On Laziness & Stuff

I’m lazy. I know a ton of people who are lazy. And if you happen to be reading this article instead of working on an assignment/something else instead, you’re probably lazy too. This afternoon, just 10 minutes after I finally managed to convince myself to sink into the first chapter of my midterm revision for South Asian studies, I leaned back, slammed my head onto the headrest and asked myself: “What is life?” Dang. I don’t know about you, but I think we humans are a pretty lazy bunch.

Why do we laze though? Based on my academic background in Psychology, I am obligated to think that since laziness occurs so predominantly throughout human life, it should serve some sort of adaptive evolutionary purpose. I don’t doubt this. I’m positive we could come up with a bunch of legitimate purposes that laziness serves to enhance our chances of survival.

I’m not here to talk about all that nitty-gritty stuff though. The only reason I’m writing this post is because of some weird thoughts I had while lazing in the afternoon. In a nutshell, I didn’t feel like studying. And I didn’t feel like studying because there were others things I wanted to do instead. Like writing or making Youtube videos (because those are the two extra-curricular things I’m incredibly focused on right now and I really want to get better at them as fast as possible). Like, usually people would describe laziness as the ‘lack of desire to do something’ but isn’t this ‘lack of desire’ a result of a ‘desire to do something else’? Hmm. I don’t feel like studying because I could be watching videos. I don’t feel like studying because I could be hanging out with friends. I don’t feel like studying because I could be sitting on my bed and doing nothing. But I don’t feel like studying Math because I could be studying Chemistry? Weird but I think this is a very real phenomenon.

Laziness is (at least I think it is) a concept that attracts a lot of negative stigma. We don’t want lazy group members on our project teams. We think of ‘lazy’ as a debilitating condition that implies a lack of motivation and desire to do… well, pretty much anything. That’s the kind of ‘lazy’ that we were taught in our youth. The kind of ‘lazy’ that we were taught to avoid. And I’m sure this kind of lazy exists. I have met the kind of apathetic people that simply just don’t wish to engage in activity of any form. But what about that super driven friend who always gets his assignments done a week before the deadline? Or the one that just can’t seem to live without his job? They’re lazy too, sometimes. But is that ‘sometimes lazy’, the kind that you, me, and everyone experiences, really a form of ‘lazy’?

As I mentioned earlier, this ‘sometimes lazy’ that we tend to experience can be said to be driven more by a desire to do something other than the task we currently, for whatever reason, have to work on. Maybe that desire results in a small section of our brain constantly processing, constantly thinking about the thing(s) that we actually want to do. And (okay gonna throw in some Psychology here but) with our brains’ limited cognitive capacities (like a computer’s limited processing capabilities), that constant background noise both inhibits our ability to devote the entirety of our mental resources while further distracting us from the task at hand (like trying to go left and right at the same time). If this is the case, the ‘laziness’ effect would probably be more intense the more the person wants to carry out the other task (so depending on what it is, they could be a very dedicated/passionate person).

Okay if you made it through that entire chunk of text, you’re probably thinking that that explanation sounds very much like a person who is simply distracted by something else. I agree. At high levels of ‘the desire to do another task’, a person becomes obviously distracted, which prompts us to ask “What’s up?” which may/may not end up in them ranting about their significant other. What I would like to suggest is that at very low levels of distraction, at the point where a person isn’t even capable of being aware that they are distracted, they exhibit the behaviour that we have come to recognise as laziness. So the next time you are feeling ‘lazy’, maybe you can ask yourself: Are you just plain lazy? Or is there something small on your mind that you just can’t keep out?

How do we deal with this kind of laziness though? Well, if your ‘other task’ is something incredibly simple and can be accomplished within a matter of seconds, I suggest you get it out of the way. Sometimes while studying I’ll suddenly get the urge to walk out of room and come back. So instead of telling myself “No I’m staying here until I finish this chapter” I indulge in the desire and get it out of the way. Problem solved. For more complex desires though, I would suggest perhaps trying to brainwash yourself into not thinking about it. Maybe by telling yourself it’s not as important as you think, or by telling yourself that there’s something else you need to do now. The faster you get it out of the way, the faster you can get to what you really want to do. It might take some effort/practise, but our brains are pretty malleable.

So the next time you see someone being lazy, don’t be quick to judge. Try poking them with some questions, it might be a good way to get to know them better and find out what they really care about.

Just some thoughts on laziness.

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