Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Addressing Your "Laziness"

Ostensible laziness can be caused by any of six factors, each with its own cure

Kasia from Warsaw, CC 2.0
Source: Kasia from Warsaw, CC 2.0

Update: I was interviewed on the radio about this article. HERE is the link. It's at the 101:00 mark.

Laziness can devastate a career, relationships, and the meaningful life.

Laziness can be caused by a number of things. Here, I identify six and a way to address each.

Rational fear of failure. If I were told to try to land a job as a boxer, I'd appear very lazy because I know that if I landed the job, I'd be bloodied in the first minute of my first match. So being "lazy"--not looking hard for that job--is most appropriate.

The rational fear of failure usually manifests itself in what I call Muse-Not-Act Syndrome. A person thinks, perhaps egged on by others, that s/he should aspire upward. So s/he plans but procrastinates implementing. Most often, that's because they realize they're too likely to fail or don't want to work that hard.

Is your "laziness" is a rational decision? If so, and it's possible, can you substitute a task or goal you're less likely to be "lazy" about?

Irrational fear of failure. Are you catastrophizing what failure would mean? If you tackled that project or got that job and failed, would it be as disastrous as you fear? Might it be more disastrous if you procrastinated so the work ended up a slipshod rush job? Or worse, you didn't do the task at all, which guarantees you fail.

You can survive anything short of end-stage cancer, certainly a failure on most tasks. And odds are you won't fail if you take a deep breath, list the baby steps, and get help where you need it. Worst case, you fail, perhaps learn something, and no one can accuse you of being lazy.

Values-caused low motivation. Many people are lazy because they operate from the foundational principle, "Maximize happiness." Even in a so-called cool career, much of the work is less pleasant than, for example, watching a movie. Not-lazy people realize that the life well-led is about being productive or at least that ongoing laziness will cause more pain than pleasure: feeling bad about yourself, failing in your career and relationships, and perhaps poverty.

Might you want to replace "Maximize happiness" with "Be as productive as reasonably possible?" If on your job, the work is too often painful, do you need to look for a better-suited job? Or delegate painful tasks to someone who would find them less odious, for example, to an intern or part-time personal assistant?

Rebellion-caused low motivation. Some people rebel against orders. It may have started as a teenager, wanting to establish autonomy from parents. It may have become more entrenched when facing professors that required hard, seemingly unimportant assignments. It may have ossified further in response to an authoritarian, unfair boss. Certainly, you might be wise to quit a job with such a boss but overall, is your resistance to following orders, your "you-can't-make-me" attitude, worth the price you're paying?

Recreational drugs. Mild-altering substances such as alcohol and marijuana have long been thought to decrease motivation,. More recent studies, for example, this 2014 study by Harvard and Northwestern scientists finds that even casual use of marijuana causes major changes in the parts of the brain associated with motivation and mental illness. Of course, it's easier to invite you to stop your drug use than to do it, but this article would be remiss if it didn't include this common cause of laziness.

Hard-wired low motivation. Some people seem to be driven or laid-back from birth. Most moms of two or more children are sure their kids emerged from the womb with a distinct personality. A friend told me she knew her kids' different personalities in-utero and that they have retained that basic personality.

If you are unusually laid-back by nature, it probably won't help to push yourself too hard. We all have our limits. Perhaps you need to look for work in which your laid-back self is only a minimal liability or even a plus.

For example, I appreciate a calm customer service person. Laid-backness can also be of great value in a healthcare provider, for example, paramedics, emergency room doctors, and surgeons. The high-stakes time pressure in those jobs make it unlikely that even laid-back people goof off. And their calm personality is often a big plus amid that work's stress.

So now, let's turn to you. Do one or more of the above describe you? If so, is there anything you want to do differently? Or would you rather, for the time being, kick back, hang 10, and meditate on it?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at

More from Psychology Today

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today