long live laziness

It’s never about lazy (although we always think it is)

When people talk to me about their habits, and especially about the big, frustrating “why am I not doing the thing already” procrastination cycle, there’s one word that invariably comes up:


As in “It’s really just about me being lazy . . .” or “If I could just stop myself when the laziness kicks in . . .” or “If I stop pushing myself I’ll just end up on the couch again . . .”

Just about every client and student of mine thinks that this is the main reason — or a big part of it — that they aren’t DOING THE THING. But that’s not the case at all, and the reason is simple; as it turns out, laziness doesn’t exist. That’s right — it’s a myth.

It’s a big one, though, so let me share a bit about how to work through the blocking concept of “lazy” to get to the good stuff.

Why there’s no such thing as lazy

The problem with “laziness” is that the term doesn’t actually describe anything. You just can’t be in a state of laziness the way you can be in a state of calm or a state of anger. Laziness isn’t an emotion (a state of being) and it isn’t an activity (a state of doing). Laziness is actually a judgment — a negative judgment — about a state of not doing. Most likely about yours.

If you stumble into a room full of Buddhist monks sitting in meditation, you’re probably not going to say, “Ugh, look at those lazy jerks, just sitting around not doing anything. They should totally be ashamed to even take up space.” It would actually be kind of funny if you did, but it wouldn’t be all that relevant.

Lazy is a word we use to judge ourselves when we’re feeling hurt or fearful. Or to judge people we don’t like because they remind us of ourselves. Ow. I know. Me too.

So if it’s not lazy, what is it?

Oh, a whole bunch of things. Fear. Blame. Worry. Doubt. But as I said, it’s mostly about judgment. As you get better at noticing what’s really going on for you (“Hey, I’m getting mad at myself for not doing enough again, there’s some guilt here that wants my attention”), it becomes gradually easier to peel away the layers.

As you keep at it (peel, peel, peel), something happens. The part of you that is trying to protect you shows up and explains what it’s afraid of.

When you peel back the layers, there is hurt and worry that wants love and attention. And when you give these parts of yourself love and attention, the default pattern of name-calling (Lazy!) stops being useful for you. It stops working. When you peel away the fear, anxiety, anger and doubt and interact with them, you are left with:

– Things you want to do or choose to do.
– Things you don’t want to do.

When that happens, you can make smart choices. Plus, it’s a lot easier to make these choices when you’re not in the distraction, anxiety and distress that cause you to veer off into the procrastination zone to begin with.

Incorporating active not-doing (making it conscious)

Active not-doing is totally different than spacing out. It’s conscious and intentional. You know when you go to look something up online and two hours later you’re down the craziest rabbit hole and have no idea how you got there? Not conscious and not active.

Active not-doing is also totally different than active avoidance. Yes, it’s lovely that you have the cleanest refrigerator bottom this side of the Mississippi Delta, but that’s not going to be conscious or active not-doing for most of us.

Active not-doing involves choice. It involves mindfulness. It involves practice. And most of all, it involves permission. Agreeing to give yourself twenty minutes to roll on the floor and breathe is a good thing. Agreeing to trust yourself to come back to the thing is the crux of this practice, because the very act of recognizing your avoidance will help you get back to DOING THE THING.

The good news is that active not-doing can start in any moment. Even after those two hours of avoidance you can still notice and press pause: “Oh, I’m doing it. Feeling some guilt here. Can I let myself stop and be here with my guilt? Can I take a minute to breathe and let it just soak into the ground? Can I ask myself to receive some strength and support so I can get a little clarity on this?”

Easier said than done, right?

Oh boy. You can say that again. Well, there are a bunch of things to work on here, many aspects and much to learn, practice and learn again.

Okay, so you’re probably not a Buddhist monk. Neither am I. And yes, it’s a lot easier to give the monks permission to not do because they give themselves permission to not do, and also because they’re blissing out on their calm vibes. And also because they probably don’t have THAT THING DUE TOMORROW. Aaaaaargh.

I know. I’m not asking you to perfect the life art of not-doing. I’m not even going to suggest that you meditate for ten minutes a day. Meditation is hard work — one of the highest forms of Not Doing. We’ll start with something easier.

All I’m saying is that when you take the judgment out of the equation, a state of not-doing is good for you. More not-doing will actually help you with the doing, but only if you’re not freaking out. We want to work on letting go of the need to always be in doing mode. And we want to work on learning about the things that terrify us so we can know how we work.

It’s about being willing to establish a lifelong process of learning about who we are, how we function, and how we interact with ourselves and the world around us. It’s about learning about your stuff and not being impressed by it. Maybe even eventually getting around to liking yourself anyway. Maybe.

Giving yourself permission to actively not-do is probably one of the hardest things there is. Let’s start small. It’s okay to start small. It’s even good to start small. But at least we’re starting (yay for us)!

One more option

Another way to get into the frame of mind where you can let yourself just not do: my clients, of course, all use the Emergency Calming Techniques recordings when they are “having a moment”.

This has seriously cut down on those semi-frantic “I need you to talk me down from this” calls. They get a ten-minute time-out to shift into some quieter head space where they aren’t going to guilt themselves over a small chunk of healthy not-doing. And I get more uninterrupted time to write! Whee. Everybody wins. ‹smile›