Are You a Lazy Person?

These four steps can give you the motivation you need to stop the lazy cycle.

Posted Mar 31, 2018

Bigstock w/ permission
Source: Bigstock w/ permission

Being lazy is a negative self-attribution people often make when they don’t understand why they aren’t taking action toward something they want to and/or should be doing. It can feel like a battle fighting against yourself to do things you know are in your best interest, but in the given moment you just don’t feel like doing them. But calling yourself lazy is self-sabotage, because it sets up the expectation that you probably won’t get it done, which only makes it much more likely that you won't.  

Luckily, the field of psychology gives us a more precise way to understand why we don’t always take the actions we’d like to. Research shows that decisions we make have a lot to do with how motivated we are to achieve something.[1]  A large part of our brain is dedicated to anticipating rewards. We constantly compute all day long whether or not the actions we take are “worth the effort” based on what type of reward we think those actions will bring us. If you are like most people, you would probably find it very difficult to get out of bed to attend a 5 am morning work- out class, however, if you knew you would definitely get a million dollars if you did, you would have no problem whatsoever.

So how do you increase your motivation to do those things you know you should do but always find it easy to put off? Below are five steps that have been shown to increase the likelihood of taking action toward a desired goal. 

1. Declare yourself the winner ahead of time.

The first thing you need to do to increase your motivation is, expect to win the battle. What you tell yourself matters. If you know it is difficult to get out of bed in the morning, chances are you are expecting it to go the same way every morning. We tend to act on what we expect, not what we want. If you tell yourself you expect to fail, it is unlikely that you will put forth all the necessary effort to change the behavior. No one is motivated by the expectation of failure. When you genuinely believe that you can win, you are more likely to put forth the effort and engage in the necessary steps (such as the ones below) that will help you achieve what you want to do. If the goal is so big that you have excessive doubt, scale back to a smaller goal that you believe is doable. 

2. Focus on the benefits of the action.

Rewards are what motivate us. The benefits of any goal you are trying to achieve are the rewards you are expecting as a result of your behavior. I will feel better and look great if I exercise. Remember,as you choose any action you engage in a cost-benefit analysis. This is not an objective process but rather a subjective evaluation based on what is most active in your mind at the time you make the decision. When you focus on the benefits of what you want, you are focusing on the reward elements and making the benefits more available for this decision-making process. Don’t wait until the moment of the decision to do this. If you wait until you are snuggled in bed and the alarm goes off to start trying to imagine the benefits of going to the gym, you probably won’t get too far. The benefits of the nice warm bed are too immediate. You want to practice focusing on the benefits of your goal as far in advance as possible. It may take several days of work to get the benefits very active in your mind. Really think about why you have set the goal in the first place--what are all the things that will be different in your life, what will you be able to do when you achieve your goal, how much better will you feel about yourself? Write these down on a pad of paper next to your bed, read the list before you go to bed, then read it again before you get up in the morning.

3. Anticipate the obstacles.

There are almost always obstacles that get in the way of a new behavior. The status quo of what you usually do acts as barriers to change. Once you have a goal in mind and you know what the benefits are, anticipate what existing behaviors might get in the way. If you want to get up in the morning to exercise but always hit the snooze button, move the alarm somewhere that forces you to get out of bed, or stop trying to be a morning person and perhaps schedule your workouts in the evening. Generating a plan for getting around the obstacle significantly increases the likelihood of changing your behavior. 

4. Visualize yourself implementing the plan and successfully taking the action. Research has shown that visual simulations can increase motivation,[2]  and are effective at helping people achieve goals but only when people visualize the whole process not just the outcome.[3]  To successfully harness the power of visualization see your success from beginning to end. Start with taking the very first action, then see yourself bumping into the obstacle, then implementing your solution to get around the obstacle and then finally achieving the outcome. Also, it’s been demonstrated that visualizing from the participant perspective is far more powerful and effective than doing it from the observer perspective which means you should see yourself doing it, not watch yourself do it. 

References

1. Berridge, K.C. (2004). Motivation concepts in behavioral neuroscience.Physiology & behavior, 81(2): 179-209.

2. Amar Cheema, Rajesh Bagchi (2011). The Effect of Goal Visualization on Goal Pursuit: Implications for Consumers and Managers. Journal of Marketing, 75(2): 109-123.

3. Taylor, S. E. and L. B. Pham (1998). The effect of mental simulation on goal-directed performance. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 18(4): 253-268.