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I am lazy. Help me.
March 11, 2010 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I am lazy. I am in a rut.

I am lazy. I have no drive. I am 31 years old. I will turn 32. I am married with two kids. I still play video games. I am disgusted that I play video games at 32 years of age. It's shameful I know. But I can't help it.

Let me explain. For long periods of time I will find myself in a rut. I recognzie my state. Then I will say to myself "enough of this". I will mend my ways. I will do everything that I feel will help me get better:

1) I will wake up early
2) I will do my home office work diligently
3) Spend less time on the internet
4) Exercise
5) Read

Then, I will drop off again. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse.

I quit watching TV a long time ago. But I still watch my favorite hockey team. I quit TV, but I am hooked on the net. I recently got a add-on for FF called Time Tracker. It tells me how my time I spend on the internet. Eg: Since Mar 3, 2010 I have spent 47 hours on the internet. Mind you, I hardly do anything productive on the net. Email. Garbage sites. Rinse. Repeat. But I am addicted.

I have a habit of buying books in the hopes of reading them. I have bought almost all the classics. I have great great authors on my shelves. I just don't have the drive to read them.

Why not? I have no idea. I am lazy. I hate being in this state. I hate being a dabbler. One day nice, the next day, I am even worse.

And there are so many things I have to improve upon. I tell myself this everyday. But I hardly get around to doing it.
posted by alshain to Health & Fitness (46 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
 
First: There's nothing shameful about adults playing video games. It sometimes seems that way because we're really the first generation of adults that has ever had awesome video games made for them, and not everybody can handle the paradigm shift from the old days of Ataris and NESes that were really just babysitters for eight-year-olds.

Second: There could be something shameful about the games if you can't manage the time you spend playing them. Which isn't a problem inherent in games; everything is bad in excess.

Third: It sounds like you may be struggling with depression. I'm going to pull a MetaFilter cliche and suggest that you try counseling. If you can beat depression, you'll find your drive again.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:00 AM on March 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's nothing wrong, per se, with playing video games at age 32, as long as it's done in moderation (this is true of most recreational activities).

That said, what you describe sounds at least in part like depression. Do you feel depressed? Taking steps to treat that might be a good start (although exercise itself can be a treatment for depression, so it's a bit of a Catch-22 situation).
posted by you just lost the game at 8:00 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are two things I see here:

1) You sound a little like me, where a single slip can send you down the rabbit hole. Is this true? If so, you need to work on weening yourself, not quitting cold turkey. Allow yourself some room to still enjoy the things you call lazy and just focus on a little less every week. 40 hours next week instead of 47.

2) There isn't a question at the end of this, which leads me to believe that you haven't asked yourself something important; who do you want to be? Someone who exercises and reads a lot? Something more? Brainstorm a little bit about the things you want out of life and write them down. Come back to that question often.

If you're simply looking not to be something, you need to have a clear idea of what you actually want to become. Map out the things you think you could be doing with your time, put them in a visible list and when you're feeling lazy, take a look at it and go from there. Good luck!
posted by Hiker at 8:01 AM on March 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


I don’t know how to offer suggestions for all those things, but can provide suggestions for one or 2 things. Why not take on a few goals versus a giant list, too?

For the exercise, have it be something you really, really enjoy and also have it be a social activity (for me that’s biking). Anyway, for you, meeting up with a buddy 2X week/whatever frequency you want could be really reinforcing in that it gives social and adult time. I find that I follow through with exercise if I know another person is standing there waiting for me; if you find someone really competitive that may also help to push you. Alternatively, does your wife or the kids enjoy an outdoor activity? Wouldn’t it be great to go on a ~40 to 50 mile ride with one of the kids (depending on the age)? Or make a bet with someone: your wife, the kids, etc. Dad plans to complete the couch to 5K plan. Build in a reinforcement plan (go to a 5K run at a vacation destination). Maybe make it a family goal – if 2 kids and one dad can complete the 5K run, then that equals a trip to = Disneyworld.

Video games? If it really is interfering, delete them. Delete them all.

These are just random ideas, but building in an activity you enjoy plus a social activity really makes it a fun activity that you want to do all the time, not exercise.
posted by Wolfster at 8:10 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're not a person who enjoys reading classic novels, why do you want to read classic novels? If you ARE a person who enjoys playing video games (in moderation), why do you want to stop playing video games?

What, exactly, is wrong with your life? Is your claimed laziness interfering with your ability to earn a living, or with the happiness of your family life? If not, the only problem I see is that you are applying an externally-imposed idea of what and who you should be, instead of being who you are and who you *actually* want to be.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:11 AM on March 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


I see a lot more self-loathing in your question than laziness. I suspect that's why a lot of the responses you're getting mention depression, and why I have to nth that.

I will also nth what everyone has said about gaming. As a parent, there may even come a time when having some familiarity is really useful.

Get the help you need, so that you can stop beating yourself up. I bet that takes up more time right now than anything else you described.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:16 AM on March 11, 2010


One thing about the video games: are your wife and kids into video games? are there games you could play as a family? Sometimes it's fun to go down the rabbit hole together...All this time alone reinforces the depression spiral...Get together with friends and family and talk, get out of your own vortex.
posted by nimmpau at 8:16 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


First, stop beating yourself up. It sounds like you are expecting yourself to be able to instantly transform every aspect of your life all in one single cold-turkey change. This is nonsense. Nobody can do this.

Start with tiny little goals, and if you don't hit them exactly or as much as you wanted, that's okay. Maybe play 4 hours of video games a day instead of 6. Pat yourself on the back for this achievement. Maybe pick one book off your huge shelf, and concentrate on finishing that one. If it doesn't grab you after 100 pages, pick another. No big deal.

Exercise is important. When you feel yourself in your rut, try to make a mental note to just walk away for a while. Go for a walk in the neighbourhood. Leave your environment.

Maybe you should look at small changes to your environment as well. You mention completing more home office work. Try disconnecting your home office from the Internet when you sit down to do work. Maybe rearrange and clean up your office for a change of pace. Put up a bulletin board in a prominent place with a big to-do list on it. Write down small goals, and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing them off.

There are a million tiny things you could do to work towards your big life-changing goals. Start with those, and stop making it an all-or-nothing dichotomy in your head.

Good luck!
posted by hamandcheese at 8:20 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


First off, there is nothing shameful about playing video games. We (I am roughly your age) are in a middle generation, where many people our age and older didn't grow up with them, and so look down on video games as a "kids" activity, while they lounge in their La-Z-Boys, watching hours upon hours of TV.

There are tons of different philosophies on sustaining personal motivation. Since you are spending so much of your time on the internet, you should spend some of that time searching for one that fits your personality.

Personally, I motivate myself by list-making and breaking large tasks into smaller, easily manageable items. If you're not a list maker at heart, this may not work for you. And as a rule, rather than focusing on doing less of something, I prefer to focus on filling my time with worthwhile things I enjoy.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 8:21 AM on March 11, 2010


Great post on this topic today at Get Rich Slowly called Avoiding the Time Suck:
posted by the foreground at 8:23 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a similar issue although I have no kids to attend to - it's just me and the husband but I can waste time like nobody's business. I grew up with a lack of discipline and while I've managed to do pretty well in life without much of it, there does come a point where you realize that farting around doesn't get you anywhere and can even get in your way.

Short term goals help me as well as having a buddy who nudges me to the gym now and again. Have you thought about talking to a coach (yes, the dreaded and horribly named "life coach")? I have been working with one for years and she helps keep me accountable and focused. I've had years of therapy and can talk about stuff 'til I'm blue in the face but unless I have someone sort of walking with me, it takes a lot of energy on my part to get things done. (Sucks, I know. Worse for my "20 years in the military, get things done NOW" husband, I assure you.)

MefiMail me if you want to talk more. Good luck.

(Also: yeah, the comment Hiker made ("which leads me to believe that you haven't asked yourself something important; who do you want to be? Someone who exercises and reads a lot? Something more? Brainstorm a little bit about the things you want out of life and write them down. Come back to that question often.) hit home with me. Try working that one through. I know I plan to.
posted by Mysticalchick at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2010


To embrace the brainstorming and try to cover all possible answers to the question, such as it is:

Drugs, maybe? Trade one addiction for another? Adderall is good stuff. Makes you feel all invigorated and industrious. Though of course conventional wisdom is that you shouldn't try to solve problems in your life with drugs.

How about religion? People get lots of different things out of religion. Western religions have lots of good carrots and sticks for dealing with sloth and other sins. Or, there's Eastern religions to tell you that these are all illusory things, even the classics you wish you were spending your time reading and the other things you bemoan not doing out of laziness, that distract you from a greater underlying truth and meaning to your life.
posted by XMLicious at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I fall into these ruts too. I find what really helps me get going is having something to shoot for. The whole bit about exercise is a good thing, and if you want to exercise, find a reason. Maybe there's a 5k coming up. Or a bicycling event. Having that to get ready for gives you a reason to go during the week.

Internet - I've been guilty of that. I now have about a dozen sites bookmarked, and once I'm done with those, I'm done for the day. I do, however, still use it if there's a good reason. For example, the internet is my cookbook. Maybe I'm using it to research an issue, or a quick check of the weather. But as far as the surfing just for something to do goes, I hit my bookmarks and then I'm done. Doing that has cut my surfing dramatically.

Video games are not bad. I'm a few years older than you and I still play, and probably will forever. Video games in excess - that's bad. If you think you're playing too much, you probably are.

Basically, you sound like me. You need interesting things to do. When you don't have them, you fall into a rut and you fall back to the old standbys, aka Internet and video gaming. It's going to be incumbent on you to find these things to do. In addition, the counseling mentioned upthread may be worth exploring.
posted by azpenguin at 8:31 AM on March 11, 2010


Where do you live? if you don't want to answer this question, what kind of climate do you live in? Can you take up a hobby outdoors? My favorite thing to do when I am in a rut is go somewhere (outside) that I have either never been or haven't been to in a while. It tends to inspire that human drive for adventure in me. I don't know if this will work for you, but nature has a way of healing people.
posted by alextprice at 8:35 AM on March 11, 2010


Thank you all. My response to the first question is "how do I get out of this rut?". That was my question. To all the other posters who got the gist of where I was going with this, I thank you.

I have tried going things in piece meal. But I just cannot keep up. I will take your advice. I need to tackle on a few goals.

I know the benefits of exercise. I have seen the difference in people who do it regularly and I want to be like them. Fresh, healthy, happy.

I know the benefits of reading. That is why I want to read the classics and become an avid reader. I would read one book feel pretty good about myself, then I will make excuses and before I know it, a year has gone by. Really.

I don't feel depressed. Though it wouldn't be something I would be able to admit anyway. So you never know.
posted by alshain at 8:36 AM on March 11, 2010


I live in Canada.
posted by alshain at 8:38 AM on March 11, 2010


Yeah, I have to say: exercise, exercise, exercise. My depression is managed well with medication but it's still easy to fall into an accomplish-nothing rut. It feeds on itself, both by using up time and by making the prospect of DOING something so intimidating - you haven't in so long, it would be sooooooo hard to do so now, right?

For me, regular exercise is the tipping point on this. I don't know how much of it is the extra energy I get from even one day a week in the gym or how much of it is that it's a goal I'm achieving. But it makes a difference. Just make it a requirement for yourself that before you pick up the controller you go for a 15 minute brisk walk. If it doesn't work for you at least you'll have gotten a little exercise.

Aside from that, listen to the people above who told you there's nothing wrong with videogames as entertainment at 32. That age group is a big part of the game market and I know plenty of highly successful people who are gamers. Your leisure time is meant to entertain and relax you - it doesn't have to be noble. It just needs to not spoil your ability to provide for yourself and interact with your family. Let yourself do the things that make you happy.
posted by phearlez at 8:44 AM on March 11, 2010


It sounds like you're trying to be a person you're not. I think you'd be happier and more productive if you stayed true to yourself. Do the things you actually like and get some joy out of life! You only get one life to live, why waste it forcing yourself into some mythical prototype of what a productive adult "should" be.

1) It's fine to play videogames at any age. The average age of an American gamer is 35, 40% of gamers are women, and 65% of households play videogames. Relax - you're normal!

2) Nothing is wrong with using the internet. Lots of responsible, contributing adults like browsing the web for news and entertainment.

3) Nothing is wrong with watching some TV. It's entertaining.

4) Reading the classics does not make you a better or more worthwhile person. Read books that intrigue, entertain and compel you read more.

If you're happy with your wife, spending time with your kids, working a job and taking care of your health, I don't see any reason to feel guilty about the pastimes and hobbies you seem to like. Maybe there is some component of the problem/question that I'm missing or you haven't shared. Otherwise, I say get out there and live your life the way you want to.
posted by MorningPerson at 8:46 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Consider talking to a therapist anyway, even if you don't think you're depressed. If nothing else, a good therapist can help you manage your own mind, and perhaps get past some of the limits that you've described in your question. The answer can be different for for different people.
posted by Citrus at 8:46 AM on March 11, 2010


So other people will probably have more useful things to say about your other issues but I really had to address the whole reading thing.
First of all, there is nothing inherently better about "classics" that means you need to try to force them down if you're not into them. I couldn't stand a lot of books that are considered classics (Dickens, for example) so I just put them down and read something else. Your time here is short and there are many incredible things to read out there, much more than you're ever going to be able to get to. So, just read what you want to. This is supposed to be your leisure time, not some sort of penance at the altar of bettering yourself.
What's the last book you read that you really enjoyed? Not one you felt proud of yourself for having read, but that you just couldn't put down and were sad when it ended. What appealed to you about that book? Can you seek out more like it? Has the author written anything else?
You have to make reading fun if you want to do more of it. Don't beat yourself up over it.
posted by peacheater at 8:55 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Knowing the benefits of something isn't the same as enjoying those activities. It sounds to me- as others above- as though you are trying to change what you enjoy. This is possible to a point- you can make yourself appreciate things more, but you may never truly enjoy them. And though it may or may not be helpful, what you are saying reminded me of this post by Gretchen Rubin.

I would tell you that if you want to be a person who reads, then let yourself read what you enjoy, which may not be that many classics. If you really want to read classics, then mix one in with other books that you genuinely enjoy. Find a friend to talk to about what you're reading so you're motivated to continue. The same with exercise- find an activity you actually enjoy rather than one you think you SHOULD enjoy because other people do.

Definitely start cutting yourself some slack, and be who you are. Work to be a better version of yourself, but recognize that won't include some things you wish it did. Stop judging yourself so harshly and comparing yourself to other people. And mostly, stop using the word "should" so much when you think about your life and what you think you "should" be doing.

The other thing you need to do is not assume all of your progress is lost because you skip a day of getting up early, exercising, or reading. Start again the next day and recognize it's a process. Don't hate yourself for missing one day- chalk it up to a day to needed a rest, and let it go rather than seeing it for a larger symbol of how "lazy" you are. Tell your wife and kids what you'd like to do tomorrow, and ask them to help encourage you. Even if that next day involves video games, set a timer, and then turn them off after awhile to go and read or get outside. In this way, you prevent your ruts before they even begin.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:56 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


When my kids were small I almost tumbled down a mental cliff because I wanted so dearly to do not only a good job but a better job (I was 32 too), and all the other stuff too. One of the stupidest things was to make "reasonable" task lists that were half a mile too long and then not being able to handle even a quarter of it and hating me for being a failure. Seems like you're just there.

Trying to make a whole darn list of to-be-improved stuff, and buying high-end books as internet substitutes, and, I assume, trying to be a good dad for 2 kids and a functioning husband is simply trying to stretch it far too far. No wonder you end up thinking that you're lazy; you're expecting too much of yourself.

Try doing better what you already do; this is probably more than enough. If that's under control, you might want to experiment with shifting tasks within your list around: substitute internet time for quality partner or kiddie time, or something like that.
Also, don't under-estimate the impact a lack of sleep and a raised noise level a home can have on your 'performance', whatever that may be. Jeez, play with your kids instead of trying to be brave. And buy yourself some Calvin and Hobbes and a few books by Elizabeth George or something. Shakespeare can wait. Don't worry about what may be "the benefits" of this, that or the other. Your question is obviously about the benefits for you in the present situation. Reading the Classics is very clearly not the answer, right? Stuff is only beneficial if it is backed up by a functional direct motivation. Doing what generally is believed beneficial, against one's inclinations, is no direct motivation.

Yes and then that self-loathing. Address that, or get someone help you with it.
posted by Namlit at 8:57 AM on March 11, 2010


At least for the exercise thing, concrete goals help a lot. In 2008, I was really fat and out of shape, and I made myself a goal that I was going to complete a short-course triathlon. I got into really good shape, and I learned about myself that I need to have concrete goals for fitness activities or, as much as I enjoy them, I simply won't do them.

Also, don't try to make too many changes in your life at one time. Sometimes people aren't satisfied with their habits, character traits, etc., so they try to adopt a Radically Different Mode of Living. They stick with it for a few days/weeks/months, and then fall off the wagon because it's too much of a change and they aren't ready for it. Instead, make changes slowly and incrementally in your mode of living. If you want to go from a couch-potato gamer type to a voracious reader with an avid-outdoorsy streak, don't trade in your videogame console for a shelf full of dead white guys and a top-of-the-line mountain bike -- instead, maybe do a Couch to 5k plan and set aside an hour every weekend to read part of a book that actually interests you (i.e. if War and Peace ain't your thing, there's no shame in reading something else, like a book by a more-contemporary novelist, a sci-fi or mystery novel, or a graphic novel). I am an avid reader (addicted, truth be told), and while I've read a lot of "the classics," they aren't necessarily my favorite books, y'know? There's no shame in reading what you like as opposed to what a bunch of English professors somewhere in the distant past decided to enshrine as the literary canon. There's a lot of great writing that won't turn up on the 100 Great Novels list -- just find stuff that interests you and run with it. Maybe you'll discover an interest in climbing Everest, running marathons, and reading the classics. Maybe you'll discover that you're content playing some pick-up soccer at the park, reading a paperback every so often, and kicking back and playing videogames every so often.

You say you aren't depressed, but your complaints are not those of a happy man. I would really suggest getting some counseling, either from an actual counselor or maybe a member of the clergy if you are religious. You sound more like you want your personality and interests to be totally different, rather than wanting to incorporate exercise and reading into your routine. And you probably can't totally change who you are, and that's probably actually for the best. Playing videogames is a fun thing to do, and I'm a grown woman.
posted by kataclysm at 9:00 AM on March 11, 2010


You sound a lot like me.

First of all, you don't have to feel "depressed" to be depressed. Often depression shows itself as malaise, boredom, ennui, disinterest, difficulty focusing, etc. In men, it often presents itself as irritability or anger.

Second, I agree with the others who say that there's no reason to feel bad about playing video games. They're fun and in this day and age many of them are like interactive movies and stories than totally mindless diversions. I'm 29 and I still play video games, and I have no plans to stop and no guilt about doing so.

Third, maybe a major problem is the fact that the things you have listed as your general life improvement tasks are really boring and chore-like. I mean, it's great to make it a goal to wake up early and to exercise and to spend less time on the internet and to read more ... but the only way I can improve my general behavior like that is to find things that I'm passionate about that rely on those better behaviors. For example, for me, it's easier for me to spend less time online when I have something I'm really, genuinely excited to do instead. Otherwise, you're asking me to stop doing something fun to instead do something dull...and obviously I don't want to do that. So, find something you're excited about doing instead.

Also, with regards to reading, read what you like, not what you think you SHOULD read. That's the best part of being an adult and not having to read what your teachers TELL you to read. A lot of classics were just their day's popular fiction. Listen, I am a professional writer, I am educated, and I like to read. And sometimes...ok, often... I read what many people consider total trash (e.g. Stephen King). Why? Because it's fun, because I have a short attention span, and because I'm generally not interested in the topics covered in many of the "classics". I'm sure that in 50-100 years, that kind of stuff will be considered "classics", too. Furthermore, forcing yourself to read things is a great way to make reading become a total chore instead of something fun to do. If you REALLY want to read classics, but just don't feel inspired to do so, just get yourself into the habit of reading other stuff first, and let yourself put the classics on the back burner for now.

Maybe you can find a way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone ... join Audible or see if your library has an online audiobook lending program (some have them through Overdrive) and "read" books while you go for a walk/jog. There's nothing wrong with using audiobooks, and I find that I "read" a lot more when I can do so during my commute or while I'm exercising than when I have to make time to sit down and just do it. Also, because I have ADHD, I find it easier to focus when I am able to listen to an audiobook read at 2x speed while I am doing something physical than trying to make myself sit down and focus on the book itself.

But...really...it sounds like what you really need is to figure out what really makes you excited and find a way to do that instead of things that make you feel bad about yourself. Replace bad behaviors with good ones -- and don't let yourself feel like you have to do and like the same things as other people. Figure out what you value, what makes you excited, what you used to do in your spare time as a kid/teenager/younger adult, and find ways to do similar things now.

Life is too short to only do the things you think you SHOULD do. Have some fun and don't feel bad about it.
posted by tastybrains at 9:12 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't feel bad about your internet use. You clocked 47 hours since March 3rd -- that's about 5½ hours per day over a little more than a week, which works out to around 165 hours per month.

According to these statistics, the average American only spends 65 hours per month online (I assume that's broadly true for our neighbors to the north). But that's on top of the 153 hours per month they spend watching television. So if you've largely cut out TV in favor of the web, you're actually using less screen time than average. As for gaming (which, as MorningPerson pointed out, is perfectly normal for an early-30s male), you'd have to play for more than 50 hours per month to merely get even with the average Yank in terms of total electronic media time.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:14 AM on March 11, 2010


I'm trying to do various "self improvement" things right now but found that I ended up spending far too much time online playing rubbish flash games or dicking about on Facebook.

So my partial solution was to come up with some easy things that would progress my aims - one is reading books, one is doing exercise, one is watching films or tv in French (I'm trying to learn French), etc. etc. I have a whiteboard by the door to my appartment, and the weeks are marked on it. When I do a chunk of one of these things (20 mins reading, an episode of a french tv series, a bike ride) I put a check mark in the column for that activity. I don't set quotas, but for some reason making a physical mark really helps motivate me. I don't know if this is the sort of thing that might motivate you, but it could be worth a try.
posted by handee at 9:16 AM on March 11, 2010


Hypocrite alert, I read much less now

Don’t know if this will help, but this is for the reading; I am making the assumption that you have selected what you enjoy and want to read (the classics).

Is part of the goal also to be exposed to as many new ideas and ways of thinking about new topics as possible? If you fall into that bucket (with reading), there are other things you can do passively. For example, my library has CDs and books on tape from the teaching company – these include everything from the works of Shakespeare to existentialism. Anyway, you can get one of those CDs, download it onto an mp3 player (our library allows that), and listen to it during down times at work/while walking/acting as a vegetable, whatever. In addition, there are classic books on tape – you may just want to give it a try if it meets that need for you.

Also, depending on the age of the kids and interest of the kids: what do they like to read (or what do you think they would like to read)? As a 9 –year old, I read The Time Machine. It was a fun journey, I read about it, had the adventure in my head, thought about it some more, and never looked at it again. However, it would have been more enjoyable to discuss those ideas with someone. So…depending on the age of your kids, it could be you read a chapter each night, or you read chapters back and forth. Or independently read and discuss it later.

This is where I’m going to fall off the deep end, but this works for me. Pick a few goals (exercise 2X/week; read 1 book/2 months). Break it down to something smaller than that and make it something you can accomplish in a short period of time (eg, read 20 pages). I make a up a little system with my top few goals and assign “points”. I eat 2 portions of veggies a day = 1 point. Whatever. Keep track of your silly points. Make so many points = tiny toy (downloadable music you can buy, audible book whatever). It actually works for me to keep track of it and see if I am making progress. I also will change the goals if any of these things becomes a habit.

You know what stands out the most when I read your list and how you feel about it - are those things fun for you?
posted by Wolfster at 9:25 AM on March 11, 2010


And mostly, stop using the word "should" so much when you think about your life and what you think you "should" be doing

I disagree. You shouldn't ignore these doubts about what you should be doing - how else will you live a meaningful life?

What's wrong with having aspirations to change your character, to try to alter what makes you feel good - not to rest easy with sating the desires you already have? Questions of value are torturous, and aphorisms like "be true to yourself" or "chase your bliss" are unhelpful tautologies. Why shouldn't "being myself" include self-reproach for not reading Plato or exercising enough?

read what you like, not what you think you SHOULD read

What's the distinction here? Faced with a stack of weighty books or a few hours browsing RSS feeds I might at any given time feel inclined to veg out on feeds. It requires nothing from me, it offers a shallow kind of satisfaction. Some aspect of me prefers the things that involve some struggle. I prefer the struggle, even if unsuccessful, to the alternative.
posted by phrontist at 9:44 AM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am lazy. I have no drive. I am 31 years old. I will turn 32. I am married with two kids. I still play video games. I am disgusted that I play video games at 32 years of age. It's shameful I know. But I can't help it.

Huh? Why?

Also, what do you want to do? I think you have to know what you wan to do before you can be more productive. Maybe you should get a Wii and play video games with your kids, making them family time, and therefore something you can feel good about.

For exercising, I've found that trying to do it as many days in a row really works. It keeps me from putting off workouts till the next day, the end of the week, etc and then needing to do 2x in order to 'catch up', or whatever.

For reading more, just set a time to sit down with your books and start, but nowhere near a computer. Once you're in a room, away from a computer, the 'lazy' option is to just keep reading, not take a break to surf the web. Use laziness to your advantage here.

Also, keep track of how much time you spend being productive, not just how much time you spend slacking off!
posted by delmoi at 9:55 AM on March 11, 2010


1) You think that shaming (I'm disgusting) and labeling (I'm lazy) yourself will get you off your ass. It won't. It makes you feel like shit and nobody's motivated when they feel like shit.

2) Your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. "I will do my home office work diligently" is not specific, measurable, or time-bound. "I will complete task A this afternoon" is all of those. Start small. Don't engage in all-or-nothing thinking. Taking a ten-minute walk today is better than doing nothing and might motivate you to take a twenty-minute walk tomorrow.

3) You seem to have all sorts of moral "should" beliefs about yourself. You should not play videogames. You should read the classics. Etc. Explore where these beliefs came from and if they are useful. WTF is wrong with playing videogames, for example?

Note that even if a "should" belief has some good reasoning behind it (e.g. "You should brush your teeth at least once a day") it's probably more helpful to drop the should and fill in the reasoning. ("Brushing your teeth at least once a day reduces the risk of cavities and gum disease.") It takes the moralistic tyranny out of it and turns it into a helpful suggestion.

Nobody wants to be bossed around all the time, even by themselves.
posted by callmejay at 10:02 AM on March 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


Just to expand on the tooth brushing example.

"You should brush your teeth at least once a day" might lead you to say, "No, fuck you, self, I don't wanna." Or it might lead you to say, "Fine, I will. Gosh!" Either way, you're a little ticked off to be brushing your teeth.

"Brushing your teeth at least once a day reduces the risk of cavities and gum disease," on the other hand, might lead you to say, "Hmm, yeah, I really don't want another filling" and then brushing becomes satisfying. Or you might say, "Yeah, I'm really willing to take that risk today." In which case, fine, at least you're not going to feel guilty about it.

You're a free man. Talk to yourself like one.
posted by callmejay at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


i solved my net addiction being-in-a-rut problem by slowly weaning myself off the computer when i'm not at work. this was made easier by picking up a new exercise hobby right after work (dance, at a studio, so i'm out of the house). nowadays i'm barely on the computer if i'm not at work just out of habit. it can be done!! just give yourself time and don't go cold turkey- just do it slowly in stages and then it'll seem like second nature.
posted by raw sugar at 10:10 AM on March 11, 2010


You're getting really great advice in this thread. I want to talk to you about just one thing -- goals.

Write down something that matters to you that you want to achieve. Don't write down the goal -- write the best possible outcome. Get it down to about a sentence. Tickets to the front of your video game console.

Ask yourself, "is this the best possible thing you could be doing right now with your time?"
posted by filmgeek at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2010


I used to suffer from an ever growing to do list that I couldn't stay on top of. A couple things helped me. The one that may match best with your situation is to move from a goal oriented mental framework (I must complete x by y) to a process oriented framework (I will be better at x than last time). I think goal oriented processes are fine, and there's a lot of good advice here about how to approach them. However, for me, I accomplish much more and am much more satisfied with my life now that I focus on just getting better. So to take a reading example, I won't say to myself I'm going to finish Ch 1 of War and Peace by Tuesday. I say, I'm going to read more War and Peace today than yesterday. Since I read nothing yesterday, as long as I read a word, I'm ok. I also have a little meta-trick to deal with the inevitable back-sliding. If I back-slide on something, I tell myself I'm going to back-slide less next time. This may not work for everyone, but it works for me. I've accomplished much more in the few years I've been using this technique than in the previous decade or two.
The other thing I did may not directly apply to your situation, but it's very simple so I'll throw it out there anyway. It's just a rule that says if something needs to be done, and it takes less than five minutes to do it, it gets done right away. Taking the trash out, cleaning the toilet, whatever ... if I notice it and I know it won't take long, I do it right then and ignore the voice inside my head saying that it can wait a bit longer.
Good luck.
posted by forforf at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Somebody mentioned Adderall above. Some pros and cons from a Slate article.
posted by VikingSword at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2010


I'd second the idea of having an 'I did this today' checklist. Write down the things you want to try and do more of, and each day keep track of them.

I'm currently trying to diminish my Internet consumption habit (the fuck am I doing on metafilter!). My list has things on it like play music, do push/pull/sit ups, get outside and bike or run, eat reasonable foods and don't waste an unreasonable amount of time crouched in front of a screen.

I've only been keeping this list for a few days; it hasn't yet killed off my Internet habit. But having the things I want to be doing right under my nose and holding myself accountable for them each night has increased their occupation of my time at a cost to things I want to do less often.
posted by kjell at 11:04 AM on March 11, 2010


It's possible to have a low-grade depression that saps the joy, energy and color from your life, and not feel depressed. Go see your doctor and discuss it.

You really beat yourself up. Start having more fun. You're married with 2 kids. Instead of (or in addition to) trying to read the classics, read to the kids, or take them to the movies. Pick a bunch of wonderful movies and watch them with the kids. When I realized my son was old enough for Star Wars, it was a treat to watch it with him, and he loved it. He's old enough to appreciate Monty Python, so that was fun, too. Have family game night.

Take your wife on dates. Go to an opening at the museum or a NASCAR race, whatever you 2 like. Ask her to help you get in shape and go bicycling together. Take up Thai cooking. Learn to play banjo. When I'm in a rut, being outdoors helps; go camping with the family. Music helps a lot; dig out your favorite cds and dance, or put on a headset and take walks.

You don't need to improve yourself right now, you need to get moving and have fun.

In my experience, the way you describe yourself is usually depression. Fun is a good antidote.
posted by theora55 at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2010


If you can, try writing in a journal for about 1/2 an hour each morning. Write about how you want to spend your day, what you want out of life, hopes, dreams etc. Write about how lazy you are, write your dreams. Just do that one thing every day. You will see improvements.
posted by bonsai forest at 9:12 PM on March 11, 2010


You sound a lot like me before I was diagnosed with ADHD and began treatment. Also, back then a thread like this would have overwhelmed me into paralysis. Not an internet diagnosis by any means, but it might be worth looking into.
posted by granted at 10:05 PM on March 11, 2010


I've been semi-successful in doing this. Certainly, I'm a whole lot fitter and thinner than I was a year ago, so here's my take on how to get out of a rut, or at least shift to a more fulfilling rut.

Focus on changing habits. Let go of the expectation of perfection and focus on making things better. Realise that success begets success and that better is the gateway to best. Realise that shame and guilt are terrible motivational tools, bribery is much more effective. You have to work out ways to motivate yourself; hack your own brain, so to speak. Start out by creating small, easy habits, and then build on them.

For example, were I in your situation, I would decide to create a non-screen habit. Something like: before turning on any screens, I will spend half an hour either reading a book or doing some exercise. Doesn't matter whether it's Harry Potter, and doesn't matter whether it's a just a walk round the block. The habit of that half an hour is the focus. I would then spend tonight tooling round on the internet planning what I wanted to do tomorrow. I would find my sneakers. I would ask my kid if they wanted to come for a walk with me after work tomorrow. I would read online reviews of books and decide which one I wanted to try reading first and then find the book ready for tomorrow. I would make a plan, and I would make it easier to do the habit than not. I would blog about it, or keep a diary, or even just cross off dates on a calendar. After a few weeks, if I felt comfortable with the habit, I would stretch it a little. Increase the intensity of the exercise, read a slightly harder book or push back the screen time by another half an hour. It may take a bit longer to get fit or read all the classics this way, but I find that if I focus on the habit and baby improvements I'm more likely to create a sustainable change in my behaviour.

Ditch the "shoulds". If you don't like running, don't run. Do some other sort of exercise. If you want to understand the importance of Plato, but The Republic makes you want to scream, put the book back on the shelf and read a summary on the internet. If you like video games, play video games. Decide what is actually important to you, and then work with who you are, and how you (not the ideal version of you) can do to do these important things. If you find that you have to bribe yourself with jellybeans, then bribe yourself with jellybeans.

Armchair Psychologist time:

I would bet anything that you are not spending six hours a day in front of a screen because you are lazy. Nope. You are trying to escape. What from? Only you can work that out. It's probably a range of things, but essentially, instead of feeling the emotions resulting from what life is throwing at you, you are escaping to the net, where you can become completely immersed in a virtual life and not think or feel what ever it is you are avoiding.

In thinking about this answer, I've realised that I still do this, I have just changed coping mechanisms away from eating and sitting on the couch. Well.....I still sit on the couch, I just exercise first. Thinking about how to answer this questions has meant that I've really looked at myself and my bad habits and why they are so hard to break. So, from now on, I'm going to add in the following habit. Whenever I find myself procrastinating or wasting time to the point where I start the "I should stop, this is stupid, I'm a terrible person because I'm wasting so much time", I'm going to ask myself "What am I avoiding, and why?". So thank you for asking this. I learnt a lot about myself.

In case your wondering, I'm currently avoiding ringing my boss to tell him that I won't be able to meet a deadline. But I'm going to do it before I hit post.
posted by kjs4 at 10:59 PM on March 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


This is me. Thanks for posting such a question so that I don't have to. And to the folks that answered, thanks for those too.
posted by snwod at 1:38 AM on March 12, 2010


I really really appreciate all the detailed answers here. So much wealth of information and wisdom. I just like to thank everyone for taking the time to reply to help a faceless person really means a lot to me. This community never ceases to amaze me.
posted by alshain at 8:48 AM on March 12, 2010


Seconding reading books that you want to read. Just because a book is a "classic" doesn't mean it's good by today's standards (engaging to read, changes the reader for the better). For getting the flexible thinking and new ideas benefits of reading, I really like hard sci-fi. I have a similar problem, however...I have a stack of textbooks I think I should read, but I usually play Starcraft on my computer instead. I'd also second exercise and human connection. Everything you're doing and are considering sounds morally permissible, so don't worry. But in my view, playing with your kids is more morally praiseworthy than reading the classics, and likely more fun, so maybe do that more?
posted by sninctown at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2010


Get a recumbent exercise bike; only play video games while on the bike, over 70 rpm. You'll never feel guilty about the games again.

Throw out the "classics" and "great authors", and find books you actually *enjoy* reading. The classics are largely awful, unless you're already a very avid, long-time reader. They're not accessible to modern audiences without some background skills that you - and I - don't have.

And odds are that you're not lazy, you're depressed. Go to counseling, and/or read any of the quite similar other threads on here, ever week, any week.
posted by talldean at 4:34 PM on March 12, 2010


Re: Video Games: I find myself getting depressed if I spend a long time playing video games by myself. On the other hand, if I'm playing with friends (online or in person), it becomes a fun social activity that has positive benefits rather instead of just being a time suck. I've made a lot of good friends on MeFightClub, Metafilter's gaming group.
posted by JDHarper at 6:25 PM on March 13, 2010


A simple step in the right direction: take a class at a local college. Community colleges take little effort to get enrolled in, and I'm sure that you can find a few things that spark an interest and fit into your schedule.

By doing so you will be provided with a new atmosphere, new people to talk to, things to learn, and perhaps even a direction or goal you'd like to pursue. Homework is a great thing for establishing goals, and will make you feel like the time you have to browse the internet and play games more like a reward then a waste of time.
posted by esiege at 2:38 PM on March 16, 2010


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