Anxiety is for suckers, but laziness is not cool
March 17, 2010 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Where does (my) laziness come from?

I am functionally lazy, in that I keep my apartment fairly organized and I'm productive at getting my work done on time. In fact, when I'm not being lazy, I activate my anxiety to get me to do things and do it well. Otherwise, it's all a big bore and I could be indifferent to the outcome. I'd love to just lie around on a pretty leaf in a lily pond. However, with bills to pay and careers to be had, I can't do this, so I rile myself up into a worry fit to get things done.

What I can't understand is why I'm like this. Why do I even feel ennui at all? I'm taking one course part-time to fulfill pre-requisites for a graduate program, and after I take an exam, I need an extended break from the material (though there's an exam every two weeks), then I need to push myself to start reading again for the next exam. I relish napping and lying around. I love to relax, so I'm always having to wind myself up in order to get things done at home and work. I'm not a fun person when I wind myself up. I'm not a nervous wreck, but I feel burdened and it is unpleasant.

I'm guessing this comes from not having regular chores when I was a kid, and attending a really easy primary school where work was easy (later I was an A-/B+ student at a top high school, but would have been a solid B student if I'd not pushed myself), and generally not having any unique talents. I was also pretty unfocused and emotional and worked myself up into a state of anxiety to get stuff done then too.

So, my question is, why am I lazy? There must be a place between me utilizing my anxiety to get stuff done and me giving up and residing in the blissful oasis of total relaxation. It's always all or nothing with me, and I'd like to figure out how to get to that middle ground where I'm not constantly longing for a nap or to choose fun over fulfilling responsibilities, or to even stop provoking my own anxiety to get moving on things I need to do. How do I do that?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it's genetic, or maybe being lazy is just part of being human. I love nothing (well, very little) more than sitting on the beach and pushing sand around with my feet. But your body being lazy doesn't mean your mind is. I actually find I do a lot of thinking and develop a lot of great ideas when I'm not on the run.

What is it you like about being lazy? For me, part of it is being able to take my surroundings--noticing the feel of the sun on my face, for example. When I'm doing something stressful, I try and still look at where I am and take it in, and sometimes that helps me feel semi-relaxed.
posted by sallybrown at 9:33 AM on March 17, 2010

I've got no real answers, but you're definitely not alone. If I could spend the rest of my days in a hammock in the woods, I'd be a happy girl. I think some people are just more low-key than others until we get a fire lit under our asses. I usually blame it on being a Virgo.
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2010

I think some people are just intrinsically lazier than others. I tend that way, for sure - I'm one of those people who could happily be unemployed with no scheduled activities for months at a time, and I have a hard time identifying with Type A people who are always on the go. So, for someone like me, the only solution is to say, "this is what I'm going to do today," and then I have to do it. Over and over again, until tasks become habits. It's a matter of practice, of making things routine rather than insurmountable obstacles. I personally respond very well to To Do Lists, and part of the motivation is that I know I'll be able to sit around again once I'm done.
posted by something something at 9:45 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, my question is, why am I lazy?

I'm like you and it has served me well. I spend long times being idle and enjoying every moment of it.

You might want to reflect that laziness is one of the major forces that has shaped human civilization. All those Type As were out there in the fields determined to pick five rows per day every day, and us lazy folks were sitting around inventing machines that would do it for us.

I'm fine letting the Type As charge ahead and do a thousand things a day, but I can't help but notice that at least half the things that they do are either superfluous or attempts to fix problems that were caused by trying to do a thousand things a day. It's amazing how many "problems" resolve themselves quite nicely if you just leave them be.

I can't speak to how you should motivate yourself to be something you aren't. It sounds like you're a functioning adult. Maybe you shouldn't do things that you aren't particularly motivated to do in the first place?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:04 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Another functionally lazy person here. Something clicked for me fairly recently when a friend said, "You know, I think I like working out mostly because it makes relaxing afterward so much more enjoyable."

I think part of the problem with motivation (for some people) is that there's no immediate reward for most tasks. With your class, for example, you have a goal of going to grad school, but that is a longer-term payoff. Maybe devising a system of short-term rewards would help you. "Okay, I'll suck it up and do X because I know it needs to be done, but afterward I get to enjoy [fill in activity of choice]." Then you're motivated by something positive rather than a feeling of anxiety.

And as my friend brought to my attention, sometimes the reward really is as simple as being able to more fully enjoy your relaxation time.
posted by spinto at 10:28 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe I'm missing something, but you don't sound lazy at all! I agree with Tell Me No Lies - it just sounds like you aren't particularly excited to carry out unpleasant tasks, but who is?
posted by pintapicasso at 10:28 AM on March 17, 2010

"Lazy" is defined relative to the culture you're from. You're probably quite average genetically. Most people run themselves ragged with the "work hard play hard" thing in order to meet expectations that don't get questioned.

I'm just like you. I don't know how old you are, but when I was in my early 20's I framed this "problem" exactly the way you are doing now. Now at 32 I'm far more comfortable with myself and am getting close to a "work light play medium" goal. Part of this is just maturity with age, and I think learning to nuance that middle ground you refer to comes with age as well.

Consciously, though, learning when I needed to rest (you already know this one based on what you've said which is good) was important as was coming to terms with my limitations. For me that meant (for example) that grad school wasn't something I was going to be able pull off without a very, very high level of passion for the subject.

That's part of the process of becoming an adult - you're no longer a "blank slate" as you were in high school or college when anything was possible, and in the process of learning about yourself in your 20's - when you start to hone in on what you're good at and develop those skills - what you can't do is acknowledged and falls by the wayside.
posted by MillMan at 10:30 AM on March 17, 2010

I'm least lazy when the things I'm doing are fairly immediately rewarding, for example

- if I tidy up I can relax better not having to look at piles of crap
- if I fix some problem with my friend's website he will say Thankyou nicely and buy me a beer
- if I do something idle and repetitive, the rhythm can be relaxing
- if I do some very small self-contained useful thing, the sense of accomplishment at finishing it arrives pretty soon after starting it.
- I teach ski lessons, which are often only an hour long, and you nearly always see some good improvement during that time. Plus, people (again) usually say Thankyou nicely afterwards... and sometimes they say neat things like "Wow, I never thought I'd be able to do that" which make it all worth it.

The more I do immediately rewarding things, the more I train my brain that work is worth doing, and the easier it is to get on with the not so rewarding things.
Also, sometimes the non-rewarding things can be rearranged to have rewards at more regular intervals. For example, ask your boss for constructive feedback more often, promise yourself a cup of tea when you finish 200 words, or just call your task "write 200 words" instead of "Write three volume novel".
posted by emilyw at 11:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

You are perfectly fine. The word hard scenario is very cultural. We are told to work our asses off in the U.S. but some places in Europe, they take 6 month vacations and are living better for it! It depends. But don't beat yourself up, 'cause you are just fine. Your bills are being paid, you are handling responsibility. What else is there?
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2010

You know, honestly, I'm a long-time anxiety sufferer, and it sounds like what you're dealing with is procrastination. Procrastination is, in fact, a variant form of anxiety. I know that you said that you use your anxiety to provoke yourself into a productive state, but it sounds to me like you might have a deeper issue going on. I hate to sound like the guy that says you need therapy, but I found myself much more productive after uncovering a few of my problems. Maybe that's an avenue to explore for you.
posted by satyricaldude at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2010

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