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Social psychologist Devon Price says laziness does not exist – except as a deceptive notion in our mind, which hurts us and others.

It leads us to work unreasonably hard, even to burn out, fuelled by an aversion to being considered lazy inculcated in our youth by parents, teachers, sports coaches and youth groups. It also leads us to dismiss people struggling with burdens beyond their capacities, viewing them as lazy and thus shiftless folk deserving of their own fate, rather than understanding and helping them.

“The laziness we’ve all been taught to fear does not exist. There is no morally corrupt, slothful force inside us, driving us to be unproductive for no reason. It’s not evil to have limitations and to need breaks. Feeling tired or unmotivated is not a threat to our self-worth,” the professor at Loyola University of Chicago’s school of continuing and professional studies writes in Laziness Does Not Exist.

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Indeed, the feelings that we write off as laziness are a core part of how humanity stays alive and thrives in the long term. He calls it “the laziness lie.” And he fell for it, big time.

In 2014, working on the final touches of his PhD dissertation, he came down with the flu. He knew he was doing too much, but that was his operating essence. So he ignored it, took a job, kept working hard while at night secretly wrapping himself in blankets, weak and faint. After a year, it became clear he needed rest, even though that ran counter to his ethos.

“I spent the next two months being completely unproductive: no juggling work and illness, no apologizing for being ‘lazy’ by doing more work than was healthy for me,” he says.

You don’t want to experience that extreme. But that requires budgeting time for relaxation and recovery each day, even if it feels like laziness. You need to fight back against the laziness lie, a deep-seated, culturally held belief system which manifests itself in these powerful but destructive feelings:

  • Deep down, I’m lazy and worthless.
  • I must work increasingly hard, all the time, to overcome my internal laziness.
  • My worth is earned through my productivity.
  • Work is the centre of life.
  • Anyone who isn’t accomplished and driven is immoral.

But it’s not just about how the laziness lie affects you. It also is expressed in how you view others, Dr. Price says. Our culture hates the lazy. We know who they supposedly are – the unemployed, homeless, disabled, depressed and other psychologically injured people. “When we call someone ‘lazy,’ we don’t simply mean they lack energy; we’re implying that there’s something terribly wrong of lacking with them, that they deserve all the bad things that come their way as a result,” he says.

But our dismissal ignores the factors that actually led to their current situation. And it also ignores how hard their existence is. “They’re dealing with enormous loads of baggage and stress, and they’re working very hard. But because the demands placed on them exceed their available resources, it can look to us like they’re doing nothing at all,” he says, adding that, “I know surviving as a homeless person is a huge amount of work.”

That dismissal of others applies also to colleagues who may not be contributing as much as you wish. He urges you to change your mindset, toward them and yourself.

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Don’t be afraid to be lazy – to ensure rest and relaxation, particularly when overwhelmed and sensing burnout could be on the horizon. “It seems to me that being upfront about your limits and needs is a sign of strength, not weakness,” he says. Cutting back on obligations may seem to hurt or disappoint colleagues and friends. But in the long-term, he argues, it can free them to do the same, healing and growing.

So in the year ahead, be willing to be lazy.

Quick hits

  • The most successful people never let a day happen “to them.” They make the day happen “for them,” says consultant Steve Keating. In particular, they choose to be positive 100 per cent of the time. That may seem impossible, but it’s a reality for them and something to strive toward.
  • “I love the way you think.” That phrase will make you instantly likeable on a Zoom call, advises career coach Michael Thompson. Also helpful: “Sorry I interrupted you; I get excited. Please continue.” And in closing, “Lately I’ve been sick of video. But this was fun.”
  • When U.S. Olympic swimmer Olivia Smoliga finds an unexpected 15 minutes in her day, she just closes her eyes and enjoys it. (As a swimmer, she has another option for mindfulness most of us lack: putting her ears underwater so she can hear her heartbeat.)
  • Career-advice writer Laura Berlinsky-Schine warns your résumé shouldn’t leave out how you adapted in your role to the changes inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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