Feeling tired or unmotivated is not a threat to our self-worth. In fact, the feelings we write off as “laziness” are some of humanity’s most important instincts, a core part of how we stay alive and thrive in the long term. Tired, burned-out people aren’t struggling with some shameful, evil inner laziness; rather, they’re struggling to survive in an overly demanding, workaholic culture that berates people for having basic needs.
We don’t have to keep pushing ourselves to the brink, ignoring our body’s alarm bells and punishing ourselves with self-recrimination. We don’t have to deny ourselves breaks. We don’t have to fear laziness. Laziness does not exist.
The Laziness Lie
The Laziness Lie has tried to convince us that our desires for rest and relaxation make us terrible people. It’s made us believe that having no motivation is shameful and must be avoided at all costs. In reality, our feelings of tiredness and idleness can help save us by signaling to us that we’re desperately in need of some downtime.
When we stop fearing laziness, we can find time to reflect and recharge, to reconnect with the people and hobbies that we love, and to move through the world at a more intentional, peaceful pace. “Wasting time” is a basic human need. Once we accept that, we can stop fearing our inner “laziness” and begin to build healthy, happy, well-balanced lives.
When we stop measuring our worth by how many items we check off of a to-do list, we can finally begin to seek out the activities that truly matter to us. When we set priorities based on our real feelings rather than society’s “shoulds,” we feel a greater sense of authenticity. And when we savor our free time and work to move at a slower, lazier, more intuitive pace, we begin to repair the damage that years of overwork has done.
Meditation is the most important place to start because it’s not intended to solve any problems. Like expressive writing and finding various ways to “do nothing,” it’s explicitly about abandoning goals for a little while, letting go of stress, and restoring energy and well-being in the process.
You Deserve to Work Less
Since the Laziness Lie has taught all of us to say yes to as much work as possible and to ignore our body’s every need, it takes a lot of self-knowledge and confidence to be able to say no to things. We have to detach from mainstream, moralistic expectations of how we should be spending our time.
That kind of rebellion is really scary and, in many fields of work, downright risky. Relatively few of us have the luxury and privilege of completely restructuring our work lives. There are concrete steps we can take, however, if we want to learn how to honor our health more and begin to work less. Put very broadly, the tips fall under three umbrellas:
- Advocate for Your Autonomy
- Focus on Quality, Not Hours Spent at Work
- Break the Work-Life Interference Loop
Your Achievements Are Not Your Worth
Achievements are fleeting things. They can never bring us true satisfaction. As soon as you’ve crossed the finish line and collected the trophy, the joy of running the race is over. In fact, the Lie tells us that we must never be satisfied; we must keep running after new opportunities again and again, no matter how many victories lie behind us.
Fred Bryant might be a very accomplished psychological researcher, but his true passion is climbing mountains.
“You put so much effort into climbing the mountain, all for what amounts to just a few minutes at the top of the summit,”
“But it’s not a race to get to the top, it’s a process—an experience that you’re meant to savor and enjoy. I love the journey toward the top of the mountain. I’m not there just to be at the very top. That’s what savoring is all about to me. The phrase is ‘stop and smell the roses,’ not ‘run through the field trying to smell as many roses as you can, as quickly as possible.’
You Don’t Have to Be an Expert in Everything
Taking a slower, more contemplative approach to learning can help us to be more thoughtful and critical, and can help us reduce anxiety. What matters is the quality and intentionality behind our efforts, not how hard we’re pushing and pressuring ourselves.
Here are a few steps a person can take if they want to consume less information in a more meaningful way.
- Practice Active Reading: Rather than trying to take in as much information as quickly as you can, you work to slowly and intentionally break down small passages. This increases your odds of meaningfully processing what you’ve read.
- Have a (Real-Time) Conversation: The warmth and emotional complexity of a real-time conversation can help two people reach common ground when they disagree, and can foster feelings of friendship and mutual respect.
- Get Comfortable with Not Knowing: We can choose to read slowly and think before we speak. Knowledge can empower us, but only when we take the time to wield it responsibly.
Compassion Kills the Laziness Lie
When we view homeless, unemployed, or impoverished people as victims of their own “laziness,” our motivation to work backbreakingly hard gets stronger than ever. The fear of ending up homeless morphs into the fear of not working hard enough, which in turn makes life an endless slog of pushing ourselves past the brink and judging anyone who doesn’t do the same.
The remedy for all of this is boundless compassion. If you’re entitled to moments of rest, of imperfection, of laziness and sloth, then so are homeless people, and people with depression, and people who are addicted to drugs. If your life has value no matter how productive you are, so does every other human life.
There are a lot of things you can do to keep the Laziness Lie at bay and to quiet your mind’s constant stream of shame and criticism.
- Practice Compassionate Curiosity: We often dismiss people as “lazy” when we can’t understand the reasons for their inertia or inaction. If someone’s behavior makes no sense to us, passing judgment on it feels very natural. He won’t apply to jobs, he sits on the couch all day, and he hasn’t washed a dish in weeks—he must be lazy. Labeling someone as “lazy” can turn a complex, challenging situation into an open-and-shut case.
- Look to the Broader Context: The Laziness Lie encourages us to label people and to pass judgment on them, rather than looking at the broader context they’ve been placed in. By zooming out and examining their social context, we can get better at seeing them as complex, dynamic people instead of hollow stereotypes. This helps us to stop expecting flawless behavior and productivity from them and to start seeing them as people who are worthwhile no matter how much they do or don’t produce.
- Stop Associating Productivity with Goodness: This mindset can lead down many dangerous paths. If work is always better than unemployment, then it’s better to serve an abusive boss in a corrupt, environmentally damaging industry than it is to quit. If keeping busy is a sign of virtue, then it’s okay to burn through tons of resources traveling the world and having big, expensive, Instagrammable experiences, rather than having time alone at home. If being active is always superior to being passive, then it’s more important that we talk and express our opinions to the world than that we listen to the experts who might have something to teach us.