“Stop being lazy!”
This is a sentiment used all too often, whether it comes from a parent, peer, or ourselves. While it often comes from a place of trying to inspire motivation, it actually does more damage than we think. If you think about it, nobody who gets called “lazy” ever says: “You know what, you’re right! I’m going to make my bed now” (and if you do, please teach the rest of us your ways). For the most part, saying someone is being “lazy” is assigning a character judgment to them. This person has two options: either they continue saying that they’re just “lazy” because that has been determined as a part of who they are as a person, or they continue being labeled as “lazy” but they feel bad about it. This is a difficult pattern to break. By calling ourselves “lazy,” we are assigning the appropriate punishment for this terrible characteristic. By calling others “lazy,” we get the satisfaction of placing blame on them.
What causes “laziness”?
Procrastination and Learned Helplessness
When it’s an issue of procrastination, someone may be perceived as “lazy” because they are worried their effort will result in failure. (Or even success!) According to a Psychology Today publication by Laura D. Miller, LCSW, people often avoid risking failure by putting off goals or tasks. By not trying or not having enough time to complete a task, people can create an excuse for not doing something to the best of their ability. Alternatively, some people actually worry what they do will be successful and bring out new conflicts. For example, someone who does well in an interview may get a new job which brings out all sorts of new stressors. Individuals who struggle with procrastination have some idea that they could complete a task successfully, but they fear the outcome.
Tim Hoffman of Hoffman Psychological Counseling also writes that those who have experienced learned helplessness—the belief that circumstances are out of your control therefore you stop trying to help a situation—may also stop trying to overcome obstacles and become perceived as “lazy.” In reality, they may not recognize that they still have some influence on a situation. As a child, these individuals have learned to believe they are inadequate, and they won’t succeed no matter what. As adults, they eventually avoid doing those tasks altogether. Unlike procrastinators, they believe they are incapable of doing a task successfully.
Depression and Anxiety
Several key components of experiencing depression include the pervasive lack of motivation, fatigue, and anhedonia (not enjoying the things you used to enjoy anymore). All of these lead to a person feeling especially stuck or tired. This is true even for those without having an official depression diagnosis. Oftentimes, this also leads to the word “lazy” being thrown around. Someone may even mistake their depression for “laziness” and not recognize the need for treatment. Some signs of depression that often get written off as “laziness” include spending a lot of time on social media, falling behind in work, and oversleeping. Taking lots of breaks, having trouble getting out of bed, and falling behind in personal hygiene are also signs. Depression can be aggravated by the resulting guilt or anger a person feels when they are called “lazy”. Think back to a time you were planning to do the dishes. Imagine someone said, “you should really do the dishes.” It probably made you want to do anything but the dishes. Telling someone to stop being so lazy has a similar effect.
People who struggle with anxiety may become paralyzed with the fear of making mistakes or initiating new plans or unfamiliar tasks. Their energy becomes directed at distractions. Hearing they are being “lazy” for being on their computer for the third hour that day just worsens the anxiety and makes the obstacle harder to overcome.
Of course, depression and procrastination aren’t the only things that can lead to someone being labeled. People may avoid tasks for a variety of reasons. It may relate to a psychological diagnosis or not. In general, the more we do away with calling people (or ourselves) “lazy,” the better off we will be at getting to the root of why tasks are being avoided and how this can be helped. Following that logic, as we begin to unravel the reasons that people are “lazy,” the idea that anyone is truly just a “lazy” person become a myth.
The society we live in tends to place an emphasis on being “productive” most of the time. Sometimes it gets to the point that doing anything other than something labeled as “productive” means that we are being “lazy.” But like we’ve said, being “lazy” is a myth because there is an underlying reason for not doing something. If “laziness” doesn’t exist but we’re still expected to be “productive” at all times, then laying on the floor and petting your dog when you get home is your way of being “productive” at that moment because it is what you need to feel better.
Your brain and body need time to rest and relax before moving on to the next task. Depending on the person, they may spend more or less time on this, or show it differently. Our job is not to judge others. We want to give them the space they need before encouraging them to move on to the next task if they need the extra support. Just remember the next time you find yourself relaxing, you are not being “lazy” or “unproductive.” You just got home from a long day, and even though you have five more things to do that day, you also need to let yourself take the time for a much-needed relaxing break.
If you feel you need help coping with depression, anxiety or any other issues, email or call us at (217) 203-2008 to schedule an appointment.