Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Roots of Laziness

"All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today."

-Pope Paul VI

Laziness is innate; it was a necessary trait for survival from our distant ancient ancestors.  In Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, early hunter-gatherers would constantly – and probably unconsciously - weighed the risk-reward of their expeditions, with the goal of obtaining the most calories for as little effort as possible. 
This was necessary for survival, as coming up empty handed - a very real concern - could result in the severe risk of starvation.  No food => no calories => no energy to hunt => starvation.  Failure caused a futile energy burn compounding the calories needed for replenishment.  This innate laziness – a sense that one should not exert any more energy than necessary or risk starvation – unfortunately still exists in humans today, even though society have obviously significantly evolved over the last 12,000 years.

Ludwig von Mises, known for his work on human action in the Austrian School of economics writes, "The expenditure of labor is deemed painful. Not to work is considered a state of affairs more satisfactory than working. Leisure is, other things being equal, preferred to travail (work). People work only when they value the return of labor higher than the decrease in satisfaction brought about by the curtailment of leisure. To work involves disutility."  I.e., "What am I going to get by doing this?"
As Nando Pelusi of Psychology Today writes in his article The Lure of Laziness, "Accomplishing practically anything today means overcoming the need for instant gratification . . . "  You need to see beyond the first order consequence and concentrate on the ultimate objective.  This becomes difficult because higher order consequences are unpredictable.  Just because you exercise today doesn't necessarily mean you'll live longer - but it improves your chances. 

Once we recognize what laziness is - that it is a part of our genetic makeup passed on from the earliest of generations - we can address it and find ways to overcome it.

Keys to fend off the call of the couch!

-Assess each and every choice you make and ask yourself “How does this help me reach my goal?”
-Don't settle once a milestone has been reached.  Remember, the journey is often the most rewarding aspect of goal seeking.  Those who get ahead, keep moving forward. 
-Don't be shy discussing your dreams, but say only what you intend to actually accomplish.  Do you really want to start that business, or do you just say you are starting one because it gain the attention of others?  Do you really want that promotion?  Or is that just what society wants you to say?  If you consistently say whatever comes to your mind regarding all the things you wish to accomplish, you will get used to not keeping your word and, in turn, promote a lazy mind.  No one will take you seriously, including yourself!
-Avoid shortcuts and "Get Rich Quick" ideas.  Cliché, but there is no easy way to accomplish your goal.  Only the lazy man seeks out these schemes.
-Focus constantly on your passion.  Spend just a few minutes each morning envisioning yourself achieving your goal.  That will put you in a proper mindset for a productive day.  That should be the only sitting around you do!
-Train yourself to repel laziness.  When you reach for the channel changer, stop, think, refocus, reassess your goals, and change your plan of action.  Soon enough, this will become second nature.  When you are sitting down for lunch, you start to automatically think to yourself, "I feel like I should be doing something productive.  What else could I be doing?"

Keep pressing!  You will eventually see the changes you want to see!


  1. Hi Dirk,

    That was a lovely post :)

    Yes, we do come across a lot of lazy people, and perhaps it kind of becomes their second nature if they don't sort themselves out.

    But as they say, it's all in the mind! You can get out of that laziness phase or mood in a second, or you can let it bury you further, the choice is always in your hand.

    I liked the tips you mentioned in the end to fend off laziness. I think nothing works better than training your mind, and giving it that much required push to keep moving.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend :)

  2. Huge Diamond fan myself, he always opened up the world for me.

    I think the idea to not look for shortcuts (get rich quick) is actually a really important one, since the inevitable failure could start a cycle of futile activity and a loss of that initial impusle of passion, desire, creativity, or whatever.

    Staying on track with manageable, reasonable steps every day - that's more like it.

    1. Thanks, Andrew! This is his only book that I've dug into so far, but I hope to read more of his stuff. Thanks for the comments!

  3. HI Dirk,

    This is good post about laziness. Thanks for explaining the roots of it. I believe some people are more motivated more than others just like some people run faster than others.

    Accomplishing anything is to overcome instant gratification is true statement.

    We want things but isn't willing to put in the work to get it. There is no shortcuts to happiness. Once we can get past the mental part of it we are well on our way.


  4. Hi Dirk

    What an inspiring post and it was a good read.

    When we talk about laziness, it is hard to trace its root but you have done a good job of revealing the origins of laziness.

    I also love the ways we can overcome laziness which you have highlighted so brilliantly. It is best to check our choices to know if they would help us reach our goal. I agree that we should just stay in our safe zone but from time to time, keep trying to expand it.

    Dreams should be specific not broad and laziness is a mindset which we can change . thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks for reading and the comments, Ikechi!

  5. Avoid Shortcuts! uh hmm!
    I speak out my ambitions so that it becomes a push factor for me to attain it. That's how i fend off laziness.