Maybe I’m not ‘just lazy’

I’ve been party to more than half a dozen conversations in the last six months about laziness – most of them where people have referred to themselves as, “I guess I’m just lazy”. I was talking about it with a friend the other day and it got me thinking about how it works with me. When this comes up with clients, my standard response is that I don’t think that labeling ourselves as lazy is entirely accurate.

I can’t honestly say that I’ve met many people in my life, if any, who are lazy by nature. In fact, I believe that we are only what we refer to as ‘lazy’ when we aren’t motivated to do what we, or society , says should be done. If we’re avoiding something, then I suspect we’re avoiding it because there’s an aspect to it that scares us or at least doesn’t feel right.

Sometimes, instead of saying we’re lazy, we say we can’t be bothered. I wonder what that phrase, ‘can’t be bothered’, really means. If something ‘bothers’ me, then it makes me feel badly; it’s irritating to me. Maybe I really mean that I don’t want to be bothered by the task. Furthermore, I might not consciously know why. It’s semantics, I know, but defining what it means to me may be revealing of what’s going on subconsciously.

When I have been labeled lazy in my life, I could, and still can, immediately conjure up the heavy feeling in my body. My limbs feel like they’re weighted down with lead. My stomach almost feels full. I feel tired and my brain goes fuzzy. In fact, it feels like my brain just won’t work, like when the bushing went on the gear shift in my car and I just couldn’t get it into first gear.

This doesn’t feel lazy to me. What it actually feels like is resistance. And looking at why I’m resisting is probably more productive than feeling guilty for being ‘lazy’ or feeling resentful about being pushed. I’m a person who is naturally interested in the world. If someone comes to fix the furnace, I want to watch the process and ask questions. I want to know who was on the phone and where you’re going. I’ve been called nosy for just these reasons. How can someone who is that nosy be lazy – about anything?

No, I think that what we call ‘laziness’ could be a passive form of resistance. The body and the psyche say, “Nope. We’re not doing this. It isn’t right. Can’t talk about it. End of story.” I think it indicates some form of internal conflict. If I really felt, inside myself, that not doing whatever I believed I was supposed to, was acceptable, I would just go on and do something else. But if I felt that I should do it and I’m not comfortable with my reasons for not doing it, or I felt that I would end up in a fight that I couldn’t win, then I might shut down and seem what is easy to label in myself as lazy.

I think it’s worth our while as individuals to take a look at what it could be about the task that might not feel right to us and why. I think this is especially important for parents, spouses and bosses as well. Getting irritated with the employee, disciplining them, or even shaming them, isn’t likely to move the impasse and will likely give you heart burn. Equally, self-criticism won’t make me want to do what I’m avoiding and will just make me feel worse.

If I can get underneath why I don’t want to do a particular task such as looking for a job, challenging someone who is bothering me, learning something new, or changing a habit, then I might be able to challenge my own assumptions and change how I see the task. It may turn out that I don’t need to do it in the first place, or maybe I can do something to combat the fear or discomfort. I might need another skill. It’s possible that my reluctance could have to do with what I feel capable of, or a fear of failure. Once I can see it for what it really is, instead of putting it down to ‘laziness’, I open up more options for dealing with it.

So here’s my closing metaphor: If I’m trying to untangle a great, big snarl of yarn so that I can knit with it, yanking at it isn’t going to get the snarl unknotted. What may be more effective is to gently tease it apart, loosening the knots – and then to take care not to put it back where it was, thus preventing it from becoming snarled again.

The next time you find yourself tempted to say ‘just lazy’ about yourself, be kind and take a second look. Ask yourself what’s really going on and see if you can find what’s undermining your motivation. You might be surprised!

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