Laziness Is Not a Trait

Published on 4/7/2021

Within psychology, there is an entire field dedicated to personalities and how they’re formed. Countless questions are asked and attempted to be answered. Such as: are we born a certain way, or do we develop it along the way? How does intelligence or empathy form resilience in individuals? We look at dozens of personality traits and markers for them. But one trait is consistently missing from this list, and that’s because it isn’t a personality trait at all.

We often over-identify with negative behaviours in a way we never do with positive ones. We’ll say that we are disorganised, but we won’t say that we’re kind. We’re lazy, but we’re never loyal. We’ve grown to fixate on our negative attributes, and with that comes the idea that being lazy is an attribute at all. Laziness is not a personality trait; it isn’t fixed to an individual for their lifespan and a matter of defining yourself. Laziness, both in thought and behaviour, is a habit. A habit that was formed for some reason and has held.

It’s too easy to believe that we’re simply lazy and almost comforting to do so. If we’re lazy, then it isn’t our fault that we haven’t completed that manuscript or stuck to our exercise regime. If we’re lazy, then we shouldn’t bother trying to change. But you’re not lazy; you’re just stuck in lazy habits. You have the power to change, as confronting as that may be, it should also give you a sense of control. You can stop being lazy as soon as today. But first, let’s consider why we adopt the habit of being lazy and how we can fix it.


When you’re looking straight at the towering mountain, it doesn’t really feel tempting to try and climb it. All you see is hours, or even days of work, sitting as a massive hurdle between you and the satisfaction of success. So you don’t bother to climb it. You think that you’ll never get to the top anyway, so why bother trying?

Feeling intimidated by the task ahead causes individuals to avoid that task, adopting lazy habits to do so. The idea of running 10km seems impossible, so you don’t bother to work on your running habits at all, as you fear failing. If you don’t start studying for that difficult exam, you’ll fail because you’re lazy, rather than failing because you’re not smart enough. We make this internal sacrifice, accepting the role of a lazy person rather than failing for another attribute. We’re so fixated on who we are that we’re willing to add laziness to the list rather than lose a quality we pride ourselves on.

By adopting lazy habits like procrastinating and putting it off, we manage to place a bandaid on our intimidation and avoid confronting the task. But the result is that we never see if we could’ve done it, and we miss out on the satisfaction that made the mountain so worth it.

The solution

Break down your tasks to make them seem more manageable. Instead of aiming to run 10km in one go, focus first on running 2km for three days this week. Next week, you can add a little bit more distance and build it up. If you’re looking to finish a manuscript, then break it down into chapters. Don’t tell yourself that you’re going to write this book, but rather tell yourself that you’re going to write 2,000 words today, that’s all. These small steps seem more manageable and stop you from procrastinating as you see the end to them. You see that in an hour or two, you’ll be done.

Furthermore, by specifying your goal instead of lumping a mountain in front of you, you hold yourself accountable. You can’t just say that you’re going to ‘study’ today; you need to say how many chapters you’ll read or even how much time you’ll spend focused and studying. The tomato timer is ideal for this, as it breaks it down into short and manageable bursts. Having a vague goal breeds laziness, as you can’t win or lose, so you muddle about instead.

Lack of knowledge

We don’t respond well to feeling out of our depth. Humans thrive off control, knowing exactly what they’re doing and when. That’s why we resent people cancelling last minute or changes in plans, as they throw off our sense of control. When we don’t know exactly what we’re doing, whether that’s the task ahead, our new job, or even in life, we avoid it, we grow lazy.

If you’re being lazy at your job, it’s either because you don’t enjoy what you do or you don’t understand what you’re doing. We need to stop being afraid to ask questions. When you don’t understand something, resist the lazy habit to avoid it or productively procrastinate, and instead get the information you need. An informed person will rarely be lazy. If the issue is that you don’t enjoy your job, then discover what is out there, try things until you know what you do like.

If you’re avoiding writing even though it’s your passion, consider why that is. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going as a writer or how to get to the place you want to be. Perhaps you lack research for your article, book or whatever else it may be. In a place without knowledge, we grow lazy.

The solution

This can be a case of breaking things down again into manageable tasks. If you don’t know how to get to where you want to be, then sit down and draw your own map. What do you need to do today that brings you closer to it? What do you need to do next week, or next month? Write the steps down to fill in the gaps, and feel less lost as you proceed.

If it’s a matter of knowledge, find out where you can get the knowledge you require. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, as it is way more embarrassing to be the person who clearly won’t ask. Talk to colleagues, peers, or whoever else could know. And when in doubt, turn to Google.

Pending needs

We often turn to laziness when a need is not being met, similar to other poor habits in our lives. We’re exhausted, physically or emotionally, and so we adopt lazy habits to compensate. We’re unhappy with a relationship, romantic or platonic, and so we act out through laziness. Consider it almost as a plaster, hastily pasted over the issue. Or a giant neon sign, desperately trying to draw attention away from the real issue at hand. We don’t want to address something, so our minds use laziness, and somewhere along the way, it becomes easier than fighting it.

Laziness at work may be that you don’t enjoy this job, but you’re too afraid to leave it or to address what you actually want to do with your life. Acting lazy regarding chores your partner asked you to do may indicate hostility towards them, a lack of respect or understanding. Avoiding exercise through lazy tendencies could hint towards a low sense of self-worth, a self-consciousness that you don’t want to admit.

The solution

Good companies offer check-ins for their employees, moments to express how they’re doing and what they need. Be a good company to yourself and hold your own check-in. Sit down as you would with them, and address yourself, consider what you need. Often, we already know what the issue is, but we’re just afraid to admit it. As scary as it is, there is an innate relief to acknowledging the problem. Whether you’re lonely or unfulfilled, depressed or anxious, admit it to yourself so that you can work to admit it to others.

And once you know what this untapped need is, you can work out the steps to fixing it. Copy a company protocol for this, write down your complaints, and then consider possible solutions for them. It won’t be a quick fix like laziness, but it will be a lasting one. Take it one step at a time, and involve people to motivate you to continue.

Lack of motivation

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself whether you actually want something? I started doing this a few years ago in treatment for my personality disorder. I had realised that the majority of my identity was mirrored on those surrounding me, an attempt to stop them from leaving me and confirming all my worst fears about myself. I reached a point where I had to question who I even was and what I wanted. I realised big things as well as some small ones. I wasn’t sure if I wanted children; I had always just assumed that you do unless you vehemently don’t. I realised that I liked films and talking about them; I had just thought people would deem me pretentious. I didn’t like going out clubbing or extreme sports, things that I feared would render me lame.

As longwinded as it is, my point is that you should never assume you want something because others do, whether that’s an interest, value or life goal. Are your finances a priority to you, and if so, why? Do you want a family, or do you assume that you do? Do you really want this career, as if you do, why aren’t you going for it?

When we don’t do something, slipping into the state of laziness, it’s because we lack the motivation. We either don’t want something, or we don’t know why we want something. The key is to treat your choices as an individual and assume nothing about them. Don’t allow yourself to become a mirror for others. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live this life, day by day, so you better enjoy it whilst it lasts.

The solution

Question everything. I mean absolutely everything. Even things that seem obvious. For example: why do you want to lose weight, and why are you currently not happy with your body? Why do you want to save money, and what are you saving up for? Why do you want to stay in this job? Make everything a decision because it really is.

When you know what you want, but motivation is still lacking, aim to visualise productiveness. Close your eyes and imagine yourself doing that task; imagine what will follow it. The feeling of finishing it, the way you’ll reward yourself later. Run through it all so that the way forward is clear and straightforward when you open your eyes.

Laziness breeds laziness

It isn’t just about today. You don’t just snooze your alarm and then rejoin your flow of the day without issue. You don’t skip a workout and then magically have the energy and mindset to tackle other challenges. The reason we often mistake laziness to be a trait is the frequency of lazy actions. If you do one lazy thing, you usually do many of them. You snooze your alarm a dozen times, you grab something sugary for breakfast, you drive to work instead of walk and so forth. But these are not isolated incidents. They’re often linked. Intentionally, in that you grab something sugary as oversleeping made you late, and that’s also why you have to drive now. But also unconsciously, as you’ve already failed at the start of your day, so why bother now? You’ll make tomorrow better, at least that’s what you tell yourself.

Imagine a lazy habit as a weed. If you just ignore it to focus on your flowers or only cut off what you see above the ground, you’re not solving the issue. The weed will multiply, taking over your garden and destroying your lovely flowers. But if you deal with the weed right away, pulling it out with roots and all, you get to focus on your flowers and move forward.

The solution

Stop seeing yourself as lazy, and instead see each habit as a choice. Similarly, ‘unlazy’ habits are a choice too. Practice them, one by one, and remove personal traits from the matter entirely. Start with your sleep, getting 7-8 hours per night. Start exercising as soon as you wake up, so you can’t avoid it later. The easiest way to do this is by adding micro habits to your routine.

Start your day with the sacrifices. Rip off the bandaid in terms of good decisions. Have the alarm go off at an appropriate time, and start with your to-do list immediately. Start with the most challenging tasks or the ones you dread most. Get them done first so that you can turn to tasks you like more when focus wanes, ones you enjoy. By having a successful day, you can reward yourself in the evening by browsing on the Internet or watching your favourite show. Make these rewards that you earn, directly correlating them to your completed to-do list.

You are not a lazy person, no matter what your mind or someone else tells you. You are making lazy choices, and you have slipped into lazy habits, but you are not a lazy person. Today is a chance to prove that, as is tomorrow and every day after. Instead of giving yourself the excuse or barrier of being lazy, recognise that these are habits that can be broken and replaced with positive ones. By visualising your tasks, breaking them down into smaller ones, and creating an internalised effort-reward model, you have as much chance to be productive as anyone else.



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