Can Laziness be a Virtue?

lazy3I have always held the belief that I am lazy. I procrastinate, spend more time watching TV than I should, and will often go to great lengths to avoid doing work that I don’t want to do.

Interestingly, in my efforts to avoid work I often end up doing more work in one form or another. One of my most recurrent habits around this is getting home and throwing my clothes on the floor because it feels like less work than putting them away, however I then have to go and pick them up later and inevitably have to wash them or iron them because I was avoiding the less labor intensive work upfront.

I often feel paralyzed, as so much of my mental processing power is being consumed by worrying about needing to do whatever the specific thing is, that I don’t have any room left for the task. The fear of the difficulty involved in the task, fear of the unknown in doing the task, fear of the unknown resulting from not doing the task, among others; also can be paralyzing. As a result of this, everything I do manage to accomplish suffers, not to mention the physical toll of the added stress.

My usual response to noticing these tendencies is to jump on my own case. In my mind it goes something like, “You lazy good for nothing! Get to work! You are worthless!” and so on- with many variations.

laziness - Just a derogatory word for efficiencyOne day I stumbled on a little “demotivational poster” (right). It is a picture of a doorstop still in the package, being used as a doorstop with the caption reading, “Laziness: Just a derogatory word for efficiency.” At first I thought it was simply funny and cute, but it got me curious about the nature of laziness as I have always strived for efficiency of movement in viola playing and I kind of liked the idea that I could change the way I framed my beliefs about myself; so I began investigating laziness.

The following excerpts are from the Wikipedia article on Laziness which I found fascinating and drove me to look deeper:

“Leonard Carmichael notes that “laziness is not a word that appears in the table of contents of most technical books on psychology… It is a guilty secret of modern psychology that more is understood about the motivation of thirsty rats and hungry pecking pigeons as they press levers or hit targets than is known about the way in which poets make themselves write poems or scientists force themselves into the laboratory when the good golfing days of spring arrive.”

“Frédéric Bastiat argues that idleness is the result of people focusing on the pleasant immediate effects of their actions rather than potentially negative long-term consequences.”

“Hal Cranmer writes, “For all these arguments against laziness, it is amazing we work so hard to achieve it. Even those hard-working Puritans were willing to break their backs every day in exchange for an eternity of lying around on a cloud and playing the harp. Every industry is trying to do its part to give its customers more leisure time.”

Going back to the “demotivational poster,” there was a silver lining in my version of laziness: The desire to accomplish tasks with minimal effort/maximum efficiency. This sounds quite Alexandrian to me, and F.M. was far from what I would consider lazy.

So I set out to define laziness in my own terms and this is what I came up with:

Laziness is a misconception of the method/process of least work required to complete a specific task. This often leads to extra work because associated with this misconception is the temptation to skip steps in an attempt to gain the result.

Taking a look at the definition of work is helpful in understanding this concept.

Work = Force x Distance (W=Fd)

If we skip steps that we later have to complete, we are increasing the distance it takes to get from the beginning to the end of any given task. Let’s look at a very basic example. Say we need to get from A to D and the distance between each letter is 1 distance unit. If we take the most direct route it will look like this:

A – B – C – D = Distance of 3

But if we skip B and we must move linearly, it will look something like this:

A – (skipped B) – C – B – C – D = Distance of 5

Anyone who has forgotten to pick up milk on the way home has experienced this. We do it to ourselves frequently and often subconsciously. When this happens we dramatically increase the work needed to get from A to D; in the above example: W=Fx3 vs W=Fx5.

While we are still looking at work (W=Fd), it’s important to note that excessive force also significantly increases work. Let’s say we are trying twice as hard as necessary to get from point A to point B; it would look something like W=(Fx2)d vs W=Fd.

I soon discovered that my personal definitions of laziness were at odds with one another. On one hand was essentially work avoidance and on the other was striving for efficiency. These two mix like oil and water. You can’t be efficient if you do no work. You can only increase efficiency in a system where there is an abundance of force, otherwise you must add force to the equation.

This made complete sense in relation to my physical patterns of use. I’m a slumper and need to do what feels like more work than my habit to be upright. In reality I have a habit of pulling myself down which is more work than supporting my spine in natural upright, but my perception is that being upright is more work.

lazy2Work avoidance feels good in the moment because we faultily perceive efficiency. This is one of many examples of how what Alexander described as faulty sensory awareness (or debauched kinesthesia) is deeply rooted in our belief systems and behaviors (and it’s a two way street).

Perhaps most interesting; whenever I do get around to the task at hand I almost always find that however difficult I anticipated the activity being, it’s never that bad; and I am often pleasantly surprised by how fun it is to do work when I approach it with the right mental attitude (one of curiosity).

A note about procrastination: Sometimes even when I want to do a task desperately I often forget to do it. I have found forgetfulness to be a defense mechanism to avoid painful experiences. The tasks I most often forget are the ones that I anticipate will cause me mental or physical anguish (even if those fears are not based in reality). At this point it’s generally helpful to tell myself that it’s okay to be afraid, and ask, “Is there really anything to be afraid of?”

This essay came out of a question I asked myself, “Can laziness be a virtue?” I believe the answer is yes if we change our definition of laziness from work avoidance and create the following conditions:

1) Inhibit the desire to avoid work. 

You can’t get something from nothing, so unless your desire is to do nothing you must do work. It is interesting that the world’s major religions strongly warn against laziness in the form of work avoidance.

From Wikipedia:

One of the seven deadly sins in Catholic thought is sloth, which is often defined as spiritual and/or physical apathy or laziness.

In Buddhism, the term kausīdya is commonly translated as “laziness” or “spiritual sloth”. Kausīdya is defined as clinging to unwholesome activities such as lying down, procrastinating, and not being enthusiastic about or engaging in virtuous activity.

The Arabic term used in the Quran for laziness, inactivity, and sluggishness is kَsَl‎ (Arabic: كَسَل‎.). The opposite of laziness is Jihad al-Nafs (Arabic: النضال ضد الذات), i.e. the struggle against the self, against one’s own ego.

2) Hone your skills of perception to the point that you can tell the difference between required work and unnecessary work.

We must check in with others to sharpen our own skills of perception, as reality it relative. Don’t be so sure of yourself that you are not open to being wrong about your views of yourself and the world around you. Don’t be afraid to do the wrong thing in an effort to find the right. Find an Alexander teacher!

3) Properly conceptualize the activity and strive for efficiency (remove what is unnecessary).

Once you discover the extra things you are doing, stop doing them. F.M. once said, “When you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself.” Strive to do less in any given activity (while still honoring the requirements of the task); repeat. In this way, laziness can become a virtue.

One thought on “Can Laziness be a Virtue?

  1. Pingback: The Shoulders: To rest or not to rest? | Connecting up the Dots

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