Am I lazy, overworked, underwhelmed or just in need of rest?

Laziness is a universal human experience and it can manifest in many ways. But what makes us feel lazy and how can you beat a case of ‘can’t be bothered’?

It’s common to label someone as lazy when they have not completed a task within a reasonable timeframe, don’t look for work despite being able-bodied, don’t achieve as highly as we expect they should, and the like.

Lifestyle medicine physician Dr Jenny Brockis says that while some displays of laziness are simply that, others have a much deeper meaning.

“We choose to be lazy, to take a lazy day to relax and not do all the 101 things waiting to be done because we are tired, unmotivated, or see no purpose in the task,” she says.

Solution Psychology director Melissa Juzva says psychologists see laziness as a bit of a misnomer.

“Oftentimes it’s just executive dysfunction – task inertia, paralysis, not knowing how or where to start,” Melissa says.

Melissa says some research suggests that the concept of laziness is a belief system that hard work is morally superior to relaxation, that people who aren’t productive have less innate value than productive people.

“It’s an unspoken yet commonly held set of ideas and values,” she says.

Why the lazy label?

Experts say we label people as “lazy” to simplify complex behaviours, overlooking factors such as motivation, mental health, and external circumstances.

“If we really wanted to label something as true laziness we would have to be really sure that someone has all the mental and physical tools available but is simply making a choice in the absence of anxiety or procrastination to not engage in a task,” Melissa says.

“Even then are we not just making a judgement on them as a society for choosing relaxation over productivity?”

Types of laziness

Laziness comes in many forms, but Jenny says it can display as:

  • Lethargy: The most common in our overworked, overwhelmed society.
  • Fixed mindset: The societal pursuit of perfectionism doesn’t encourage risk-taking.
  • Regret: What we believe we are or are not capable of due to other factors such as looks and age.
  • Neurotic fear: Aligned to self-belief and irrational fears associated with the fight-or-flight response.
  • Confusion: Not understanding what you’re being asked to do or how to do it.
  • Identity: Sometimes linked to shame.
  • Apathy: This is the hardest type of laziness to overcome and could be linked to depression.

Why are we lazy?

Jenny says some types of laziness can have a physiological basis.

“Our brain is set up with three essential objectives: to keep you safe, to help you find reward and to conserve energy,” she says.

“Your executive function (decision making, planning, organising, self-control) depends on the prefrontal cortex. If you’ve had a really big day, you won’t have the mental capacity to take on more.

“Sedentary living is also associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression.”

Ways to beat laziness

There will always be times when you choose to be idle – to rest, restore and reset, but knowing what your limitations are can help get you out of a “laziness” rut.

Melissa says ways to do this include:

  • Understand your own needs, how much energy is expended for different tasks;
  • Stop associating productivity with goodness;
  • Avoid upward comparisons.

Jenny adds that if you’re feeling like laziness is taking over, ask for help.

“If you’re struggling, talk to someone,” she says.

“Having someone to keep you accountable can help as can setting yourself small achievable goals.”

More on boosting productivity

Written by Andrea Beattie.