Can anyone articulate what causes procrastination and "laziness"?
June 22, 2022 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I think for a long time I've explained away my extreme laziness and procrastination with my deep anxiety and depression. It has definitely been significant. However recently, I've been thinking how I've always been like this from a very young age, even when I didn't have full blown mental health issues. Admittedly, I think I was a very anxious child but I wonder, is part of it a genetic thing?

Some examples of my laziness are I just hate exerting myself in any way, I feel huge resistance and fatigue even just thinking about tidying or cleaning. When I go for a run, within 30 seconds my brain is screaming at me to stop, even when I don't feel exhausted or in pain. It's obviously worse since my depression but even when I was young and relatively mentally ok (I think), I was like this.

My family always called me slow and lazy, I'm also very unobservant and just not present.

It boggles my mind when I witness or hear of people who were always physically and mentally active, actually enjoy running, for example and don't appear to encounter any mental resistance whatsoever between the thing they want to do and their mind. Could it be that they are more present and less anxious, or is it something in their brain chemistry, their genes?

I tend to vegetate a lot, I find it hard to actually do *anything* physical, even mentally thinking about it exhausts me.

This translates across to my attitude towards mental exertion, in all honesty. I'm mentally lazy too, I can't be bothered to think, planning ahead is super difficult and thinking about anything in detail is so offputting. I've spent most of my twenties vegetating in front of Netflix. My jobs have been entry level, inputting invoices - basically the finance equivalent of factory work which has also deadened my mind.

I feel like my brains' turned to mush.

I've gone off the point here and I'm not sure I've explained myself well, but has anyone else experienced procrastination and laziness that they feel kinda like is part of "their character"?

And how do you work most effectively at overcoming it and being a more mentally and physically active person? Has anyone managed to turn this around?
posted by Sunflower88 to Human Relations (23 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked into the possibility that you might have ADHD? A lot of what you are describing sounds like the experience of many with inattentive type ADHD, which is often missed (particularly in women). It can feel like laziness or difficulty initiating tasks, and repeated failures based on this can lead to anxiety and/or depression.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:36 AM on June 22 [25 favorites]

I felt this way for most of my life, until I finally got diagnosed and treated for a number of conditions that contributed to this in various ways. All things that I had since I was a kid.

- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome gave me constant brain fog and fatigue
- "Silent" migraines where I didn't have much pain but experienced anhedonia and difficulty motivating myself to do anything anyway
- Autism which affected my motor skills in subtle ways but made it just that much harder for my brain to engage in anything physical, leading me to avoid it
- ADHD-inattentive which led to a lot of zoning out and not wanting to do anything because I couldn't focus on it or because it was too boring.

Preventative migraine meds, physical and occupational therapy, stimulants, and copious amounts of salt worked wonders.
posted by brook horse at 11:39 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Check out "The Myth of Laziness."
posted by warriorqueen at 11:47 AM on June 22

Yeah a lot of this sounds like ADD. Your struggles sound very familiar to me as an ADD (and autism)-haver.

Sometimes it feels like a miracle that I get anything done at all.
posted by neckro23 at 11:48 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I’m just going to say that for people who like running- it isn’t actually hard! About 8 years ago I got into running and trained for a half marathon. It was such a switch to realize that I could break out into a run and have it just feel fast, and energizing and fun because my whole body wasn’t screaming at me to stop. It was actually much harder to run those first few months as I did couch to 5k as it ever really was in the second half of my training.

So apply that to other stuff. When people just send the damn email- it’s because it wasn’t hard for them in the first place!
posted by raccoon409 at 12:09 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

Adding to the AD(H)D chorus, you may find Inattentive Type specifically interesting.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:36 PM on June 22

Please do a web search on autistic inertia. It's real.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 12:44 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]

planning ahead is super difficult and thinking about anything in detail is so offputting

My understanding is that this stuff is often considered part of "executive function" if you want a specific term that covers it. It's definitely a big part of AD(H)D to have difficulties with it, and it can come as part of autism, too, which is why people are bringing both of those up. So- yes, it could be part of your "character"- or what people nowadays call neurodivergence.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:02 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I read something once that said procrastination is just your subconscious’s way of telling you that the task you’re putting off isn’t what you should really be doing. Since running was already given as an example, I’ve always hated running. I can run - I’ve done 5ks, and I ran a mile while recovering from Covid and had like no lung function. But I just don’t enjoy it. I assumed that exercise was just something you weren’t supposed to like. Then I bought a bike. Suddenly long-distance cardio was something I looked forward to. It turns out, it’s not exercise I hated, just a specific kind of exercise: running. So I basically stopped running and ice been happier as a result.

The hard part is to figure out what you’d rather be doing. It’s even harder for someone coming out of a depression, where you don’t feel like doing anything at all. But if you can try some new things, you’re more likely to find what it is you’re supposed to be doing instead.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:03 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

A) Yes to the ADHD--while I don't love exercise, taking my meds helps me get through it. I find myself able to lift a little bit longer, stay on the treadmill longer, etc. I recommend looking into that, like everyone else in this thread.

B) When you find yourself hating exercise, it may help that Daniel Lieberman, author of Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do is Healthy and Rewarding thinks that you're not lazy, you're normal.
posted by telophase at 2:17 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Me-mailed you.
posted by fillsthepews at 2:18 PM on June 22

Whether you have ADHD or not, you might also find these two videos on the How to ADHD YouTube channel interesting:

Why is it so hard to do something that should be easy?

How to do something that should be easy (
posted by telophase at 2:21 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

but I wonder, is part of it a genetic thing?

Absolutely. But to be fair, just about everything is partly a genetic thing.

Fortunately living in the modern world means we don't have to settle for what we're born with.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:36 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]

"My family always called me slow and lazy, I'm also very unobservant and just not present." The abuse you have suffered, I imagine, would have a HUGE amount to do with how you think about yourself and how you physically inhabit the world.
posted by Balthamos at 2:45 PM on June 22 [20 favorites]

You mention anxiety (though I realize others have posited other real possibilities), but I saved this 2019 Psychology Today article because I think it lines up with my anxious nature. FWIW
posted by forthright at 3:03 PM on June 22

I would armchair diagnose this set of behaviours as also potentially caused by stuff like ADHD + trauma from emotional abuse which was probably in effect by age 3 (your self talk is outrageously abusive so I can only imagine how your family treated you) + anemia or thyroid issues.

Consider this framework:

Laziness doesn’t exist. Only unseen barriers.

So says Dr. Devon Price - who has a book and a lot of instagram content about this topic (and his work also covers neurodivergence and autistic masking fatigue).
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:23 PM on June 22 [8 favorites]

Laziness does not exist.

(That article is by Devon Price, who nouvelle-personne mentioned above.)

I am 100% serious and I steadfastly believe this.

I believed that I was lazy for the first 20 or so years of my life. This despite the fact that I excelled in high school, did a bunch of activities, went to a competitive university, and took leadership positions in a cooperative living group. I still believed I was lazy because I was a massive procrastinator; I was always late to things; my room was a mess; and I spent multiple hours every day lying around unable to motivate myself to do anything. My life had good parts, but I was also pretty anxious and depressed.

The only reason I'm not still stuck like that is because, one day, I chose to stop accepting laziness as the explanation. I refused to believe that I was lazy. And that forced me to look elsewhere for reasons why I wasn't doing the things I wanted to do. I started going to therapy and unpacking a lot of things and realized that I had pretty major anxiety. A couple years later, I learned that even people who excelled in school can have ADHD, and the pieces started slowly coming together for me. I filled out an adult ADHD self-report questionnaire and scored pretty highly... so I talked to my doctor who was able to give me a tentative diagnosis and prescribe medication. I started reading organization strategies specifically designed for ADHD people, and using some of them in my own life. Things slowly started getting better for me.

My life is still pretty chaotic and I'm frustrated every day at the things I want to do but I'm not able to -- but on the whole, I'm not depressed, and I'm way happier and more at peace than I used to be.

In your case, it might not be ADHD, but there's SOME barrier keeping you from living the life you want to live, and I encourage you to keep pushing for an answer and find out what that barrier is.
posted by mekily at 4:03 PM on June 22 [13 favorites]

Agreed with the above posters that you should check out some of the resources about ADHD to see whether that's a good fit for how you experience the world. If you'd like further info on just procrastination, Dr. Tim Pychyl is a procrastination researcher who has a blog about procrastination on Psychology Today as well as a podcast.
posted by radiogreentea at 5:02 PM on June 22

Trauma can cause dissociation.
posted by airmail at 5:03 PM on June 22 [7 favorites]

I was all prepared to set up my "laziness does not exist, it's about executive function" soapbox in this thread, but mekily did it for me! Laziness is simply a moral judgment placed on a series of behaviors.

We can't diagnose you over the internet but I do think seeing a professional who can screen you for things that cause executive dysfunction (ADHD, depression, anxiety are three) is an excellent place to start.
posted by lunasol at 5:05 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]

In case this chorus is reading to you like "you're just made this way and it will never get better" - meds and therapy can work wonders. My ADHD is mild and it turned out that anxiety caused by childhood trauma was the main thing - 18 months of therapy allowed me to get off SSRIs and get to a quite satisfying bade functioning level, as did fixing some endocrine stuff (thyroids are a pain, so are blood sugar crashes). Just knowing that this is how my brain works allowed me to develop much better coping techniques. You just have to find something that works for you.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:52 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]

"Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem."
More, from previously on the blue.
posted by dancing leaves at 7:01 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]

You might find this video interesting. She talks about 'impaired motivation' as a symptom of ADHD and some strategies around it.

I feel a lot like you, in that my laziness feels very much a part of my personality. Maybe I have ADHD, who knows. But getting treatment for my bipolar and anxiety helped me a lot, and so does some of the ADHD hacks, even if I don't stick with them for long.
posted by Pickles the Fire Cat at 1:54 PM on June 23

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