Lack of Motivation: Laziness or Fear in Disguise?

Renowned social psychologist Dr. Devon Price has written a tome entitled Laziness Does Not Exist.

I can imagine you’re thinking, “But that can’t be right…I’ve actually seen laziness and resistance, in others, even in myself!”

Well, Dr. Price is right. Laziness does not exist. Neither does resistance. Believing that they do only complicates our ability to get things done in our culture that places importance on achievement.

What’s more, abolishing the terms of ‘laziness” and resistance” and finding and using more accurate terminology can help us be not only more effective but more compassionate with those who are struggling with inaction or lack of motivation.

What does laziness look like?

As with all abstract concepts, laziness is not something you can see, test, touch, hold, or measure. And yet, we like to think we know it when we see it. Some examples of lazy behavior might be:

  • Feet up on coffee table or couch.
  • Pushing out deadlines or missing them altogether.
  • Spending long stretches of time in hammock, easy chair, etc.
  • Refusal to take action.
  • Etc.!

The problem is, healthy idleness and self-care can look exactly the same as the above (and is something we don’t get nearly enough of). The true culprit masquerading as laziness or resistance is often difficult to detect. Perhaps, it is more socially acceptable or optimistic to label idleness as a component of laziness or resistance than what could actually occurring – fear.

Resisting/postponing/avoiding situations may be due to fear of:

  • The perceived enormity of what’s involved and entailed with something.
  • Exhaustion while doing something.
  • The thought of having to start something.
  • The thought of having to finish something.
  • Having to stop somewhere in the middle of something.
  • Getting bored with something.
  • Failing at something.
  • Missing out on something else.

Fear is less tangible and more stigmatizing than laziness, so many people are happy to just accept the “lazy” label instead of drilling down to the root cause of the fear that may be holding them back. If I’m lazy or resistant, it would seem I simply lack ambition and need to buckle down, stop my bad habits, get on track, and take care of things. However, if I’m afraid, it becomes necessary to dig deeper and unpack the cause of my fear, face it and work through it—a much more difficult and potentially painful process!

Clients who struggle with idleness are not resistant, difficult or unwilling to change. They simply do not feel prepared, skilled, or safe enough to do what is being asked or expected of them. This is why labeling someone as “lazy” or “resistant” doesn’t help him or her solve a problem or achieve a goal. The stigma, misdiagnosis, and vague solution associated with such a label is seldom helpful.

So, what’s the alternative?

“If a person cares about getting something done, yet they repeatedly fail to do so, it’s clearly because there are barriers in their way—often, a variety of barriers—and they need support in removing those barriers to move forward.” — Devon Price, PhD.

First, we need to retire terminology like “laziness” and “resistance.”

Fear should be one of the first considerations when someone is struggling with inaction! Many people enter talk therapy with complaints of demotivation (a criterion for depression incidentally), laziness or resistance, only to learn that their concerns are more complicated than they realized. It may actually be a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety that accounts for a lack of motivation.

Second, use two strategies to overcome the forces holding us back.

1. Commit to starting.

The hardest part of any endeavor is usually getting started. If a person is struggling with motivation, it can be immeasurably helpful to imagine him or herself are a ballpoint pen and simply start moving the pen. Just start, even if only to write jibberish or draw stick people. Once we start any endeavor, we are more likely to continue it as momentum takes hold.

Another helpful technique is to imagine leaning into a task, past the point where you must take that first step forward in order to avoid falling forward onto your face.

It can also help to commit to something that is not easy to get out of, such as:

  • Agreeing to meet someone you don’t want to let down.
  • Sharing intentions and goals with others who are likely to ask about how the endeavor is going.
  • Pay for an event/activity/class up front so you are less likely to back out.

2. Imagine our past, present and future selves.

Another helpful technique is to to imagine one’s self not simply a single entity, but rather as consisting of a past, present and future self. If you postpone a difficult task today, you are essentially kicking the proverbial can down the road and creating a problem for your future self to solve or handle. They are unlikely to be amused. The better one gets to know and appreciate all aspects of themselves, the more likely it is that avoid leaving a mess for their future self to clean up.

So you see? Laziness and resistance really do not exist. They are only a masquerade for the fear that holds us back in life and resists taking action. Being willing to identify and acknowledge our fear, or even exploring the possibility of a mood disorder, and then committing ourselves to taking the first step is the only way we can begin to move forward in life … or maybe even move mountains!

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