September 14, 2018

I am allergic to the word “lazy.”

To me, it brings to mind someone passively going through life. Hanging out. Not doing much. Not taking action. Not moving.

I don’t really believe people—myself included—want to feel like that, or that it’s an intrinsic quality that can’t be changed. “LOL I’m so lazy!! I’m the worst!”

And yet, while I don’t like the word, I certainly am lazy. All the time. It’s an easy emotion to feel when the world tells you that you should always be doing, striving, achieving. So while you (or I) probably aren’t lazy people, we can certainly feel the emotion. It might not be who are you all the time—but it’s who you are acting like once in a while.

Lazy is an easy emotion to feel when the world tells you that you should always be doing, striving, achieving.

You might hit peak lazy when you’re…

●︎ Waking up at noon on a Saturday (after a long week).

●︎ Ditching plans with friends (because you really need a night in).

●︎ Avoiding doing something at work (because you’re afraid to ask for help).

●︎ Scrolling through Instagram hours after you told yourself you were going to bed (because what if your best friend posts the perfect photo from her Hawaiian honeymoon and you don’t see it or comment and she holds a silent grudge against you for the rest of both your lifetimes?).

See what I mean? There’s all kinds of lazy. But we never really investigate the “why” behind our own particular brands of laziness. What lies at the root of your deep doing-nothingness?

Pema Chödrön has the answer. The beloved Buddhist nun and author of many wonderful and insightful books has a completely different view about one of the seven deadly sins (sloth is pretty much synonymous with lazy, right?).

In a piece excerpted from her book The Places That Scare You, she writes, “Laziness is not particularly terrible or wonderful. Rather, it has a basic living quality that deserves to be experienced just as it is.”

'Laziness is not particularly terrible or wonderful. Rather, it has a basic living quality that deserves to be experienced just as it is.'
- Pema Chödrön

So maybe my aversion to the word is entirely misplaced. Maybe I should embrace my laziness—or at least figure it out, in order to see what’s on the other side.

Chödrön digs in and writes that there are three types of laziness. There’s a good chance you recognize yourself in at least one of them:

Laziness Cause #1: Comfort Orientation

Yesterday, I tried turning on my laptop and was faced with a blank screen. It wouldn’t turn on. I Googled solutions on my phone, which resulted in repeatedly hitting the Enter and Power keys. (The Genius Bar will hire me soon.)

So I gave up and laid right down on the floor. Watched a motivational YouTube video (hah) and polished off a bag of chips. This sounds like a nice break, but I had four deadlines. I was being lazy, not proactive.

Chödrön calls this instigator of laziness comfort orientation, and it’s based on “our tendency to avoid inconvenience.” We are constantly soothing ourselves, whether that’s cranking the AC if we’re a teensy bit warm or buying ourselves a treat if we’ve had a bad day, but if something stops working—stops being comfortable—we can get angry and “outraged at inconvenience.” Cue us laying on the floor.

Laziness Cause #2: Loss of Heart

This one’s a little rough—and possibly even more relatable. Loss of heart communicates a sense of hopelessness, or “poor me.” “We feel so poverty-stricken that we aren’t up to dealing with the world,” she writes. “We sit in front of the television, eating, drinking, and smoking, mindlessly watching show after show. We can’t bring ourselves to do anything to ventilate our loss of heart.”

I’ve heard myself use this when I blame other people for things I can change myself. Or when I catch myself saying, “Everything’s so crazy this year anyway, it won’t matter if I [don’t do X or Y].”

Laziness Cause #3: Couldn’t Care Less

Finally, there’s the feeling of “I couldn’t care less.” As in: "I'm not gonna do it, because I really couldn't care less."

This type of lazy has a bit of a harder edge and is aggressive and defiant. It might be characterized by picking fights or getting mad if someone tries to cheer us up. “We wallow in feeling undervalued and put down. We don’t want to find any outlet. We just want to sit around, feeling weighed down with gloom,” Chödrön says, and it can be a gateway into depression. This is anger mixed with laziness.

What to Do About Laziness

So, now that you've found your lazy style, it's time to feel really bad about it. Just kidding, of course, but that's our typical reaction. Our common response to feeling lazy is attacking ourselves: Why can’t I just get up and do my work! Or to indulge our own emotions: This is just who I am! Or, quite simply, to ignore: La-la-la, everything’s cool, nothing to see here!!!

But Chödrön says there is another strategy for dealing with laziness in all its weird ’n’ wonderful forms: We fully experience what we’re feeling, without resistance. Basically, we go all in to lazy and really tune in.

“We come to know our fear of inconvenience, our shame, our resentment, our dullness, and we come to understand that others also feel this way. We pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves and notice how they cause our bodies to tighten.”

Surprisingly, Chödrön says accepting our laziness, identitying why it's happening, and getting curious about it is the best method to spring us out of our lazy spell.

"This process of experiencing laziness directly and nonverbally is transformative," she writes. "It unlocks a tremendous energy that is usually blocked by our habit of running away.”

'This process of experiencing laziness directly and nonverbally is transformative. It unlocks a tremendous energy that is usually blocked by our habit of running away.'
- Pema Chödrön

Once you know what's triggering your laziness—and you resist shaming yourself for it—that's when you can start taking action. Feeling inconvenienced? Find a small way to make the task slightly more convenient. Loss of heart? That's your cue to give yourself a pep talk (or, like I did, watch a motivational video while laying on the floor). Couldn't care less? That's a sign to tap into your "why" behind the project ahead of you so it feels more meaningful—or, if it's a feeling you can't shake, maybe it's time to go talk to an expert and get help.

Once you investigate the cause of your laziness, you'll discover what’s on the other side: a greater sense of compassion for yourself, and a chance to regain your momentum. It's like finally learning which key can open that big ol' lazy door. But remember: you do need to recharge on the reg, so it's OK to just lean into lazy every once and a while.

Read next: 10 Things That Steal Our Motivation—and How to Get It Back)