The Happenchance Guide to Overcoming Laziness

overcoming laziness

Overcoming laziness is nothing more than a series of simple actions repeated over a long period of time. The first part is easy; it’s the work applied over a period of time that gets most people. Lazy people want to change, but after a couple days they lose interest.

I know. I’ve been there.

You want to overcome laziness? Great, but you have to be ready to face up to an uncomfortable truth: laziness is a choice.

Once you recognize this, you’re ready to get started. If you want to continue to blame your laziness on someone or something besides yourself, you should stop reading now.

Because reading this post will take some time. It’s a doozey.

If you’re still with me, here’s the short version of this massive post on overcoming laziness. (I hope this doesn’t make me an enabler). To stop being lazy, you need to:

  • Define laziness. Know your enemy
  • Recognize Your Good Fortune
  • Take Responsibility for Yourself
  • Set Standards
  • Have Confidence in Your Abilities
  • Know What You Want
  • Eliminate Choices
  • Create a Plan
  • Develop Good Habits
  • Take Action Now

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against lazy people. I used to be one myself until some events in my life made me realize I was being a dumbass. So I made a decision to work hard at overcoming laziness.

I also want to add one caveat: I am not talking about poverty and being poor, and I’m definitely not saying that poor people are lazy. Poverty is a complex issue. Systematized discrimination, racism, and structuralized income inequality exist. Some people have childhood experiences so brutal that they may never recover.

I’m not making any statement or judgment on people’s socioeconomic status. All I’m trying to do is help people who want to overcome laziness.

I don’t have all the answers. No one does. However, the following steps have all worked for me in one way or another. I sincerely hope that you find something valuable here.

Ready to get started? Good.

Know Your Enemy

Laziness means avoiding action, work, or expenditure of effort.

Laziness is an easy trap to fall into. Procrastination takes over, and the next thing you know, a few years have passed by and you’re no better off. Maybe even worse off. In fact, laziness could be said to be a long-term form of procrastination.

And why do people procrastinate? Because the pain of not doing something is less than the perceived pain of making an effort.

They key word here is perceived. Often, the pain and difficulty we imagine is far worse and far greater than the actual pain of doing.

When you start taking action and responsibility for yourself, you begin to realize that the excuses you had previously made were flimsy and weak. You’ll probably shake your head and wonder what you were waiting for.

Laziness is a habit. A habit of procrastination, of avoidance, of indecision, of passivity, of excuse-making. Habits don’t simply appear one day. Habits have momentum and inertia. They develop over weeks, months, and years.

Laziness is a thief. It sneaks up on you and robs you of your will. It takes and takes but the only thing it gives is grief and empty satisfaction. This thief preys on people who neglect to secure themselves against its machinations.

Laziness is a narcotic. It might feel good in the short term, but long-term leaves you hollow. The more you use it, the more you become dependent on it, the more it sucks your life away.

Laziness is a liar. Laziness tells you that you’ll receive more pleasure by avoiding work and seeking easy pleasure. Aristotle wrote that a life spent in pursuit of only gratification and pleasure is “for grazing animals.”

Laziness tells you that work is something you must avoid, that your efforts should be conserved. Laziness promises you that one day, someone or something will arrive and things will get better, that your ship will come in.

But work, especially work that matters to you, is far more satisfying, rewarding, and challenging than avoidance. Unwanted habits can be broken.

Laziness is the path of least resistance. While this might seem like a comfortable way to live, I believe that this path means surrendering control. Control of our lives, our goals, and our minds. The easiest thing to do is rarely the right thing to do. Ironically, the lazier we are, the more effort we have to expend avoiding work.

Laziness is a choice. Indecision is still a decision. The choice is yours. You can wait for something to happen. Or you can make something happen. Wish in one hand…

Recognize Your Good Fortune

overcoming laziness

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: if you’re reading this, chances are you live in the developed world.

You most likely have clean running water, access to affordable food, and are safe from things like wars and genocide. If you go for a run in the woods, you probably won’t have to worry about stepping on a landmine, being assaulted by bandits, or eaten by a gryphon.

And if you’re able-bodied, if your physical health is good, you are now better off than most people alive today or at any time in the past.

Even those with shitty circumstances have it good. Maybe not great, but far better than billions of people born into hard lives in developing countries.

If you’re reading this, guess what: you can read. That also means you can learn. Between the public library and the internet connection you’re using to read this, you have access to just about all the information a person could needs to learn just about anything.

Take Responsibility For Yourself

Every day, we choose whether or not to be lazy. It’s that simple. You can choose to be active and industrious, or you can choose to lay around and watch television. No one makes this decision but you.

You must become comfortable with managing yourself and deciding how you want to spend your days and your life. Even if you work for someone else to pay the bills, you still have to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. You have to manage yourself and your time. You have to be your own boss. No one else will.

This means you have to stop waiting for something to happen.

Your ship ain’t gonna come in. And if it does, it’s probably going to be crawling with pirates.

Excuses abdicate responsibility.

Once you’re of legal age, there’s no excuse for excuse-making. I’m sorry your childhood sucked, but you’re an adult. You can learn. You can move. You can try.

Environment plays a huge role in shaping us, but none of us are without freewill.

We can choose to do, or not.

Start by looking at the people around you. What are they doing? Are they trying to improve their skills or further their education? Or are they perpetually complaining about how much their life sucks?

Shitty attitudes are infectious. You can allow them to infect you or you can remove yourself from their influence.

Set Your Standards

Only you can recognize when you’re being lazy, and only you can decide what being active and industrious means. Maybe you want to tweak the way you spend your evenings. Maybe you’re interested in making a complete change.

Whatever you choose, you have to set a standard for what you want to do and how active you want to be. Don’t accept anything less from yourself than the standards you set.

At first, I would suggest not setting your standards very high. If you start out with impossibly high standards, then you’re going to face perpetual disappointment. The idea is to set modest standards and then build up gradually.

building something

Build Confidence in Your Abilities

Confidence comes from experience. You gain experience by doing things and by taking action. Experience breeds competence.

Build confidence by celebrating the small victories and successes. Enjoy watching your skills and abilities improve.

Build confidence by taking care of yourself. Dress well, eat well, and don’t beat yourself up (much) when you fail. Everyone fails.

Build confidence by setting and meeting small goals. Set a modest goal and achieve. Start small.

Build confidence by managing your fear of failure. Just know that if you fail, the world will not end. You’ll have tried and you’ll be better off for trying.

A quick note on self-esteem: I believe the idea of telling people they’re great no matter what kind of stupid shit they do is ridiculous and counterproductive. Self-esteem unearned or inflated is like having your own personal yes-man in your head, a weasely sycophant.

Self-confidence is different; hard to earn, easy to lose, but a damn sight more useful than self-esteem. Why? Precisely because it is earned and not given.

Know What You Want

How can you overcome laziness and do good work if you don’t know what you want or you’re doing something you hate? How can you expect to be excited by your work if you don’t know why you’re doing it?

I envy those individuals who know from an early age that they want to become doctors or firefighters. Their career path is laid out before them; they only have to apply themselves.

I believe that one of the hardest things we all face is figuring out what we want to do to earn a living. For some, figuring out what you want to do is a long process.

Common advice says ‘do what you love and the money will follow,’ or ‘do what you think will make you happy.’ This presents two problems.

One: what we love to do doesn’t always pay the bills.

Two: according to researchers, we’re terrible at guessing what will make us happy.

If you don’t know what you want, you have a few options:

  • Do something that pays the bills until you figure out what you want to do. You can always build skills in your free time.
  • Take a Jung Typology test to get some ideas to see what kind of work you might be suited for.
  • Figure out what skills you have that people will pay you for. In the words of Dr. H.S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
  • Drop everything in order to learn a skill that you can eventually exchange for money. You could do this at a university or a community college. You could also pursue a course of independent study.
  • Try a bunch of different things until you find something you enjoy. You could waste a lot of time, but you could stumble upon something that works for you.
  • Choose a career for the money, entry requirements, prestige, and learn to love it. My thoughts are mixed on this, but people find happiness doing things they never thought they would do.

overcoming laziness

Eliminate Choices

Perhaps your laziness is a result of analysis paralysis, by having too many options. In this case, you need to pare down your options. Eliminate options for yourself. Barry Schwartz wrote in The Paradox of Choice (wikipedia) that a multitude of choices caused anxiety in consumers.

With the exception of Deion Sanders, most people can’t have two high-level, demanding careers at once. You can’t simultaneously be an astronaut and a rock star. Sorry. Both are uber-competitive and require years of hard work and preparation. If you struggle with laziness and are past the age of twenty, you probably can’t be either of them.

However, that’s not to say you can’t make a career in music or aerospace engineering. But even the most ambitious and hard-working person probably couldn’t do both.

Eliminating choices allows you to focus your energies on what you can realistically achieve. By letting go of things that will never happen, you’ll not have to worry about not achieving them.

Focus on things that are doable.

Create a Plan

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail” – Winston Churchill

A map is a plan, and most people wouldn’t take off on a long trip without one. Why, then, would you go through life without a plan?

Your plan can be anything from a simple list of daily tasks to a multi-page to-do list, compiled and updated every week. You can also include long-term goals for what you want. These goals can help you stay focused, even when your motivation flags.

Begin by deciding on one or two things you want to incorporate into your routine. Include one or two things you’ve been putting off. You want tasks that you can complete and mark off your list. Don’t just make ‘overcoming laziness’ a part of your plan.

Use language that is positive, action-oriented. Even better if you have a quantifiable goal. For example, ‘read 10 pages in xx book.’ Or ‘walk for 15 minutes.’

When you make your plan, decide where you want to be at one month, three months, six months, and a year.

Once your plan is in place, do everything you can to stick to it but don’t treat it as a series of commandments. Modify it as necessary, but never abandon it.

As long as you have some kind of long-term plan in place, you’ll be better off than you were before.

Develop Good Habits

You can develop good habits the same way you developed your lazy habits: by doing the same thing over and over for a long period of time.

When you’re establishing habits, consistency is key.

A good daily habit can be anything from walking, journaling, to following a schedule and calling up an old friend.

In my opinion, 15 minutes of walking every day is the best first habit to establish. Why? Even mild physical exercise creates more energy, and more energy is necessary to overcome laziness. This is especially true for people who are otherwise sedentary.

Depending on whom you ask, habits take between 21 and 90 days to establish. From there, three months to a year is the time required to firmly establish that habit.

That seems like a lot of time, but developing a habit is just a matter of repeating an action every day until it becomes second nature.

I know, easier said than done.

Don’t think too far ahead. Choose one habit and build it one day at a time. Once you’re well on your way with the first, add another.

overcoming laziness

Take Action Now

Overcoming laziness is a battle won in tiny increments. A little bit of progress everyday will take you far farther than making progress in fits and starts, once or twice a month.

It’s easy to imagine that things will change on their own, that in the future you’ll magically become less lazy. This is only another lie told by laziness. Without taking action, nothing will change.

Change takes work. It’s not easy, but people do it all the time. You’re no exception.

Overcoming laziness is work. All work is accomplished by completing one action at a time.

Every day is a fresh start, a new chance.

You have nothing to lose…and everything to gain.

The choice is yours.

Related Reading

The following are some of the books and bloggers that I found particularly helpful in overcoming laziness. [The books are affiliate links].

Getting Things Done
by David Allen. This is the book on personal productivity. Read this book, apply techniques, and you’ll become a master list-maker.

The 4-Hour Workweek
by Tim Ferriss. Over-hyped it may be, but Ferriss’ book will change the way you look at jobs, entrepreneurship, and work-life balance.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is the experience of intense concentration, deep enjoyment, and absolute absorption.

The Art of Non-Conformity
Chris Gullibeau’s is one of my favorite bloggers. He’s on a mission to visit every country in the world while simultaneously battling conventional beliefs and helping people meet important personal goals. He recently released a his book, The Art of Non-Conformity.

Zen Habits
There’s a reason this is one of the top 25 blogs in the world. Leo Babauta’s focus on simplicity, frugality, happiness and goals has improved the lives of (tens of) thousands of people.

Pick the Brain
A solid source for hundreds of articles on personal development and motivation.

Over To You

  • Have you battled laziness?
  • If so, what did you do to overcome it?

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to Happenchance.

Photo credits: gviciano and sindykids provided the wonderful Danbo pictures.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • JA Lineberry November 5, 2010, 9:17 pm

    This article did not disappoint.

  • Margaret Polk November 6, 2010, 10:22 am

    Good points, Seth! I think this is a good guide and an easy read.
    Also, I agree with the comment that many people do not think being lazy is a choice, but it is a choice one can make at any point in their life.

  • Tim Sverduk November 8, 2010, 5:47 am

    Carrots are great but they don’t always work. When that happens, sticks are also useful. I liked your comments and analysis, but you were kind of light on the enabler-side of the sloth equation. For the independently wealthy who are afflicted by sloth, the carrot-cure is the best they can hope for. But – for those who are afflicted by sloth, *and* who make their living either in part or in whole from handouts, it makes the most sense to allow them to learn from (the stick) of the pain of their own hunger. For example: I know someone who is about 50 pounds over-weight. He gets food-stamps as part of his benefits package. He is suffering from at least one obesity-related illness that I know of. So is that nuts or what? In this case, government policies are encouraging both laziness and physical sickness – just as surely as a drug-pusher encourages drug-addiction. Unfortunately, obesity is a “protected” status in our society. So there is not much that can be done so long as political correctness reigns. (BTW, full-disclosure: I am a chronically lazy person, myself.)

  • Seth M. Baker November 8, 2010, 2:02 pm

    @JA I’m glad you enjoyed it. I know you’ve got a lot of stuff going on, hopefully this can give you some clarity.
    @Margaret. You’re right. Even the most benign choices made on a daily basis have huge long-term implications.
    @Tim I appreciate the time you put into your comment, and I think you’re right about the stick, but I don’t completely agree with what you’re saying. I think that people who are struggling with serious laziness already use a stick to beat themselves up with. Lazy people usually know they’re lazy. The problem is they aren’t sure how to turn that negative energy into something positive. Change is hard. It takes time.

    However, I think it’s judgmental and harsh to equate obesity and laziness. It’s incorrect to assume that one is always caused by the other.

  • D00d December 17, 2010, 1:12 am

    I actually did the dishes before my mother got home (still a teen here) because of reading this.

  • donebeinglazy February 22, 2011, 4:45 pm

    thank you… a very useful article!!

  • Harlacan1 May 23, 2011, 4:15 pm

    I been struggling with laziness and have paid dearly for it over the years. My conclusion is, I do “what I really feel like doing” at the time, even though my original agenda would conflict with this. Its a constant struggle.

  • Gibradley August 23, 2011, 1:59 pm

    Great article. Habits are everything. We all have habits that either help build us or destroy us over time. The longer these habits are left the more hardwired they become and harder to adjust. The good news is that like a computer, you can improve the software; upgrade yourself to function better. Baby steps over 3 weeks I found to be the key and  once you’ve changed one habit, you’ll know how to change others. 

  • Samuel Siew January 5, 2012, 4:42 pm

    Thanks so much! This is an awesome article.. clearly what i am looking for and i needed! God bless you bro!