March 11

Are You Lazy?

March 11, 2016

Personal Growth

Laziness is more than a description of a condition, where people demonstrate a tendency toward inactivity, and where they dislike physical or mental exertion. Laziness is also used as a weapon and as an excuse:

  1. We like to point to people as lazy in the hope that this will motivate them to be more energetic—to get better grades, to accomplish more in their career, to clean their rooms, and more. Of course, if we label other people as lazy, by comparison we also appear to be more industrious—an added benefit for our accusations.
  2. When we accept the label of laziness given to us by others—or created by ourselves—often we are crippled by it. For the rest of our lives we are less likely to take risks, put energy into an effort, or to accomplish great things, all because we believe we are lazy and incapable of such efforts.

We might stop using the “lazy” label either as a weapon or an excuse if we better understood what laziness really is. George came to me one day and said that his laziness was killing him. He was a well-respected surgeon and professor at a medical school. But he was always behind in his medical charts, never did his continuing education hours on time, and on the day we talked he was dealing with his medical license being suspended simply because he didn’t fill out the paperwork involved.

“How can I get over this laziness?” he asked, adding the names of several techniques and programs he’d tried to become more organized.

“You’re not lazy,” I said.

George was surprised at this response and began to present a litany of evidence to contradict my assertion.

“It’s not laziness, George. I’ll prove it.”


“You had to do pretty well in college to get into the medical school you attended, yes?”


“And then you worked hard to get through medical school?”


“And even harder to finish your surgical residency and sub-specialty fellowship?”

“Yeah, that nearly killed me.”

“So you’re NOT lazy. You’re capable of working as hard as almost anybody I know. But here’s the real question: has all that work ever done you any lasting, meaningful good?”

“What do you mean?” George asked.

“Despite all that hard work, did it ever make you truly happy? Peaceful? Content? Happy in your marriage?”

The answer to all those questions was No. “You’re not lazy,” I said. “You’ve just given up. If all that hard work has never made you happy, then what would motivate you to keep doing it? And especially why bother with the little, annoying things like paperwork. What you’re experiencing is discouragement, or futility.”

Almost every child wants to please his parents. And he’ll work hard to do it. But eventually, he discovers that pleasing his parents takes more and more work. When it becomes frustrating enough, he rebels instead—either by giving up or by doing things that earn negative attention, which children actually prefer to being ignored.

George was just so good at pleasing people and earning Imitation Love that he reached the phase of rebellion much later than most people.

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