Laziness and Procrastination

Is laziness a trait, choice or excuse?

Posted Jan 13, 2016

"'I am so lazy,' admits Fred, instantly becoming the one who admits to being lazy rather than the one who is responsible for being lazy."

The quote above is taken from an excellent book written by Gary Cox entitled, How to be an Existentialist: Or how to get real, get a grip and stop making excuses.  Cox is a gifted thinker and writer. I would recommend any of his books on philosophy, and he has quite a few titles. He has the rare talent of making complex ideas understandable without trivializing them. I would imagine that he is an excellent classroom teacher, and I know he has experience in both elementary schools and universities. In a word, I'm a fan.

So, what can we make of the quote above? What does Fred accomplish or at least intend with the speech act, “I am so lazy”? 

I'm trained in personality psychology, so I might first assume he’s making a descriptive statement using a trait. Traits are broad summary terms, and we might consider traits as the “having” of personality. We have traits, and these traits are an outcome of the dance between nature and nurture. In other words, our traits are partly heritable and partly learned. When Fred says, “I am so lazy” he could be just telling us something about himself.

Simple, right? Perhaps not.

Personality is more than our “having” traits. Personality is also our needs, goals, motives, strivings and projects. Personality isn’t just our “having,” it’s also about our “doing” in the world. And, our personality is not set in stone by traits. These traits can be thought of as one “layer” of our personality, upon which we also construct stories about our lives (for an excellent depiction of personality from this perspective, read anything by Dan McAdams  [Northwestern University], and I would recommend his recent The Art and Science of Personality Development).  

When we are constructing the stories of our lives, we are, in an existential sense, the authors of our lives.

So, Fred is more than his traits, and in making this statement, he isn’t just being an amateur personality psychologist using a trait description. His speech act, as Cox acknowledges, is serving the purpose of evading responsibility for being the author of his life.

As Cox explains, “To declare, ‘I am what I am,' is to assert the fallacy that I am a fixed entity while evading the existential truth that I am an ambiguous and indeterminate being who must continually create myself through choice and action” (p. 67).

Imagine for a moment that Fred is making this statement to you, me or even just to himself because he has once again procrastinated on a task he had an intention to complete. What becomes more plain in this case is that Fred is seeking less to describe himself in the abstract as he is confessing this weakness in his personality to absolve himself for his procrastination.  

From an existential perspective, this attempt to absolve oneself is an example of “bad faith.” Fred is trying to evade responsibility for his life. He’s making excuses.

I would argue that to be truly authentically human, we must strive to live without excuses, without regret.  If you don’t know how, then I recommend Cox’s, How to be an Existentialist: Or how to get real, get a grip and stop making excuses. It may be some of the best “self-help” you will ever read to get past your procrastination.