Well, that’s a really loaded question, and it has a rather intricate answer. If you look at the dictionary definition of laziness, you’ll find something along the lines of: “The quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness.”
That’s all well and good as far as defining an abstract concept is concerned, but quite a different story when relating to a human being. Instead of thinking of laziness in terms of its hollow definition, let’s approach it in a more holistic manner – by seeking out its source.
The Root Causes of “Laziness”
Let’s say that a person has a headache. The normal route that most people take when dealing with said headache is to take a painkiller, swig some tea or coffee, and get on with their day. That’s basically putting a bandage on it, but not treating the source of that headache. Is it caused by eyestrain because they need new glasses? Is it a barometric pressure migraine? Do they have a pinched nerve in their neck? There are countless reasons as to why a person’s head might be pounding and sore, but just throwing aspirin at it isn’t going to help what caused it to begin with.
Same with so-called “laziness”.
It’s very rare that a person will refrain from some responsibility or ambition simply because they’re idle or unwilling: there are always reasons as to why they’re not taking action, and none of them will be helped by an insipid Instagram meme.
Depression + Hopelessness = Inactivity
When life has kicked you in the guts over and over again, it’s really hard to have any faith in the idea that any action of yours will result in something positive. Depression isn’t always caused by a chemical imbalance: it can be the result of abuse, PTSD, having to care for a chronically ill child, partner, or parent, or any other number of curveballs that the universe likes to throw at people at random.
If a person truly sees their situation as being hopeless, then it’s often almost impossible for them to even consider a way out of that mess, let alone take action to change things. The idea that nothing they do will make any difference paralyses them: they see any attempt as futile, so why bother?
That isn’t laziness: it’s despair, and deserves nothing but compassion and support. Unfortunately, unless someone has experienced this type of thing firsthand, it’s often easy for them to judge others and label them as lazy and irresponsible… which magnifies the despair even more.
The world could use a lot more empathy and compassion, and if you feel that someone in your life is being “lazy”, you might wish to try to understand where they are emotionally, rather than condemning them from an outsider’s perspective.
If it’s you who’s experiencing this kind of paralyzing depression, you might wish to try being more communicative with those around you: they won’t be able to understand where you are, emotionally, unless you tell them. Yes, it’s hard to do that – it’s really difficult to open up and be vulnerable and real about the things you’re feeling, especially if you’re used to just buckling down and muscling through things stoically, but doing so isn’t just unfair to you and your personal development: it’s not great for the other people in your life who care about you and just want to help you however they can.
Opening up to them can be the first step towards positive action, when you’re ready to do so.
Also? Hugs can help. A lot. Just sayin’.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Those who have experienced mistreatment from others can often be unwilling to pursue personal relationships or goals associated with other people because they’re trying to avoid getting hurt again. If you don’t try, you don’t fail, right? The problem with that line of thinking is that people need human contact, and hiding away from others out of fear of getting hurt will only take someone further down the rabbit hole of self-loathing and misery.
Easier said than done, though. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed, and a certain degree of pain is inevitable in life… but having others in our lives to connect to and lean on for support and companionship is a rare gift in this gray world. Reaching out and trying to connect with those of like mind is well worth the effort, when one has enough strength to devote to doing so.
Note: If you’re the person who’s getting into a relationship with someone who is dealing with past traumas, please remember to be patient. We’re all guilty of wanting our own needs and expectations to take center stage, but expecting a new partner to magically be able to encompass all we need and want from them while they’re still healing from their own issues isn’t just unrealistic – it’s selfish and really quite heartless. Love is patient and kind, and there isn’t a single person on the planet who is issue-free.
What’s more, this same don’t try, don’t fail approach is not only applicable to personal relationship goals, but to anything and everything, really. If you have tried something once and failed miserably at it, it can be hard to bring yourself to try again. After all, the pain of failure lingers long after the event has passed. It can form a major roadblock to following through on your dreams and aspirations.
Perhaps the reason you can’t bring yourself to do something is not because you are scared of it or because you’re struggling with a low state of mind, but because you are simply overwhelmed by too many things at once. This can easily disrupt a willing mind and lead to a form of paralysis that may seem like laziness to the outsider.
Or perhaps you struggle to motivate yourself because the thing that you know needs doing is something that you get little or no enjoyment out of. If something feels like a chore that has been forced upon you rather than an activity of your own choosing, it’s little wonder that you procrastinate on it.
How to Break Out of the Rut and Be More Proactive
Most people find that having someone who’s willing to help motivate them is invaluable for breaking out of what seems like a hopeless rut. This can be a life coach, a friend to whom they’ll be accountable for progress reports, or a counselor who can help guide them through their self-sabotaging blockades. This is a solution that can work for some people, but not all, and it takes a lot of effort to even get to the point where help is asked for.
Ultimately, there is really only one way to combat this so-called laziness, and that is to delve into the root cause of it. This can be frightening, but unless someone has a solid idea of where their lack of motivation stems from, they can’t even think about addressing how to combat it.
One of the most important things that a person can do is to be compassionate with themselves rather than condemning. It’s a lot easier to be compassionate towards other people than towards ourselves – we tend to be very cruel to ourselves, especially when we know we should be striving towards something but don’t have the strength to make it happen. In those instances, we berate ourselves, insult ourselves, get really creative with self recrimination… often in ways that we would never dream about using towards someone we love because we’d hurt them so very badly if we did.
One of the best things a person can do while attempting to ease out of a rut is to try and stay present. Most of us have the bad habit of “what if”-ing ourselves into a lather, imagining all the ways that things could go horribly wrong, but no-one ever really knows how anything is going to unfold. Someone might pull back from a romantic relationship because of the hurt they might feel if, possibly, maybe, at some point in the future, they and their partner break up. Well, that might happen, but it also might not. There is no certainty in life other than the fact that it will end one day, and as scary as big life changes can be, regret is significantly shittier to contend with.
So, then. What’s the magic trick to stopping laziness from winning?
There isn’t one. You just try to understand yourself, and be compassionate towards yourself, and take little steps when you have the ability to do so.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.