Later. That’s the recurring theme that runs through your head as you arrange all your snacky snacks and flick through the options on the Hulu playlist. All while assignments are pushed out for later, the kitchen is a mess, and you need to prepare your presentation for the SCRUM on Thursday. When you’re rushing through your tasks at the last minute, it’s inevitable that you’ll ask yourself, “Why the hell am I this lazy? How am I to overcome laziness?”
Fear not. We have your back. See, your laziness isn’t so much a condition as it is a symptom. That means, if you’re ever going to get to the bottom of your laziness and start meeting your goals, you need to dig deep. Very, very deep. Is it going to be hard? Heck yes! So why do it? Because it feels good. So damn good.
Why Am I So Lazy?
Laziness can be caused by a number of things, for instance, a lack of motivation, no clear direction or interests, or even a feeling of overwhelm. There is also our evolutionary trait. We are hardwired to preserve our energy and lay low. The result? Netflix and chill in an endless loop of instant gratification and regret.
But here’s the thing, if we could wire this behavior in, we can wire it right back out. So let’s look at some of the potential causes of your overgrown lawn, assignment deadline extensions, and zero plans for personal development.
1. You’re afraid to fail
Fear of failure is a real thing. Whether you were bullied by your parents into a performance trap or ridiculed by peers when you stuffed up your rebuttal at the high school debate. When we experience something that leaves us feeling inadequate or mortified, our kneejerk reaction to that is to just never attempt it again.
But the experts have a solution.
- Redefine Failure: Sure, failure is tough. Especially when that failure links to our security. Getting fired or closing down your business might seem like the end of the world when it’s more like the closing of a chapter. What you perceive as a failure might prevent you from seeing the opportunity. For instance, losing your job means you can finally see what is out there in the job market, start your own business, go back to school, start a family — you name it. When you frame the experience differently, your mind can interpret the signals differently. For instance, an anxiety-filled situation suddenly becomes a fresh adventure.
- Know You Worst-Case Scenario: You want to know what can happen, and what the effects are. Once you know it, you can make the necessary plans to either avoid the effects or to counter them. A good example would be to have a set of skills to fall back on if you’re suddenly without work.
- Stay Relevant: No one is going to push or prod you to get your degree, or take that course, or learn something new. That’s on you. You need to make sure that when that fear situation pops out its ugly head, you’re ready for change.
- Work Towards The Fear: The best way to overcome fear, is to incrementally move towards the situation that causes the fear. For instance, if you fear you won’t have enough money to start a business, then do the logical thing and save. If you want to move up the corporate ladder but you’d rather sit on the couch with a family-sized pack of M&Ms, figure out whether it’s training, further learning, or building relationships that need a boost.
2. An invisible script is getting in your way
We’re all shaped by TV, news, social media, and even what our parents and teachers tell us, but often we don’t realize it. Growing up, you absorbed messages about how the world works that are still effecting your decisions today. I call these ‘invisible scripts’.
Some of these invisible scripts can be really harmful. Things like: You’re not going to make it; you’re not good enough, rich enough, thin enough, tall enough, or smart enough.
Here’s something that should smash some of that inner dialogue: Think of the top ten richest people on the planet. Do they all meet all the criteria on that list? What about your five most successful friends? Nope?
But here’s the thing. We want you to get up and go for it. Our post on invisible scripts should get you up and at it in no time.
3. You’re waiting for motivation to strike
We’ll start with the bad news first, motivation isn’t going to get you there. In fact, there are going to be very dry spells where motivation is just not a thing. The best way to curb this is to assume that future you will still fight anything that remotely resembles work. So you build systems. You make sure that you have a clear starting point and end goal. But more on this later. (I told you we have you covered).
How To Stop Being Lazy: Tips to Kickstart Action
You know you have a tendency to the horizontal, ie. procrastination level: expert. What you need is how to get upright, stand tall, and inch closer to your goals.
1. Break your task list into manageable chunks
You’re probably sick of this phrase but we’re going to throw it at you anyway. How do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite. Simple as that.
How do you lose weight? Small changes every day. This week, you make small changes to your diet and start walking. Next week, you increase that to a jog once a week. The week after, who knows? Add in sets of weights, do resistance training, or take up Pilates.
The same goes for work goals. Want to deliver a kick-butt presentation that will leave your team bright-eyed and reaching for their notebooks and pens? Do bits of research and work on it every day. Start with small sessions of 15 minutes a few times a day. If you need to, increase these time blocks to 20 minutes, 30 minutes, even 45 minutes. Whatever you need to get the job done.
A key point to remember is how to get started and that will take some willpower. But don’t let that put you off if willpower hasn’t been in your wheelhouse before. You don’t need willpower for the entire task. You just need willpower for the first few minutes of each time block you’ve allocated. This is because once you get started, it’s easier to stay in motion.
2. Make sure your goals are realistic
Drop 20 pounds by next Tuesday? Are you kidding me? Of course you’re getting stuck in neutral. Drop three pounds by next Tuesday is a little bit more reasonable, but still pretty tough for some people.
When setting your goals, you need to incorporate all the variables that will help you reach that goal.
- Is it time-sensitive?
- Will you need to learn a new skill?
- Does it require a career change?
- Will you need to invest a sum of money to get it going?
Here’s the thing. You decide where you land and having a big, scary, somewhat off-the-radar goal is completely doable, but you need to trust yourself that you will follow the path that leads to this goal. If you’re setting unrealistic goals and get into a cycle of not achieving them, anything that seems even remotely difficult will be out like last week’s leftovers. You need to build trust with yourself, and that means getting into the habit of achieving goals that you know you can reach, build goals you think you can reach. Eventually, you’ll build up your goals to a level where you’re unsure, even a little scared.
3. Find an accountability partner
An accountability partner is someone who will be a cheerleader when you meet your goals, but more importantly, will take on the role of a psychological drill sergeant. Relax! It’s not as bad as you think. All it means is they give you that nudge when you’re still building self-discipline while you crawl out of your comfort zone.
Your accountability partner is someone who understands your goals, the methods to reach them, and what would happen if you don’t meet these goals. For instance, if you’re looking to train for a marathon and you’re struggling to get out of bed in the mornings to get a run in, you want someone who can run with you or track your progress.
They will check in on you in increments to make sure that you’re reaching the smaller, bite-sized chunks of your goals (remember the elephant?). They will also be frank with you when you return to your old habits.
4. Commit to the smallest possible action
A critical component on how not to be lazy is the ability to see the smallest portion of the task and then committing to get it done. For instance, if you have an enormous project, look for that element in the project that will only take five minutes to complete. Then find another element that will take only ten minutes. Soon, you’ll be working on 45-minute tasks without hassle.
That tendency for laziness could very well just be overwhelm and insecurity. This can wreak havoc on your mental health, as laziness keeps you in that cycle. When you’re able to take it little by little and focus on the quick wins, you’ll have the motivation you need to take on the larger chunks.
Struggling to get going when it’s time for the gym or a run? Put on your workout clothes. That will trick your brain into getting out of the door, otherwise, the act of dressing was a waste of time. See how simple that is?
5. Make it easy to get started (and difficult to get distracted)
If you happen to have a friend who is always on top of her household chores, you can bet your hard-earned dollars that cleaning supplies and tools are within easy reach. Your friend understands that unpacking things from a dark, dank closet or basement is a task in itself, and might push out the task at hand until there’s time to do both.
What about your work-from-home friends? They know the easiest way to get started is by following a foolproof system that cuts out all that jazz. And by jazz, I mean texting, social media, the TV, pets, you name it. Whatever seems to eat large chunks of your time.
So here’s what you do:
- Make sure the area is work/exercise/task friendly. This means cleaning out clutter, setting up your workstation, and ensuring that you have what you need to perform the task.
- Your space should be permanent (work) or at worst, semi-permanent (exercise). This way, that dedicated space is already set up for use. If this isn’t possible, make sure that you set the space up ahead of time so when it’s time to work, you can jump straight in.
- Turn off your gadgets if you can. Cal Newport, considered the authority on focus and getting things done, has a system where he creates blocks of time for focus. In these blocks, there are no distractions. His office is set up for work, his phone is off, and he stays away from that inbox during his work blocks. While deep work might not be for everyone, there are a few lessons that can get you into a good working rhythm. For instance, creating a space that is distraction-free when you know you should be focusing on the task at hand. Remove the desk blotter, the desktop toys, even music if you must — at least until you’re able to work through tasks more efficiently. Then, when the job is done, doodle on that blotter all you want!
- Let those around you in on your plan. All those office workers who made the change to remote work not only need to change the way they approach their “work” and “home” blocks but also educate their families to do the same. Provide a clear schedule of work-time and family-time. This allows you to work and have fun without guilt on either side as you’re effectively implementing time management like a boss.
6. Create new habits
You know which actions let you down. You know that if you come home from work, sit down, and switch the TV on, you don’t get anything done. Sure, you need that break, but you also need to have that break without worrying about everything you still need to do. Instead, take 15 minutes to put your things away such as your laptop bag, your shoes, and have a shower or change into your gym gear. When you do this often enough, that after-work couch lull will disappear.
Forming a new habit can be tough. However, when you consistently perform an action and continue to do this for a length of time, your brain misses that action when you don’t do it. The brain is all about systems and routines. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, our habits are what determine how successful we are at meeting our goals. Basically, you need an action plan to cement the habits you want to form.
At first, a habit is a choice. Then, in time and with enough repetition, it becomes an act we no longer think about, we just do. Your brain simply creates a new formula to follow.
7. Be willing to change
If you find yourself in a space where you’re justifying your behavior, it’s going to be a tough journey to change. But if you have the willingness to change, those behaviors that help you back before simply won’t be as effective. The willingness to change needs to be affirmed every day, and when you’re feeling low during the course of that day, break it down even further. Remind yourself why you’re doing things, work in little bits of motivation. This is the part where you pull out that dream life map, or as we call it at IWT, your rich life. Envision what that life would look like if you continue working hard on your goals.
8. Give yourself permission to fail
This one stings far more than we realize. Especially if we were birthed into families where failure was frowned upon and even punished. It makes it hard for us to equate failure to growth, learning, or anything positive for that matter. But successful people know better. They know that failure is an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and become better, not bitter.
By giving yourself permission to fail, you’re far more likely to try new things and explore new avenues, because you know that failure is not the end. Ask yourself what the worst thing is that could happen, and if it doesn’t cause irreversible damage or physical harm, can you give it a chance?
9. Work in little rewards
Set aside a day or an hour, depending on your needs and schedule, to do those things you long to do when you should be working on your goals. For instance, if you simply have to find out whether Sherlock and Joan end up together as you work your way through Elementary, you can set some time aside for it. But use it like you would a reward system. That way, you still get to work on your goals and enjoy a bit of unproductive downtime. We all need rest, but it’s that endless loop of R&R that gets you in trouble.
Frequently Asked Questions
Being unmotivated or distracted are two major causes of laziness. But more often than not, people just don’t have good habits in place that help them be productive.
There are three ways to motivate yourself:
1.) Plan for Failure
2.) Put it on Your Calendar
3.) Develop Laser Focus (yes, it’s possible)
You may be unmotivated, distracted, or just not have good habits in place to help you be productive. Fortunately, learning to be more productive doesn’t have to be complicated.
If you want to be more productive while working from home, you need to
1.) Accept reality
2.)Develop new routines
3.) Make sure you’ve got your work/life balance right
4.) Be careful not to get carried away with productivity apps
If you’re serious about kicking bad habits like laziness, start by reading my free e-book,The Ultimate Guide to Habits
Earlier this year, I spent 16 hours prepping for a very special interview. One of my mentors, Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg, taught me much of what I know about psychology and persuasion.
I asked him to spend an hour with me, where we would share our favorite techniques and tactics on behavioral change — on everything from money to exercising and flossing.
We talked about favorite persuasion studies from the academic research — then spent time sharing some of the persuasion models we’ve developed ourselves. And we recorded it.
It’s easy to find some jackass blogger who can write “TOP 10 EASY WAYS TO INFLUENCE YOUR NETWORK!!!” But finding someone who has a deep, thorough knowledge of academic research, plus practical persuasion is extraordinarily rare.
If you’re interested in how to change your own behavior, I strongly encourage you to listen to our conversation.
You can’t get this kind of material anywhere else, and BJ is a tremendous expert with a lifetime of experience.
But that interview is only one small part of my free e-book on creating great habits, breaking bad ones and performing to the peak of your ability.
In this guide, here are a few nuggets that I share:
- How systems beat motivation every time when trying to change your behavior and form lasting habits.
- The Treadmill of Disappointment and 3 easy steps to achieving any goal you set.
- How even chocolate can be a powerful motivator for positive behavior change.
- How to use “failure expectation” to stay on track after a setback.
- Jerry Seinfeld’s system of building momentum, “Don’t break the chain.”
The single best way of keeping laser-focused on achieving your goal, as well as the systems to achieve it.
Most importantly, instead of feeling guilty about being so lazy, you’ll learn practical ways to stop being lazy. And that is, quite simply, why this site exists.
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