behavior. We’re lazy because we don’t have the necessary inputs to make a better decision.
And what this means is that there’s a solution to laziness.
But here’s the official definition of laziness…
Terrible Definition Warning
Merriam Webster's definition of laziness is terrible. They define laziness as someone who is:
"Disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous Encouraging inactivity or indolence."
But you already knew that, right?
If we’d like to end laziness for good, we need to figure out what it isn’t.
So what do I mean by that?
There are several things that masquerade as laziness. These are serious problems on their own and the way we fix them varies considerably.
If you apply the wrong solution there’s a good chance you’ll make your situation worse. So it’s important to identify whether you’re dealing with laziness or an imposter.
Laziness Impostor #1: Acedia
Benjamin Sledge describes Acedia as depression’s lesser-known evil twin. It was a term coined by monks who found themselves struggling with indifference. These monks felt apathetic, listless and unable to do any of the things they felt they were supposed to do.
Acedia isn’t laziness.
It also isn’t depression. It’s something else entirely.
It’s a mental state that produces boredom, sluggishness, bitterness, and resentment (why do I have to do this? It’s so stupid).
Acedia frequently results in self-pity, despair, self-centeredness and a chronic state of melancholy.
It’s the feeling of dread and despair that comes when you have to do something tedious –
- Making calls to 25 people
- Folding and sorting your laundry
- Loading or unloading the dishwasher, etc.
Stop Acedia in Its Tracks
The solution is simple.
First, know that acedia is coming for you. It’s an inevitable part of living.
At some point, you will experience acedia.
Second, know that you have a choice. You can simply choose to push through. If you’re struggling to unload the dishwasher, unload one plate and put it away.
Acedia is something you fight.
The good news? You know acedia is coming. And that’s significant because awareness blunts the effects it has on your life.
Laziness Impostor #2: Procrastination
The rationale goes like this: If you’re not doing what you know you should be doing then you’re procrastinating, which means you’re lazy.
But procrastination isn’t laziness.
With the typical view, procrastination is viewed as the enemy. And it’s a problem you need to stamp out completely.
But, is this actually the case? If you’re a procrastinator does that mean you’re actually lazy?
Mel Robbins doesn’t think so.
In fact, she outlines the real reasons we procrastinate.
The real cause of procrastination?
But you already know the end result of procrastination. It creates more stress.
And the more you procrastinate, the more stressed out you become. The more stressed you are, the more you procrastinate.
It’s a vicious cycle.
What if you could convert procrastination into a superpower that enabled you to get more things done?
Stop Procrastination in Its Tracks
How can you possibly stop procrastination in its tracks?
Well, you can eliminate procrastination with…more procrastination.
Wait, what? I’m not suggesting that you use the same kind of procrastination you’re used to.
I’m recommending you use structured procrastination instead.
What is that?
John Perry won a Nobel Prize for his Theory of Structured Procrastination.
Procrastinators can accomplish a long list of significant, difficult and timely work as long as the tasks are used to avoid something else.
Namely, the work you’re supposed to be doing.
Have a list of calls you’re putting off? Do the dishes or take out the trash if you’re struggling to get started. Not writing the blog post you know you should be? Do some research on your topic.
Be productive, in a roundabout way.
Chronic procrastinators can defeat procrastination by doing something else of value.
He breaks this down in detail in his book: The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing but you can read his short primer on structured procrastination here.
Laziness Impostor #3: Physical Malnourishment
If you’re like most people in our country, you’re well fed but chronically malnourished.
And it’s not that you don’t want to do the work you’re supposed to.
You simply can’t.
For many people, it feels as if they have nothing left to give. It’s as if they’re barely keeping it together in their day-to-day life.
They’re eating plenty of food, and they’re getting sleep, but they still feel drained.
This Isn't About Laziness
It’s about chemistry and biology. Many people tell themselves they’re lazy but the thought never occurs to them that they could be malnourished. If your body doesn’t have what it needs, you’re not going to perform at a high level.
It all boils down to neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers.
They affect a variety of functions in the body including heart rate, sleep, appetite, fear and mood. Here’s the thing about neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are all Made from Amino Acids
Every single one of our moods depends on the neurotransmitters in our brains.
Your mood is almost completely dependent on the amino acids in the protein you eat. If your diet is balanced with the right kinds of vitamins, minerals and amino acids you’re more resilient. You’re also much more productive in your day-to-day life.
In 24 hours or less, you can take control of your emotions and productivity. Simply by eating the right micronutrients and eating the right foods. You can eliminate these symptoms and boost your productivity immediately, on the cheap.
Sometimes within minutes.
This Laziness Thing Isn't as Easy as It Seems
There’s actually more.
We’ve covered the three biggest issues masquerading as laziness. People struggle with these issues on a daily basis. They beat themselves up for the fact that they haven’t been as productive as they should be.
There are other lesser known (and potentially more severe) issues that masquerade as laziness. I’ll list those briefly, then we’ll move on.
Fear, Stress, Anxiety, and Sleep Deprivation
Fear, stress, and anxiety kill your ability to work or perform. The research on this is clear. Negative emotion has a profound inhibiting effect on cognition and memory. It makes it difficult for you to even think properly.
Sleep deprivation has an incredibly negative impact on cognitive function and work performance. The research shows a lack of sleep affects cognition, working memory, attention, reaction, comprehension and focus negatively. This seems obvious but the research shows it’s so much worse than most people realize.
Athymhormia: A motivation disorder that results in the loss of desire or interest in previous motivations.
Avolition: A decrease in the motivation to begin or complete self-directed activity (e.g. routines, work, school, socializing, etc.)
Aboulia: A serious condition where those affected lack the will or initiative to make decisions or act independently
Amotivational syndrome: Detachment and loss of motivation due to long term drug use.
Senioritis: A colloquial term that’s used to describe the lack of motivation experienced by students who are nearing the end of high school, college or graduate school.
These are more serious but they’re also less common.
Once we deal with the three major issues we’ve discussed earlier (acedia, procrastination, and malnourishment) what’s left?
1. Beliefs - Your Secret Control Center
We’re not always in control.
But research shows the vast majority of our actions are unconscious and automatic.
“An enormous portion of the cognitive activity is non-conscious, figuratively speaking, it could be 99 percent; we probably will never know precisely how much is outside awareness.” Dr. Emmanuel Donchin Former director of the Laboratory for Cognitive Psychophysiology at the University of Illinois.
Why does this matter?
Thoughts that are repeated and believed, by you or others, become beliefs. Your values, ethics, and morals, the framework that governs your behavior, come from your beliefs.
Here’s the problem.
Many of us are filled with toxic beliefs. Beliefs about the world, others and ourselves. We’re hobbled by these beliefs.
And anytime we try to do something good our subconscious mind sabotages us.
"I don't believe you"
Anytime you try to go against your programming, against your belief structure, your subconscious mind fights it. Imagine that an entrepreneur has this toxic core belief lurking around inside of their head:
“You’re a lazy, no good dummy. You don’t deserve to be successful.”
How would that play out?
You don’t have to wonder how it would play out. Just watch for yourself.
This is the exact message lurking around in that entrepreneur’s head.
Look at how she treats herself?
Look at how hard she’s fighting to overcome her programming! She’s dealt with beliefs. She’s gone to therapy, but those toxic beliefs are still there. Lasting change is impossible with this.
So what do you do?
How do you deal with these toxic beliefs and issues? You change your beliefs. Gary van Warmerdam breaks it down for you.
Here’s the amazing part.
Change your beliefs and you change your emotions and actions, automatically. When you actually have healthy beliefs, when you believe in the value you’re trying to deliver, you behave differently.
It takes work.
But it also gives you a straightforward path to the productivity and success you’ve been working towards.
Do you have unhealthy beliefs about yourself? This list of maladaptive schemas (unhealthy beliefs) is a great place to start. It’s a quick read and it shows you the negative thoughts and emotions you may have about yourself.
2. Personality - Performance on Autopilot
When taken to extremes, conscientiousness becomes workaholism, perfectionism, and obsessive or compulsive behavior.
When it’s healthy, conscientiousness creates value. Conscientiousness is the foundation of achievement and success.
It’s a requirement of productivity.
If you’re already conscientious and you’re not doing the things you need to do, it feels terrible. As a conscientious person, you’re used to hard work and self-discipline so your brain is far more likely to lie to you.
“Just do it. Stop being lazy.”
If you’re conscientious and you’re not accomplishing the things you know you should, there’s an underlying problem. It most likely isn’t a personality problem but it also isn’t laziness. The details I’ve covered above are great places to start.
What if You're not Conscientious
What if you’re more laid back and spontaneous? Someone who takes things as they come? Conscientiousness is the foundation of achievement, so you’ll need to teach yourself.
Wait a minute.
Isn’t conscientiousness a personality trait? Does that mean we must change our personality to fix this problem?
Research from Harvard Medical School found that raising your conscientiousness could improve your health, increase your lifespan and dramatically increase your productivity.
You’re in charge.
You can choose to become the person you’re meant to be. You can change your personality any way that you see fit.
Locus of Control
If you’re familiar with the locus of control you know it comes in two flavors.
- Internal: The belief that you’re largely in charge of your life and the choices you make. “Life is what I make it.”
- External: The belief that your life is controlled almost entirely by outside people and factors. “Life happens to me.”
An internal locus of control produces conscientiousness. An external produces learned helplessness, a mental state where people coast through life, accepting the unnecessary pain and suffering that comes their way.
This is an unexpected contributor to laziness. Most people are quick to ask, “Why am I so lazy” when they should be asking, “Am I in charge of my life (or not)?”
It’s about belief.
An external locus of control is an unhealthy belief that shapes whether you’ll act in your best interests or not.
You can have an internal locus of control with your work and an external with your family life. It’s messy, complicated and chaotic at times. But it needs to be managed.
And left unchecked, an external locus of control leads to clinical depression and related mental illness.
It’s a fight you can win.
But only if you know you’re in a fight and you have the tools to win.
3. Habits - Antidote to Procrastination
Productivity isn’t about motivation.
It’s about memory.
Procedural memory is the memory system in your brain that’s in charge of the encoding, storing and recovery of procedures. This memory system manages specific procedures like walking and talking as well as complex tasks like riding a bike.
Why does this matter?
Amnesia patients and people who’ve suffered a significant degree of memory loss still retain procedural memory. They know how to put on their pants, ride a bike and walk downstairs. But they often can’t remember their own name or their loved ones.
What does this tell you about productivity?
Habits are the Key
Motivation is unpredictable.
Some days you’re motivated, other days you aren’t. If you rely on motivation, your productivity depends entirely on how you feel.
If you’re tired, hungry or unhappy your motivation takes an automatic nosedive.
Habits are more sustainable.
They’re also the key to behavioral change. You’ve heard this before, I’m sure. There are quite a few productivity “hacks” you can use to boost your productivity.
Next, make it a habit.
Use your procedural memory to turn your preferred productivity system into a habit or procedural memory.
With the right behavioral model.
BJ Fogg, Scientist at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, created the Fogg Behavioral Model (FBM). The FBM was designed to answer a simple question.
“What causes behavior change?”
The FBM shows there are three elements to behavior change.
- Motivation: A convincing reason to change your behavior.
- Ability: The capability to change your behavior in a specific way.
- Triggers: A prompt or call-to-action that tells people to: “Do it now!”
Here are the slides from his presentation.
It’s the cure to laziness.
Look forward, reason backward.
David Yoffie, author of Strategy Rules explains.
Rewrite Behavior and Boost Your Productivity
Here’s one path you can take to completely rewrite your behavior and boost your productivity.
- Look forward by imagining the future and setting goals
- Reason backward, outlining the steps and tasks you’ll need to reach these goals.
- Create the habits, via procedural memory, you’ll need to make your performance automatic
- Iterate and improve your system
- Achieve your goals using less time and effort
It seems easy, and it is! But it still requires discipline and effort to get this process going.
But, what if you aren’t conscientious enough to even get this off the ground? Is there another way to make this work?
As it turns out, there is.
Consequences change behavior. But here’s the tricky part about consequences.
People often confuse punishment with consequences.
When I use the word “consequences” I’m talking about natural consequences. The natural outcome for a particular behavior or habit.
Punishment is often arbitrary or disconnected from the offense that produced it.
For example, in this article on punishment, Michael Karson PhD, J.D. makes a great argument about punishment.
Punishment Produces Politeness not Morality
This is huge.
This is yet another reason why it’s so important to be kind and to forgive yourself when you make mistakes.
Because punishment (e.g. calling yourself lazy) does nothing to fix the problem.
Consequences are different.
Natural consequences teach us about the short and long term effects of our choices, behavior, and actions.
If we fail to deliver on our promises, we’re viewed as unreliable. If the quality of our work is poor, we won’t be asked for help in the future.
Natural consequences hurt.
But, they’re also an indicator that helps us shape our decisions to doing what’s best for ourselves and for our loved ones.
Natural consequences motivate us to be better.
The solution is simple then.
Choosing the Right Consequences
If you'd like to change your behavior, tie natural consequences to your words and your actions.
So, how do you use this?
How to Use Consequences to Stop Being Lazy
- You tell people about your goals and the things you'll accomplish
- Make specific and measurable promises to important or influential people
- Pick a (friendly) fight or start a friendly competition with those above your peer level
- Make a public proclamation about your values, beliefs, goals or objectives
- Make a prediction about where you'll be in a specific time frame (then work to achieve it)
Then, you get to work.
Did you feel nervous reading any of these?
Here’s the thing about these, the natural consequences to each of these scenarios is baked in. You don’t need punishment, you have reality.
Here’s the caveat.
You’ll want to use this strategy with people you know will hold you accountable. Because it won’t work if you’re surrounded by enablers.
These strategies give you the game plan strategy and tactics you need to eliminate laziness permanently.
But a word of caution.
Eliminating laziness and boosting your productivity comes with some unpleasant downsides.
The Crab Mentality
You’ve heard about it, right? It’s the, “If I can’t have it neither can you mentality.” It’s true for people as well. People around you (e.g. peers, competitors, observers) will do their best to knock you down a peg. They’ll work to undermine your confidence and sabotage your success.
A recent study pointed this out.
A US financial services company asked supervisors to rate their employees’ performance. Next, employees were asked to rate how often they’ve been the target of abuse in the last 30 days.
Here’s what they found.
- Low performers experienced overt forms of abuse – aggression, swearing, hostility.
- Top performers experienced covert abuse – the silent treatment, information withholding and performance sabotage from their peers
Outperform the average and the crab mentality takes over. Here’s how you defeat it.
Beating the Crab Mentality
- Givers: If you’re an altruistic giver you go out of your way to share your time, knowledge, resources, connections and support with no strings attached and no expectation of return.
- Matchers preserve balance: If you take from them, they take from you. If you give to them, they give to you. They amplify givers and prevent takers from abusing others.
- Takers are self-focused: They put their interests ahead of the needs of others. They try to take as much as they can from others while giving or contributing as little as they can in return.
Givers come in two varieties: Selfless givers drop everything to help people all the time. This leaves them open to abuse from takers. Otherish givers are strategic and wise about their giving. They’re selfless to matchers and givers, but they copy matchers when they encounter takers.
Giving circumvents the crab mentality.
As you achieve success, pay it forward. You’ll still have takers who are consumed by jealousy. But, giving means you’ll also have key allies who can (and will) return the favor when you need protection and safety.
This is how you end laziness.
This Works for Others. What if it Doesn't Work for You?
This concern typically isn’t grounded in reality. You don’t know for sure it won’t work, but there’s a legitimate concern that it may not work well for you.
And it takes work.
But there’s an important reason why this will work for you. Because this plan is something you develop for yourself.
And the plan relies on you to work. You’re the secret ingredient. Your thoughts, beliefs, personality, and habits are all yours.
If you give this your best effort, you’ll discover that the plan is based entirely around you.
That’s why it’s going to work.
But what if you’ve tried everything?
Well, the truth is that nothing will get better unless we keep trying.
If we give it our best and we keep trying, we’re far more likely to eliminate laziness, or the problems masquerading as laziness, from our lives.
But we have to try.
The question, “Why am I so lazy?” is the wrong question to ask.
It’s a question that people ask themselves all the time. But there’s a painful realization lurking behind this thought. And it’s the idea that you’re not living up to your potential.
Maybe you’re not living up to your own standards.
Laziness is a big problem because people use the term “laziness” as a catch-all term to describe those moments when you’re not doing what you know you should do.
Change your beliefs, personality, and habits to improve your laziness. Use consequences to your advantage and follow the 5 steps we outlined to change your behavior.
Not being lazy is a learned behavior and it’s something we can all work on to improve.
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