The Truth About Laziness

I often have this debate with people and my clients who say they are “lazy.” Because I give assignments to complete at home, I frequently get the feedback that the assignment was not completed because “I was being lazy.” A more common situation is others tell people they are lazy when a task was not completed. The most stereotypical example being a wife calls her husband lazy for not taking out the trash. Or a parent calls their child lazy for not doing their homework or chores. No doubt all of us have been referred to as lazy at some point in our lives. But what if it wasn’t really the act of laziness, but there was another factor at play.

I can see in extreme situations, laziness is possible, but I would say the more common answer is there is something else guiding our behaviors. But what else could explain not doing something, when you clearly could have done it? What if it is a matter of motivation and not really being lazy? Maybe I’m not lazy, but i wasn’t motivated to complete that task. Or to be more exact, I was more motivated to do something else rather than the other task. In the husband and wife example. what if the man was watching football at the time of the request to take out the garbage. In that case, he was probably more motivated to watch the game than take out the trash. It is clearly not being lazy, but a matter of being less motivated to do one thing over another. Same can be said for any action or behavior that is not completed. I didn’t do my homework because i was more motivated to hang out with my friends or I was so tired from school that I chose to relax instead. Obviously, friends and relaxation are much more motivating than homework.

In addition to choosing one task over another, there is also choosing not to complete something out of fear of the results. I.e. Not to sign up for a class at school after several reminders, could be looked at as being lazy, or there could be a fear that you would fail the class and would rather not take that chance. In this case, it is not lazy, but a choice not to act out of anxiety. Therefore, so-called “laziness” is a choice of motivation, at least, that’s how I see it.

But what makes one task more motivating than another. Human motivation is a whole realm of psychology, but here is a quick bullet point. One idea in motivation says it depends where the motivation originates. Is it intrinsic or extrinsic (meaning internal vs. external)? Where did the task come from? Was it assigned to you (extrinsic) or did you assign yourself the task (intrinsic)? Typically intrinsic tasks are more motivating since we see the inherent value in them. This is a generalization, of course, as extrinsic tasks can be equally motivating and we can still have very little motivation to complete a task we assign ourselves (i.e. studying for a test). This depends on a number of factors, including if one can see the immediate value in it, or whether it has value to the individual or not and whether there are consequences to completing or not completing the tasks (and the severity of those consequences).

In summary, laziness seems to be more related to motivation. But not necessarily lack of motivation in general, just lack of motivation to do that particular task. When given any 2 or more options, a person will choose the one that is more appealing and would most likely engage in that action. From an outside perspective though, the tasks that were not chosen, by some internal dialogue, would look like they were “just being lazy.” If you want to really understand if you or someone else is truly “lazy”, then figure out what the thought process was that went into the action they chose. Keep in mind, sometimes it really can be “I forgot.” Also, you might not be aware of the thought process since it goes so quickly. If you train yourself, you can become more aware and understand what makes you and others tick.

On the surface, many actions, or lack thereof, seem like one is being lazy, but if you take into account the tons of other motivations (i.e. avoid pain, anxiety, sadness, increase pleasure, don’t be a burden etc…) lazy doesn’t really apply anymore. There are countless other examples of the hidden motivation we all experience. Think about those factors for all those actions you are CHOOSING not to take which seem “lazy” or you are told are “lazy.” and Ask yourself, “what is the truth behind laziness?”


Dr. Greg Schwarz, Psy.D is a licensed psychologist and Co-owner of Burbank Therapeutic Centers, A psychological corporation in Burbank, CA. Dr. Schwarz has been working in the mental health field for more than 20 years. Currently providing individual therapy in Burbank, CA, he specializes in severe anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, with a sub-specialty working with older adults. BTC was founded on the principles that therapy should be specifically designed for the person seeking help and the therapist and client should have similar styles in order for therapy to work. Each client who contacts BTC is thoroughly screened to ensure we are able to effectively treat them, This avoids unnecessary sessions and allows us to individualize the therapy to each person due to the advanced knowledge we have in their particular problem area.

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