'Laziness is a myth': Here's the truth about why you (and others) slack off.

The colleague who does the bare minimum. The student who doesn’t finish their homework. The teammate who skips crucial matches. It might be tempting to call them, or at least think of them, as lazy. (Even when that person is you.)

But according to some psychologists, that would be a mistake. Because, they argue, lazy people don’t actually exist.

An American therapist named Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., is among those in the mental health field to hold this unconventional theory.

As he wrote for Psychology Today back in 2008, “I believe that the whole idea of anyone’s being inherently lazy – or having a ‘lazy personality’ – is basically a myth.

“Referring to – or rather, disparaging, or even dismissing – a person as lazy seems to me a glib and overly simplistic way of accounting for a person’s apparent disinterest or inertia… I view this pejorative designation as employed mostly as a ‘default’ when the person talked about is not particularly well understood.”

In other words, when we call people ‘lazy’ we’re missing something about them. We’re seeing surface behaviour that stems from something deeper.

So if it’s not laziness, what is it?

Devon Price, Ph.D., a social psychologist, writer and psychology professor (who also ascribes to the laziness myth theory), points to procrastination – something commonly associated with ‘laziness’.

“People love to blame procrastinators for their behaviour. Putting off work sure looks lazy, to an untrained eye,” she wrote via Medium. “[But] When a person fails to begin a project that they care about, it’s typically due to either a) anxiety about their attempts not being ‘good enough’ or b) confusion about what the first steps of the task are. Not laziness.

“In fact, procrastination is more likely when the task is meaningful and the individual cares about doing it well… It has nothing to do with desire, motivation, or moral upstandingness.”

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Both Drs. Selzter and Price argue that, particularly in adults, behaviour that might outwardly appear to be lazy often stem from a lack of self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to accomplish a task).

Into that, feeds factors like mental illness (for example, the absence of motivation that often comes with depression), a lack of emotional and practical support, inability to find meaning/purpose in a task, fear of failure, and so on.


Dr. Price therefore encourages people to approach a ‘lazy’ person with curiosity and, most importantly empathy. Because: “People do not choose to fail or disappoint. No one wants to feel incapable, apathetic, or ineffective,” she wrote.

If they can’t get out of bed, ask: Why are they exhausted? If they aren’t handing in work, ask: do they need help with some aspect of the assignment? If they’re missing deadlines, ask: is there something making organisation and time-management difficult?

“If you look at a person’s action (or inaction) and see only laziness, you are missing key details,” Dr. Price wrote. “There is always an explanation. There are always barriers. Just because you can’t see them, or don’t view them as legitimate, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look harder.”

Even if it means looking at yourself.

You can read Dr. Seltzer’s article here: Laziness: Fact or Fiction?
You can read Dr. Price’s article here: Laziness Does Not Exist

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