Why It’s Not Helpful to Call Someone—Including Ourselves—“Lazy”

white cat lying on brown textile

In talking to people about happiness and good habits, people sometimes talk about “laziness.” Either they say, “I’m lazy” or they say, “That person is being lazy.”

But I think it’s unhelpful to think about “laziness.”

It seems to me that when people (including ourselves) appear lazy, there are more helpful explanations. In my observation, other things may be going on:

Avoidance: There’s something that a person should do, but they’re avoiding it. This person should work, but is avoiding doing tough analysis, so is spending hours watching Game of Thrones clips on YouTube. That person should go to therapy, but doesn’t want to face negative feelings, so keeps canceling appointments.

Accountability: In my “Four Tendencies” personality framework, Obligers are people who need outer accountability to meet inner expectations. If they want to exercise, they need to sign up for a class, work out with a trainer, raise money for a charity, be a role model for someone else, etc. (Effective accountability strategies vary among Obligers.) If Obligers lack outer accountability, they won’t follow through. This can look like laziness, but as soon as accountability is established, Obligers do follow through.

(Want to know if you’re an Obliger? Or a Questioner, Rebel, or Upholder? Take the free short quiz here.)

Exhaustion: Sometimes people get drained and overwhelmed, and they simply can’t muster up the energy to do anything—not even something small, not even something fun. So they just do whatever activity that feels least taxing to them—for instance, scroll through social media, watch TV, or play a video-game.

Preference: One person’s laziness is another person’s choice. A friend said of his son, “He’s so lazy. He could be out playing basketball with his friends, but instead, he lies on the sofa, just reading.” I also imagine another parent saying of a child, “He’s so lazy. He could be reading and improving his mind, and instead, he’s just running around with his friends.”

As always, when we face a happiness stumbling block, it’s useful to identify the problem. If you’re calling yourself “lazy,” what’s going on?

Do you need to find a way to get started, to get accountability, or to get more rest? Or is that “laziness” actually a sign that two people have different values?

If you’ve called yourself lazy, or find yourself saying that other people are being lazy, I’d be curious to know the context.



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