“This isn’t getting the work of the world done,” my mother used to tell me when I was young and talking on the phone to friends instead of cleaning my room or putting away the dishes or whatever else needed to be done. I still don’t know exactly what the work of the world is, but it sounds so ominously important it made me believe that my laziness was in some ways contributing to world failure.
Her words still echo through my life. Even now, though I know that world will go on even if I watch a whole night’s worth of “Downtown Abbey” episodes, I remember what my mother said and I turn off the T.V.
Now, after reading “Laziness Does Not Exist” (Atria 2020; $27) by Devon Price, PhD, a Clinical Assistant Professor, Loyola University Chicago, I may reconsider that long ago lesson.
“Laziness does not exist means there is no slothful, shameful feeling inside of us called laziness that is to blame when we fail or disappoint someone or simply lack motivation,” says Price after I ask him to define the book’s title. “There are always structural, external factors as well as inner personal struggles that explain why someone is not meeting goals.”
Instead, Price says that often when someone is written off as lazy, the problem is actually that they’ve been asked to do far too much, and not given credit for the immense work that they are doing.
“Fighting depression is a full time job,” he says. “Raising children in a global pandemic is a full-time job. Taking a full course load while working a job is too much to deal with flawlessly. So many people are overwhelmed and overworked, yet because they have been asked to do more than they can handle, these incredibly ambitious people are branded as lazy.”
So how do we deal with these feelings?
Price recommends first observing the situation neutrally while trying to determine where the feeling is coming from and what do you have to learn from it.
“Sometimes, we lack motivation to do something because the task just does not matter to us — so ask yourself, do I really have to do this task? Does it matter to me, or have I just been told that I should do it? When someone is feeling lazy and beating themselves up for it, that is almost always a sign they need to cut a bunch of obligations out of their life, so they have time to rest and reorient themselves, to focus on their true priorities. “
Self-efficacy, a confidence in one’s own ability to get things done, also comes into play.
Price describes this as a very grounded form of confidence — the confidence in one’s own capabilities.
“When a person has high self-efficacy for a particular skill or task, they trust their instincts, and know how to break a large task down into smaller parts, so they’re way less likely to get stuck in doubt, perfectionism, or inhibition,” he says. “A lot of times when someone is struggling or procrastinating such as failing to write a paper for class, for example, it’s because they don’t trust themselves to do it well enough, or they don’t know how to take the big project and divide it into tiny bites. Unfortunately, we live in a very perfectionistic culture where lots of teachers and managers micro-manage and nitpick the people they are supposed to be mentoring, so we actually destroy a lot of people’s self-efficacy in the process. “
Price believes that we also need to act like all human lives have equal value and deserve equal support with no proof needed.
“On a more personal level, we need to approach other people with generosity and trust,” he says. “I don’t need proof that a person on the corner asking for change deserves my money. I can trust that if he’s in that spot, he clearly needs it, and I don’t get to decide what his needs at that moment look like or how he lives his life. In general, we need to stop policing one another and viewing all needs and limitations as suspicious.”
What: Devon Price Virtual Events
When: Thursday, February 25 at 7 p.m. CT
7:00 PM CT
Hosted by Loyola University / Chicago
Link to join in: https://luc.zoom.us/j/87434549563