Do lazy people change?
October 27, 2008 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Do you know of anyone, yourself included, who has actually made significant positive in terms of optimism, discipline, and ambition? How did this happen?

Ask MeFi is replete with questions of getting ones life together, building discipline, overcoming laziness, and developing ambition, direction, and purpose. [1][2][3][4][etc].

Anyone had any luck? What prompted the change, and how did you do it? Any lasting change?

Personal stories only please. Lots of advice out there - does any of it work?
posted by mjewkes to Human Relations (13 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
I believe that proper motivation is the key to change. I got married and had kids and was forced to get my act together because of my sense of obligation to "Team Gunn". All these threads have great advice, but it comes down to a desire to change. A system to change is only as good as you are willing to stick to it. It is like a diet. If you are not able to follow it, it won't work. When the alternative to change is so bad, you will change.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:18 AM on October 27, 2008

I agree with the motivation point. I dropped out of high school and drifted among various dead-end jobs before I realized that the rest of my life would be miserable if I kept on that way. Out of complete panic I got my GED, went to a community college and then worked my way into a university. Along the way I found that forcing myself to develop the discipline to study regularly calmed down a lot of the emotional stuff that was holding me down and that getting good grades helped improve my self-esteem.

So that's my experience, for what it's worth.
posted by mattholomew at 9:32 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

People won't change until something snaps and they want to change. Personally, I got disgusted with myself for a bit in college. I had credit card debt, no money, mediocre grades, and I was out of shape.

One day I was trying to figure out what classes I needed to graduate on time and I realized that I had to complete 45 hours in my senior year. I would have been completely ashamed to tell my parents that I had slacked off and wouldn't be able to graduate on time because I dropped classes every semester. The prospect of humiliation in front of my parents snapped me into action. Over the next year I knocked out those classes, got a decent job, worked out harder, and knocked out everything I needed to do to graduate and get my financial situation where it needed to be. Ever since then I've been great about taking care of the things I need to do - the next step is taking care of the things I don't need to do to get by, but have to do to accomplish my big life goals.

I think most people will say they hit a low point where they felt they absolutely had to change their lives. These low points will be of varying depth, but you'll never trick yourself into being more productive. You don't get motivation until you see the fruits of your labor.
posted by PFL at 9:51 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a country where opportunities were limited and doled out in a nepotistic way, and this especially worked against women, who were primarily expected to be mothers, cook, clean and have "secondary" careers (secretary instead of lawyer, nurse instead of doctor, etc.) I was an independent sort of person and didn't fit in from the start. Then the war came, and I was in totally negative situations: witnessing the deaths of family and friends, worrying about where I would get food, how to keep clean, replace clothes, and just make it through the day. When, through a weird series of fortuitous chances and accidents, I made it to America, I knew I'd seen things as dark as things can be, and I was motivated not to suffer if I could avoid it, and I could see opportunities which were greater than those in my country . . . even putting aside the utter hopeless of wartime.

The relative immediacy with which I could reap rewards through hard work and optimism made a big difference to my attitude and ambition. When a person is deprived of any real hope of positive change, the 'sudden' appearance of real possibilities is incredibly alluring. I grabbed these possibilities as much as I could: education, work and career, social events, travel.

I wouldn't want anyone to suffer what I suffered, but 'forced deprivation' can ultimately reap rewards in changed attitudes, even if it's just entering a situation where you're out of your comfort zone - volunteering locally to work with poor kids or disadvantaged seniors, for instance.

Ennui and laziness are symptoms of a too comfortable life.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:59 AM on October 27, 2008 [7 favorites]

Something that hasn't been mentioned yet: you need folks around you who will support the changes you're trying to make. Identify the people in your life who are secure enough to want you to succeed (and don't have a vested interest in the "old you"), and hang out with more folks who already have (or are working towards) the kind of life you want for yourself.
posted by availablelight at 10:03 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yes. I have seen this change occur in my husband over the four years I've known him. I don't take any of the credit for it, but I think his commitment to our relationship has really forced him to take a look at his habits. He's also gotten treatment for ADHD, which has made a huge difference. Finally, he's enrolled in a leadership seminar that challenges him on a daily basis. He is 200% more disciplined than when we first met. He has more self-respect, which leads to optimism and a healthier relationship with people in general.

His ambition is rubbing off on me. I'm more motivated now to plan for the future, because it's OUR future, and my laziness no longer affects just me.
posted by desjardins at 10:05 AM on October 27, 2008

I think you just have to find what resonates with you personally, which may take a lot of searching. I've read a bunch of self-help books over the years, tried anti-depressants and cognitive-behavioral therapy, but the thing that has had a lasting impact was reading The Wisdom of No Escape, by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. The philosophy that there is really nothing wrong with any of us, and yet nearly all of us believe that there is something deeply wrong and unfixable with us, was very comforting to me. It's a different perspective to the question that you're asking, but I think it's just as valid. The book helped me be okay with exactly who I am now: my imperfect, often lazy, not-exactly-where-I-want-to-be career-wise self.
posted by lagreen at 10:13 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've heard that practical immersion into the perennial philosophy can do wonders.
posted by Roach at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2008

Here's another vote for a life that sucks and that therefore gives you the impetus to get the heck out. In my case it was a complex combination of grief, humiliation, and the discovery that I had a gene that could make my life short. Basically, I got really angry with American society on many levels and decided to "leave" by finding a different way to live (sort of a back-to-the-land approach, first in a city, now in the woods near town).

I made a big-picture plan--a picture of what I wanted my life to be--and identified the steps I needed to take to get there. Every step I took gave the finger to the forces that pissed me off and gave me a sense of meaningful accomplishment. The details of the plan changed as I went ahead, but the goal stayed the same.

To get out, I needed to learn how to do many things myself. The more things I learned to do, the more confident I became in my abilities. The more confident I became, the less I procrastinated and the less likely I was to avoid difficult or scary challenges.

I still procrastinate some (avoiding boring work right this minute!) but I've accomplished a big pile of what I think are cool things. I've also seen a clear connection between my effort and meaningful rewards, which makes me optimistic and more likely to continue to make efforts.

The passivity encouraged by consumerism sucks the life out of us, it really does.

So I vote for becoming really pissed.
posted by PatoPata at 11:57 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

My story is similar to PatoPata's. I graduated high school, as hellish as it was for me, went on to college expecting it to be less hellish, and it turned out not to be. I was on track to become a disgruntled and depressed suburban worker.

My cousins introduced me to anarchism and the DIY lifestyle and now I've dropped out of college, paid off my student loan, hitchhiked around the country and am discovering more and more about myself everyday while avoiding soul sucking work as much as I can.

Find out what's wrong, do something about it. It's as simple as that. Depending on who you are either of those steps could be the hardest part.

It's less about discipline, more about freedom.
posted by symbollocks at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2008

I've found that necessity is the mother of change. If you must, you will.
posted by Freen at 3:31 PM on October 27, 2008

Yes, I've made significant changes along those lines, as a sort of side effect of responding to a spectacular rock-bottom epic crisis prompted me to look long and hard at my life about eight years ago.

I've never lacked ambition, so I'll address my response to optimism and discipline.

Generally, what helped me develop these qualities were i) significant time reflecting on my life and sifting through what I thought and why I thought it ii) support from a whole crew of people to help me change how I thought iii) taking tiny babysteps over and over and over again over years (not weeks, or months) to changes the old patterns and habits in my thoughts and actions.

Specifically, becoming an optimist took, for me, rethinking the pretty much every truth about life that had been handed down to me by a well-meaning but messed up family and learning to trust the facts in front of me, rather than the dire world-ending NOW warnings I'd heard from forever. Eventually, I was able to replace the old stuff with positive, optimistic stuff.

Developing discipline took - again, for me - rethinking the concept completely. I found discipline, in the sense of setting a goal, making plans to achieve it and following those plans through, involves absolutely no just-do-it bootstraps pulling up. For me, the bootstraps approach ended just same way as the scenario where you react to someone yelling at you like a Sgt Major by bailing up and doing nothing. You know. They scream ''PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER AND JUST GET IT DONE'' and you respond by going ''Get FCUKED'' and dig your heels in to show them you won't be bossed around. Which achieved exactly nothing, obv.

Instead, it was a process of taking tiny, tiny baby steps toward the goal while I learned to encourage and support myself.

Ah! Let's all have a group hug. But it's worked for me. My life is completely different now, very much for the better.
posted by t0astie at 4:17 PM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Like most things, a motivated life takes practice.

Everyday try to take a little bit bigger of a step toward the life that you want. Eventually you'll either collapse from exhaustion, or you will become transformed without realizing it. But, you have to really want what you want. That is, the destiny has to be tied to your identity.

One way I've gauged this is by self-examination. If my exhaustion isn't entertaining and interesting in itself, then I'm probably doing the wrong thing.
posted by brandnew at 5:00 PM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

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