Don't Call Yourself Lazy

Don’t beat yourself up for feeling lazy, says expert Lindsay Gibson. Here’s why.

Many of us were raised in fear of being called lazy if we wanted to lose ourselves in reading, TV, games, or other relaxing pastimes. We got the message that unless we were up and doing, hitting the books, or otherwise progressing toward some measurable goal, we were somehow not being worthwhile.

Just being was not okay, and enjoying downtime was tantamount to shirking your duty. In many families the pressure is on to always be achieving something that others will agree is worthwhile. Being busy is the next best thing to being good.

If you grew up in such an atmosphere, this attitude can be internalized to the point where you subconsciously rate your goodness or badness on the amount of “work” you have gotten done that day. If you conclude you haven’t made enough effort, you might even lay awake at night worrying about what you didn’t get done or what you have yet to do.

If this happens to you, pause a moment and consider your opinion of yourself at these times. I would bet that there is precious little compassion or interest in your feelings, circumstances, or needs and that you are treating yourself as only a cog to get the job done. At these times, the point of life may seem to be to check things off a list so that you can stop feeling bad about yourself.

Our attitude toward our desire to relax says everything about our relationship with ourselves. If we negatively compare ourselves to others’ levels of accomplishment, we may start mentally flogging ourselves, as though we were racing to come in first in some high-productivity stakes. We ride ourselves as hard as a hell-bent jockey in the Triple Crown. But experienced jockeys also know that sometimes using a whip on a tired horse can backfire and make it lose heart and quit trying. When you add insult to injury by calling yourself lazy when you don’t feel like doing something, you are doing the same.

Needing rest and not wanting to do anything are not moral issues. We are not good or bad depending on how active or driven we are. We can get the essentials done and also enjoy our down time. But if we criticize ourselves whenever we feel like doing nothing, we never get the true replenishment that down time is supposed to give us.

Our mind can be like a crazy jockey. It makes the race twice as long as it needs to be by piling on jobs and tasks that really are low priority in the grand scheme of things. Then if we need to rest, it whips us with criticism. Worse, it defines us as lazy losers in a nonexistent race only it can see. For this crazy mind-jockey, every decision to take a minute for ourselves is a potential high stakes loss.

But think for a minute: the stakes are not high. Most things are not emergencies. Our fear of laziness tells us we are in competition for our very worth, but we aren’t. Staying keyed up and under the gun won’t increase our moral standing one jot. In fact, the anxiety it produces is demotivating.

Try a different approach. When your innocent inner child feels like doing nothing for a while, stand up for yourself against needless self-criticism. Talk back to criticism by saying, “Don’t yell at me. I’m good!” You can usually get enough done to take care of the essentials and still have time to relax. You don’t have to stay busy in order to be good. You already are.

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