Instead of beating yourself up for being “lazy,” try reframing what “laziness” means. Devon Price, author of Laziness Does Not Exist, says that laziness is probably a sign you need to take a break, not work more.
To stop feeling like you’re worth only your “hard work” — try the Values Clarification Exercise.
Here’s how it works:
1. Form a List
Form a long list of values, things like achievement, family, spirituality, money, creativity, community, etc.
Identify the areas you want to focus on.
3. Narrow it Down
Narrow that down to just three values. Which would you pick?
Picking three areas to focus on will help get rid of the guilt around not doing “enough.”
“I think laziness really is this canary-in-a-coal-mine kind of emotion that tells us when our values are out of step with our actual lives,” explains Price. Once you have a sense of what really matters to you, then you can realign your life to be in step with your values.
“Laziness is usually a warning sign from our bodies and our minds that something is not working,” Price says. “The human body is so incredible at signaling when it needs something. But we have all learned to ignore those signals as much as possible because they’re a threat to our productivity and our focus at work.” That achievement mindset might actually be hurting you. And rethinking “laziness” can lead to more compassion.
Why Overemphasizing “Hard Work” is Problematic
We live in a reality where people do accurately recognize that we live and die by our ability to work. And so there’s this self-defeating but also really rational quality to our compulsive overwork that a lot of us have. It becomes really self-defeating to say, “I’m in this on my own. I need to work really hard and make a lot of money so that I can take care of myself.” Because when you think that way, you also take on a much gloomier view of other people. Anyone else and their needs are kind of a threat to my own kind of rugged individualism and independence. So it keeps us really isolated. It keeps us judging our co-workers for not pulling their own weight because we’re suffering so hard. It can kind of create this downward spiral of just workaholism and isolation.
The People Who Get Tagged as Lazy
People who are dealing with any kind of anxiety, depression, any kind of mental health struggle, are people who tend to have been called lazy throughout their lives. Any time they’re out of energy or just having trouble getting through a really overwhelming moment or day, people can’t see that internal struggle. They just judge it as them lacking willpower or being lazy.
Marginalized people, tend to be branded as lazy a lot in a lot of really insidious ways. There’s a way in which learned helplessness is really just accurately recognizing that you’re in a really difficult situation where people aren’t giving you freedom and autonomy and not really respecting you or letting you feel heard. So a lot of times we call people lazy when they’re just kind of checking out of a really unfair situation or really unmotivated situation.
How Laziness Actually Helps us Define our Values and See Ourselves More Clearly
I think laziness really is this canary in a coal mine kind of emotion that tells us when our values are out of step with our actual lives. A lot of times we pour so much energy into being impressive at work, satisfying all the demands of our friends and family, and just trying to overachieve in every possible way that we don’t really listen to that inner voice that tells us, “Here’s what matters most to me in my life. Here’s what I really believe in and value. And here’s how I really would live if I wasn’t just setting out to satisfy other people.”
I think when we start listening to laziness, we can really question a lot of unfair social standards like fatphobia. This social standard says that our bodies need to look a certain way and that we need to exercise and cook meals that look a particular way. And it’s just all of this drive towards meeting a really arbitrary standard of perfection. When we stop pushing ourselves to kind of overachieve by this completely arbitrary metric, we can say, “OK, what actually feels good for my body? How do I actually want to spend my time?”
What to Do if You’re Not in Control of Your Time
Most of us don’t have that ultimate freedom to walk away from things that are exhausting to us and just work at a much slower pace. Unlearning the hatred of laziness isn’t another thing to beat yourself up for not doing correctly because most of us are in a situation where our freedom and our choice are pretty restricted. If you’re in a workplace where you aren’t kind of trusted to self-motivate and you aren’t given the room to set limits, you are really in a coercive environment that’s going to keep running you down. A lot of times it comes down to looking into things like unionizing, documenting problems as they occur, demonstrating how when one person leaves the company, all of their work is just dumped onto someone else instead of replacing them. Once you have a sense of what really matters most to you in your life … then you can look at how your actual life is out of step.