Relax, you’re not lazy – you just don’t want to do stuff

Anna Brech

There’s no such thing as “being lazy”, according to a radical new theory by a US psychotherapist

Lazy is an insult we bandy about a huge amount these days. You’re lazy if you don’t get out of bed on time. Or if you skip that after-work spin class. Or if you fail to pull your weight in an office brainstorm session.

But according to a new claim by Atlanta-based psychotherapist and author Avrum Weiss, it simply doesn’t exist as a condition.

Writing for Psychology Today, Weiss suggests we use “lazy” as a throwaway term to shame people with. This is especially true in American culture, where, he says, a strong work ethic is ingrained: “Americans see hard work as the great equalizer, and we admire industry over ability. If you are not succeeding in something, it must be because you are not trying hard enough (i.e., lazy).”

And yet, he says, this reasoning doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If you fail to do something, for whatever reason, it’s not because you’re lazy. It’s because, on some unconscious level, you simply don’t want to do it.

“What we call laziness is simply people’s very legitimate objection to being shamed into doing what they don’t want to do,” Weiss writes. “People vote with their feet; they do exactly what they want to do, and don’t do what they don’t want to do.

“What we call laziness is when somebody says they want to do something, but doesn’t do it, which really just means they don’t want to do it. How do we know that? Because they’re not doing it, and if they wanted to do it, they would be.”

So, the piece concludes, being “lazy” is just not a thing. Instead it’s a label we use to shame people by, because we can’t accept that they’re not doing what they should be doing. At the same time, the “lazy” person in question isn’t inherently idle, they merely aren’t ready to put out the rubbish/drive you to the airport/stop bingeing on Netflix.

Read more: How to make yourself fearless in five key steps

It’s an interesting theory – and it’s not the first time the idea of laziness has fallen under the spotlight. In this piece for Medium, Chicago-based social psychologist Devon Price also argues that behavioural “laziness” is a myth: instead it’s a case of unseen barriers coming into play.

Whether it’s a lack of interest, fatigue or other situational causes that bubble beneath the surface, there’s always always a reason why you resist a certain activity. And it’s too easy (lazy, even!) to lump those motives under “laziness”.

But if you often find yourself dismissed as “lazy”, there’s other reasons to take heart, too. This 2015 study led by Todd McElroy at Florida Gulf Coast University finds a link between laziness and high intelligence.

Participants found to be “thinkers” – i.e. who enjoyed the process of thinking and cognitive problem-solving – were found to be significantly less active than those in the “non-thinker” category. Researchers speculated that the non-thinkers get bored more easily, so are motivated to move around more, and look to physical activity as a distraction.

Perhaps when it comes down to it, being “lazy” is really a sign that we need to be more true to ourselves. So instead of saying we’ll do something (and then not do it because we don’t want to) we should simply be honest and stop worrying about how that translates. And for that, we can look to the so-called “laziest” of creatures: the domestic cat.

“Your cat is transparent in its behaviour, and no little fibs about its personality or abilities can shake its confidence or self-esteem,” writes Stéphane Garnier, in the best-selling book How To Live Like Your Cat. “[…] We feel ill at ease when we find ourselves up against it, caught between what we have said and what we actually do or are.

“[…] To feel at ease in all situations, you have to be as honest as possible with yourself and with others, and not invest too much in the image you convey to them, for that image can only be a positive one when you follow the ways of the cat.”

Bottom line? If you’re one of those people often branded as “lazy”, enjoy it. It’s simply a sign of you doing you.

Images: Sarah Ball, Vu Thu Giang and Matthew Henry on Unsplash


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