Why am I so lazy?
January 6, 2018 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Ask Polly answers a question from a reader who asks "Why am I lazy? Why do I put off everything I don’t want to do? And why can’t I flip a switch and just be a goddamn adult?"
posted by AFABulous (74 comments total) 235 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh wow, I've felt this way for a long while. Adding this to read for later when I'm not at work and can focus on it. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Fizz at 1:40 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


there's also a pretty solid connection between procrastination and anxiety. can't fail if you never started, ha ha ha. ha. sigh.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:43 PM on January 6 [77 favorites]


That hit pretty close to home (in some ways at least.)
posted by matildaben at 1:47 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Brilliant.
posted by andreaazure at 1:52 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


What ivan ivanych samovar said. I just wrote a blog post about how Perfectionism (instilled by my parents; glancing at my report card, they skipped over the A's and started yelling when they saw an A-) froze me up, and wouldn't let me do anything unless it was perfect. So I wouldn't start anything until the last minute, because if I only had two hours to write a ten page paper, I would be happy with whatever I turned in. Of course this fed right into my family's idea of me as a stupid slacker, which on its face was pretty ridiculous considering my actual achievements. But the mythologies they feed us have strong roots.
posted by knitcrazybooknut at 2:03 PM on January 6 [68 favorites]


I started reading this and got about 3 paragraphs in and decided I would do it later.
posted by jferg at 2:12 PM on January 6 [39 favorites]


Brad Warner, in Sit Down and Shut Up (a fine name for a book on Zen) compares thought processes for avoiding meditation with those for avoiding cleaning. What he came up with is you just have to do it. I use this to get myself to clean and do other things where I might not like the task but I like the outcome. It beats the heck out of my old system of guilty obsessing in what I wasn’t doing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:16 PM on January 6 [17 favorites]


Read the article and enjoyed it. Went to my library's website to put a hold on the Ask Polly book and saw that a digital copy is available and bob's your uncle, it is on my kindle and I am browsing it now, testing my theory that I am will always be a paper book person.
posted by mumblelard at 2:17 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Is this something I would have to read?
posted by Samizdata at 2:19 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


Ah, this general cloud of thought was a topic of discussion with a colleague yesterday, as I have long been someone who procrastinates, and yeah, a lot of it goes back to fear, in large part. It reminds me of a presentation I did on mindfulness last summer that made mention of the three types of laziness.
posted by limeonaire at 2:25 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


This column knocked the wind out of me. I was a "gifted" child and I still measure myself against that. If it doesn't come to me easily, I must be bad at it, so I quit or if it's something that I have to do, I put it off. Then I can think "well, I actually am quite smart, it's just not obvious in my accomplishments because I don't put forth the effort. But if I did, I would be, like, very smart!" So I don't try, because I'm afraid that self-conception isn't true, that I won't actually be that good at X, and then everyone will know what a fraud I am.
posted by AFABulous at 2:26 PM on January 6 [135 favorites]


About a year ago, I could have written this, and the answer was one line long: "Because you have had undiagnosed persistent depressive disorder all of your adult life." I had no idea I was depressed -- like the letter writer, I generally felt happy, had a great relationship with my husband, had a job and hobbies, felt engaged with the world and so on. I just truly thought I was lazy and somehow incapable of coping with the world.

I was well into a months-long depressive episode that I didn't realize was a depressive episode, but I did realize I was having trouble handling my emotions and responsibilities. So I ordered a copy of Feeling Good, a guide to cognitive behavioral therapy (thanks to seeing it recommended several times on Ask MeFi! this site changed my life), thinking it might help me deal with feeling anxious. Turns out I was severely depressed (according to the Burns Depression Checklist), but the CBT tools in the book have turned my life around in the past year.

If this letter and answer resonated with you, please take a look at the 13 negative motivation patterns described in Feeling Good that lead to procrastination. (Two of them I would summarize differently: "Perfectionism: Your standards are so high that all you accept from yourself is perfection and magnificence, which often translates into doing nothing" and "Low frustration tolerance: You feel entitled to have things go right and feel as if you should be able to do things easily, so any setbacks distress you and make you give up.") And if those strike a chord, get a copy of Feeling Good -- and feel free to MeFi Mail me for my outline and notes.
posted by shirobara at 2:38 PM on January 6 [98 favorites]


Part of emotional labor is remembering to do the thing- she’s still doing that. That being said she’s not doing all of the actual work part.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:42 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


alternate thought - she's not lazy, she's not fearful, she's bored
posted by pyramid termite at 2:59 PM on January 6 [10 favorites]


The person seems to be assuming that it's essential to first understand "why am I lazy?" before they can change. (It is not clear they actually do want to change, though, as opposed to feeling that they should want to). When I quit drinking, a huge breakthrough for me was truly accepting that I did not have to get everything figured out first - am I an alcoholic? why am I an alcoholic? - all that stuff. Indeed, the process of ruminating over all that was something that was preventing me from changing.
posted by thelonius at 3:11 PM on January 6 [27 favorites]


What does it mean if I only skimmed the article?
posted by BlueHorse at 3:20 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


That you finished it sooner?
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:30 PM on January 6 [12 favorites]


This hit extremely close to home and is basically true, I think.

Also, a picture of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his NYU dorm.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:31 PM on January 6 [17 favorites]


thelonius: "just don't drink" is simpler, though, than all this stuff. it's a hell of a lot harder, by like an inconceivable amount, but it's always very clear what you have to do and if you've done it.

it's not clear what you need to do to deal with this stuff other than be less like you are. it's a problem that shows up in ways you can't really anticipate.

probably a 12 step program would be good for like this personality type or complex of behaviors though if there were a simple name for it.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:37 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Parts of this resonated with me. Parts of it....didn't.

I also was able to get away with doing work at the last minute when I was a kid. I was mad smart, and when I applied myself to the low bars I was being given, I aced them, so I sailed through school. I do sometimes regret not having learned how to work towards a goal, really.

But where I differ from the author is - my parents were nowhere near as hypercritical as the letter-writer's parents sounded. They were proud of me, they told me so, and they were proud of my grades instead of pouncing on the lower ones; on the few times I didn't get an A, my parents would always just say "well, as long as you did your best, that's all that matters". And I'd say I did, but....it wasn't any real effort, because I wasn't learning how to do "effort", really. And I think I'm still the same way.

Working towards a goal is a skill that gets taught by experience. Having the patience with one's self for the inexperienced parts, and the dedication to what you want to do to carry you through the growing stages, is soemthing that also gets taught; and not everyone learns this. Unti you learn it, there are a thousand more-fun things that tempt you away from the things you have to do - I don't procrastinate on writing blog posts because I am afraid of underachieving, I procrastinate because writing is hard and watching clips of QI on Youtube is easy.

Learning to work is a skill I'm trying to work on now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:38 PM on January 6 [94 favorites]


What does it mean if I only skimmed the article?

It means that you missed this beauty:
A big part of our jobs, as mature adult human beings, is figuring out who we are and what we value WITHOUT falling back on a million and one inaccurate and clumsy stories told by other people who know us about as well as a fucking squirrel knows the moon.
I've had huge problems getting enough time and space to get my own story about myself sorted out and robust enough that it doesn't get trampled by other people's clumsiness (at levels all the way from the cruel through the oblivious to the "no, that was just me being too fragile"), so having those words to put it in was extremely helpful.
posted by ambrosen at 3:44 PM on January 6 [23 favorites]


I love this so very much.

Recently I realized that I'm not lazy, but was instead raised on a message that hard work makes a person sick. We all have complicated back stories and you never know how messages will manifest. Reassuring myself that this won't necessarily be my fate as well has done wonders. And even if it is, at least I know I didn't just wait for life to pass me by.
posted by A hidden well at 3:47 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


thelonius: "just don't drink" is simpler, though, than all this stuff.

That may be so. "Just don't drink" is extremely clear and simple (although, at first, not at all easy). What I am trying to say (and I could be wrong, of course) is that it's a mistake to think that you first have to understand the origins and causes of any issues, before you can make progress on them. I think it's an error that goes all the way back to the Platonic equation of knowledge and virtue.
posted by thelonius at 3:50 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


Because getting shit done is never simple for you. It incites a major emotional response.

This is the exact sort of thing I am learning in CBT and DBT: how to break down these judgments, examine them, and then be able to see new opportunities. Your behaviors actually make a lot of sense, if you stop to think about it.
I also really felt the part about choosing the cauldron that burns off your inauthentic-ness the quickest. Damn Polly, you are good.
posted by shalom at 4:14 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


This column knocked the wind out of me

This was hard for me to read but for different reasons. I had internalized the notion that I am lazy (and therefore undeserving of anything) by the time I reached middle school but I wasn’t one of these lucky folks who also happened to have perfect grades. I wanted nothing more than to just be decent at school. I would exhaust myself and stay up late angsting over this. I would pour energy into assignments, but they were the wrong assignments. Or, by the end of the year too few assignments would have had to much time spent on them.

I knew kids like ‘Sloth’ and oh, how I envied them. How they effortlessly cruised through school and off to college on a could of humble brags about how ‘lazy’ they are. If that’s being lazy, then what am I as someone who had consistent poor grades and never finished college?
posted by BlackBox at 4:18 PM on January 6 [16 favorites]


Mentioned this article to my type A partner. Twenty minutes later, I told her a lot of it was very close to the bone. She replied yes, she'd already found the article and read the whole thing, because why wouldn't she? I then had to admit I hadn't finished it as it was uncomfortably close to home.

If that's not too goddamn on the nose I don't know what is.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:39 PM on January 6 [25 favorites]


My parents were proud of me. I did well in school. I got two masters. But I don't want to do anything.

I don't clean, or look for a better job. I don't have a reasonable level of energy that other people seem to have. I also know I have disthymia. Every now and then I've had an anti-depressant that (temporarily) gives me what I imagine is a normal energy level. It is fantastic. I do get things done. But it never lasts.

I'm also not very ambitious; I don't know which came first. Also diagnosed as gifted as a kid. But I think the real gift is to be motivated and have the drive. As I get older, I see drive as the most important part of a successful life. Not necessarily to be the CEO, but to do art, or cook, or go do Zumba, etc.
posted by bluespark25 at 4:43 PM on January 6 [43 favorites]


"Actively choosing who you are and what you care about, outside of the limited confines of other people’s narratives about you, is what happiness is all about."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:04 PM on January 6 [16 favorites]


As I get older, I see drive as the most important part of a successful life. Not necessarily to be the CEO, but to do art, or cook, or go do Zumba, etc.

Oddly I sort of believe this less as I get older. Sufficient energy and confidence to do the things we actually want to do or need to do is vital, but I don't know about "drive". I know plenty of happy, relaxed unambitious people, who spend their leisure time reading or watching TV or in the pub or whatever, who don't exhibit what I'd call "drive". They're apparently happy and and seem like decent people, so I think they're living successful lives.

I think my caution about the word "drive" is that, as someone who has generalised anxiety disorder and depression (as well as a disability which makes me prone to physical exhaustion), one of the sticks I use to hurt myself with when I'm sick is the idea that I'm not "achieving my potential". But I'm getting better at realising that all I have to aim for is being kind to the people I encounter and doing my best to enjoy my life. So if all I want to do in the evening is sit and play Hearthstone, because I don't really have the appetite for anything more demanding, then great - I'm living my best life. I'm not missing out on an alternate reality where I leap up and craft some artistic gem or do all odd jobs I've left around the house. The only thing that is negative about the experience is making myself feel guilty about it.

Probably predictably, I often find that I have more energy and interest in doing stuff if I am consciously kind to myself about being lazy.

None of this is to say that lacking energy isn't a genuine burden. But I guess I don’t think it's a result of a lack of a drive to push through tiredness. We're often just tired, and it's important to recognise that there are lots of times when self acceptance is much more important than self motivation.
posted by howfar at 5:06 PM on January 6 [37 favorites]


I read this and suddenly took out the bins and put the laundry on.
posted by adept256 at 5:19 PM on January 6 [12 favorites]


I sent my son a link to this article and now I'm immediately regretting it. But I've watched him struggle mightily with this for years and even though I know I should just keep my mouth shut I sent the link anyway. Damn it.
posted by a fish out of water at 5:35 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


You’re afraid of investing your full self in anything, only to be disappointed.

THIS SPECIFIC THING. 9 times out of 10 if I put in all my hard work and effort into something, not only does it not work, it backfires on me spectacularly due to factors not actually under my control. Whereas if I just half-heartedly do the thing it works out much better. It feels like my life is trying to teach me "hard work doesn't matter", or some such.
posted by divabat at 5:56 PM on January 6 [33 favorites]


I'm 34 and finally hit on a medicine / dosage that successfully targeted my major depressive disorder that has been a ten ton stone on my back since I was 9 years old.

The close of the article that talks about being a stick of dynamite that's been waiting for a spark for far too long? I'm in the honeymoon phase of that right now, and it's the best feeling I have ever experienced.

It's been 6 months and life is completely different. And the damndest thing is, there is oftentimes no way to see how thoroughly you are being affected by depression until you are out from under it. I'm still finding at least one new way every day that my depression has been fucking me over for 25 years. It's like all of a sudden coming out from underwater when you never even knew there was dry land. I wish I could have found the shore sooner, but I can't beat myself up for that.

Many of the recommendations in this article are ones that I find to be wise and valuable - and I'm on the path to tackling them and the questions and struggles they speak of. I just want to say that if this narrative fits you, and it knocks the wind out of you, but you STILL feel like you just can't fucking get it together.....you may be underwater. And you may not know it. Don't beat yourself up about it. But I would beg of you, consider speaking to a doctor and a therapist, and asking for help. It can change your life.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:56 PM on January 6 [32 favorites]


I'm not surprised. "Anxious Underachiever" is Mefi's core demographic. I say that not out of snark – I am one of you!
Who else had report cards replete with phrases like "has the potential" and "if he applied himself" beside unending columns of A minuses?

She replied yes, she'd already found the article and read the whole thing, because why wouldn't she?

Sometimes I think my brain, or perhaps even my own personal bubble of time, has been slightly underclocked relative to everyone else. As in, what everyone else experiences as 1 second, I only go through somewhere between 0.7-0.8 seconds (even less on a bad day!). It seems the only rational explanation for why everything seems to take forever to get done: Of course I'm only just out of the shower! You've had a full hour to get ready, and I'm barely coming up on 40 minutes!
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 6:17 PM on January 6 [27 favorites]


Who else had report cards replete with phrases like "has the potential" and "if he applied himself" beside unending columns of A minuses?

ALL THE TIME, though it was always paired with "oh don't let this [racial minority] kid do better than you in school" so even my successes were seen as abhorrent. Likely the root of my "hard work doesn't matter" ethos - why bother, if you'd just be ignored or hated for it when you did what they wanted?
posted by divabat at 6:28 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


She says we should interrogate the stories we tell ourselves. But she's just offering up another story. I latched on to several such stories throughout my life to explain why I was the way I was - imposter syndrome, perfectionism leading to fear of starting, etc. Maybe some or all of them were true, but that didn't really get me anywhere. And turns out I have an executive function disorder. Taking a pill gets me 70% of the way towards normal functioning human adult. Meanwhile, knowing this, if someone offered up to me "you’re choosing a lifestyle of avoidance and low expectations", my answer would be a polite middle finger.
posted by naju at 6:43 PM on January 6 [24 favorites]


I started reading this and thought..oh neat, an ADHD article. Turned out it wasn't about that, but maybe it should have been?
posted by DarthDuckie at 8:15 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


Omg. It me.

I’ve had flashes of understanding over the years. I recognized in college that I would start papers so late so that I would have an excuse if they weren’t good. But I’ve somehow lost that introspection over the years. I’ve spent the last year berating myself for not making changes that I know would make me happier. My excuse has been laziness. I really need to sit with myself and figure out why I’m so afraid of these things.

So thank you for posting this. I really, really needed this.
posted by greermahoney at 8:45 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


the goodwill the advice-giver earned from me by not fake-diagnosing ADHD over the internet dissipated once it was revealed that even if you don't necessarily have ADHD, you are still not allowed to know that you're lazy, because laziness doesn't exist and is a very wicked concept. though not a wicked attribute to indulge in yourself, because it doesn't exist. you can be anxious or depressed or perfectionist or phobic of something or telling yourself a story, even if you don't think so and don't believe it, but you cannot be lazy if you do the bare minimum, even if you know yourself really well and are completely certain that you are lazy and not all that torn up about it and don't mind admitting it. only god and Santa Claus are permitted to be lazy, reclining on their chaises in Paradise and the North Pole, respectively, because imaginary people are the only ones who get to have imaginary qualities. laziness is a fake idea, like romantic love, which is also merely a story people tell themselves.

seriously this is nuts though. the war on (acknowledging the existence of) laziness is only as successful as it is because those of us who know better are too lazy to fight back very effectively. signed, an anxious person who likes making up neat stories about my life AND IS ALSO LAZY. a real quality real people do have, and usually know about.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:49 PM on January 6 [25 favorites]


I can feel my feelings but those feelings don’t have to dictate my actions. I learned several years ago to do what needs to be done, thanks to Morita.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:10 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


Should have written at the end of the article, "if you skipped to the last paragraph, you might have ADD". I skipped to the last paragraph.
posted by Beholder at 9:31 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


In the line of work, I was astounded to learn that teachers who have a high opinion of their skills and knowledge, regardless whether this is objectively true, perform better than those who have a lower self-opinion, in measurable external outcomes (their students' results). So, weirdly, who you think you are sort of makes you that. Someone told me in my early 20s that she admired me, because when I made a decision, then she knew it would happen because I always ensured it did. In hindsight, this was bullshit, but she had a couple of examples, and I believed her, and acted like it was true, which had a huge impact. I used to think I was messy and did substandard work, but a colleague said that it was my attention to detail which bogged me down sometimes - that my work was actually really accurate and precise. I believed her too, and now I do really detail-focused work.

But I also believed people who said I wasn't capable of understanding stereotypically male things, that I wasn't that bright, that I wasn't socially competent.

A powerful column: reminding me that I am capable of the things I decide to do.
posted by b33j at 9:44 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


She says we should interrogate the stories we tell ourselves. But she's just offering up another story.

It's a story which encourages experimenting with other stories to find one which works for you, though. Drugs are powerful, and it would be foolish to abjure from using one which works for you, but wholesome and harmful narratives are powerful, too. Polly is pointing out harmful self-concepts suggested by Sloth's question which may be contributing to her internal conflict, and suggesting she can drop them and develop new ones. For me, personally, that's been extremely effective.

Also, drugs tend to be more of a blunt instrument. They can modify mood and attentional processing, but they're not going to help someone who can't commit to projects because, e.g., they're too frightened by their past unreliability or too proud of their past successes in skating by with minimal effort.
posted by Coventry at 12:26 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


OK, I have ADHD and I skipped to the end of the article, but only because I wanted to skim it to see if it's worth the investment of my scant attention later today. So I can't be sure when I say articles like this are ten a penny, but my impression is that this is another screed treating procrastination as a personality flaw rather than a consequence of cognitive style. It's not as bad as some, but it's missing out on some of the fundamentals. The overriding narrative that we somehow choose to do this to ourselves isn't very helpful on its own, because regardless of what you think about free will, we don't have much control over our brain chemistry.

The articles that have really helped me are typically written by people like me, who share a certain set of neurological quirks and have dedicated a lot of thought to understanding how they work, and propose strategies for working with them rather than against them. Luckily, my father (from whom I inherited my atypical wiring) was pretty good at many of them. He was an excellent parent and I learned quite a few tricks growing up. He was so good at them in fact, that it wasn't until much later in life that I came to recognise them as compensation strategies.

The one piece of advice I almost never see in these columns, and wish I did, because this is the life lesson I learned from my dear dad, the one I struggle to apply but is most effective for my way of being, is learning to procrastinate actively. This is the art of recognising at any given moment what you need to do, and not to confuse it with what needs to be done right now. It's incredibly difficult, but it's the only thing that works.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:20 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


This is the art of recognising at any given moment what you need to do, and not to confuse it with what needs to be done right now. It's incredibly difficult, but it's the only thing that works.

Please elaborate!
posted by divabat at 5:22 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Please elaborate!

My ADHD brain saw this and immediately wanted to reply. This is a big topic! How shall I respond? With a life lesson from my dad? A link to a blog? I closed my laptop and went away. I cleaned my teeth and loaded the washing machine while I thought about an answer.

This is the kind of mind trick I like to play with my overactive brain. I keep it occupied at the high level while dealing with easy, boring stuff that feel like chores otherwise. I might come back with another answer once I've tidied the kitchen a bit.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:55 AM on January 7 [15 favorites]


I've been reading this author since the suck.com days and I was probably 14 and she's been a huge influence on my life, I think very much for the better.

I sure do miss the days when she could write a column without going all "one thing that being a parent has taught me..."
posted by 7segment at 6:24 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Procrastinating AT THIS VERY MOMENT–podcast, copy for clients, video editing, gah–when I read this comment above by ivan ivanych samovar…

There's also a pretty solid connection between procrastination and anxiety.

…I immediately panicked and closed the page.

Chuckling, gaining control of myself, I reopened and here we are. So it looks like I'm in good company, amirite, mes amies?
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:29 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Undiagnosed ADHD also takes smart women and causes exactly the issues she is having. Believing that you are lazy and unable to 'flip the switch' to do better.
posted by Catbunny at 8:12 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


This is the art of recognising at any given moment what you need to do, and not to confuse it with what needs to be done right now. It's incredibly difficult, but it's the only thing that works.

As someone raised by wolves who had to figure out this sort of thing very young, this was my approach until I achieved the last "need to do" and was able to move on:
What you need to do:
  • survive (eat enough, as healthily as possible, be active)
  • enjoy friendships
  • succeed at school (in order to...)
  • get the fuck out of this abusive hellhole

  • We anxious sorts tend to get stuck on emotional flashpoints such as the last one. I could have focused on that, for instance, and ran away as a kid. Except, when I was very young, I heard about kids who ran away and died or were tortured and killed. So I didn't do that. "Survive" was important.

    What needs to be done right now (obviously this depended, we'll imagine a day in the life):
  • wake up on time, get dressed, eat breakfast
  • pet the dog
  • catch the bus to school
  • go to class
  • etc.

  • posted by fraula at 8:18 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


    Learning to work is a skill I'm trying to work on now.

    This.

    I resonate much more with this twitter thread on being a "gifted" kid and learning jack shit about how to work, study, do projects at any point other than the last minute. (Thread based on this episode of an NPR program - I haven't listened to that yet.)

    My entire educational life can be (extremely simplistically) summed up by my mother (type A in the organizational sense at least) showing me how to make a bed once and then complaining for years that I never did it right. I was 5, she showed me once and expected me to know how to do it and be able to do it like a 5'10" person, because I was smart.

    And I honestly thought that doing work or cleaning or whatever was a feeling that came to you, like hunger or tiredness, and so I am inclined to wait until I feel like doing something instead of just getting on with it. I was in my 30s before I even started relearning otherwise and I'm still often not good at it.
    posted by Lyn Never at 8:19 AM on January 7 [31 favorites]


    And I honestly thought that doing work or cleaning or whatever was a feeling that came to you, like hunger or tiredness, and so I am inclined to wait until I feel like doing something instead of just getting on with it. I was in my 30s before I even started relearning otherwise and I'm still often not good at it.

    Me too! I do instinctively understand now that I shouldn't wait for the feeling, but I do it all the time. It's so hard to fight! I read somewhere a suggestion to schedule tasks instead of making a to do list and that has helped a lot.
    posted by maggiemaggie at 8:24 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


    More here on active procrastination and its role in creative innovation. The author makes a strong distinction between adaptive and maladaptive procrastination, but there's a very fine line between them in my experience. It depends on many external factors to pull it off successfully, but there have been times in my life when I've been on top of things and I've done some good work because of it.

    In my view, this is precisely where our approach is falling down. We assume procrastination is a Bad Thing that must be Fixed, rather than a strategy that can be very productive when managed effectively.

    the war on (acknowledging the existence of) laziness is only as successful as it is because those of us who know better are too lazy to fight back very effectively.

    I'd go further and say that lazy is a deeply underrated virtue. Lazy people aren't out there fucking up the planet or going to war. Lazy people are taking the time to observe what's going on. Some lazy people are reading lots of books and thinking for themselves. Assuming they're making a living, lazy people are likely doing what they love and are good at because they can't be bothered to do anything else. Even if it's fuck-all.

    Seriously, when is the condition of being lazy ever an aspiration rather than a sin? Is it only allowed on specific days of the week? And why exactly did we invent all those labour-saving devices?
    posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 8:26 AM on January 7 [16 favorites]


    As others have mentioned, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is very helpful for dealing with this and anxiety in general. As opposed to the old concept of Freudian therapy where a therapist listens to your problems, CBT is all about increasing mindfulness and creating tools to handle stresses in your life. Only after trying it do you realize how weird it is that dealing with life is not something anyone teaches you ever. Even in broad strokes, just addressing that life is hard and you can work on it can be a transformative spark for disarming situations and working through otherwise intractable problems.

    As another tack, what if you consider that "laziness" doesn't exist and is just a result, just shorthand for some other, unspecified issue. What, then, would be causing the problem for you? Just by thinking about this can lead you down the path to a solution, much more than trying to "fix your laziness" by various methods.
    posted by lubujackson at 8:26 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


    Also, drugs tend to be more of a blunt instrument. They can modify mood and attentional processing, but they're not going to help someone who can't commit to projects because, e.g., they're too frightened by their past unreliability or too proud of their past successes in skating by with minimal effort.
    posted by Coventry


    Respectfully, I need to offer some pushback against this claim. Drugs can be, and perhaps tend to be, used like a blunt instrument, that's true. But they certainly do not have to be. Now, you didn't claim they have to be, so I won't take issue with that. But your next statement is both wrong and potentially very harmful.

    they're not going to help someone who can't commit to projects because, e.g., they're too frightened by their past unreliability or too proud of their past successes in skating by with minimal effort.

    That's just wrong. I should know, I'm one of many many many cases where that is exactly the effect that drugs have had. They are the only reason I (and thousands upon thousands of other people suffering from major depressive disorder and other mood disorders) can even consider committing to a project, given that I am both frightened by my past unreliability and proud of skating by with minimal effort. I was always the person proud to not have to crack a book outside of the classroom, write the paper at the 11th hour, start the slides for the big meeting the day before. And my work was not nearly as good as it could have been.

    I am glad that powerful narratives have been effective for you! That's rad!

    But claiming that drugs can't help someone in the use-case you outline is bullshit, and pretty insulting to boot. People with major depressive disorder are frequently not using the same tool as you not because they fail to understand the power of narratives. We simply sometimes are completely blocked from jumping that gap from potential to action by the effects of severe depression. Depression can take a powerful narrative that could be helpful and turn it into a powerful narrative that is fatal.

    Don't believe me? Here's the story my depressive brain would have told me based on your comment, had I not sought out medication:

    That's true, drugs won't fix the real problem. Drugs are just a bandaid for the real problem, which is that you're a piece of shit that can't commit to anything and is proud to be lazy. You frankly haven't even worked hard enough to deserve drugs yet. You need to knuckle down and fix your shit before you even consider asking for medical help, because it will just mask your problems and you'll always be this way. Why haven't you gotten your shit together? You're pathetic.

    The thing is, depression is a disease and you can't always knuckle down a disease. Sometimes you need to get that shot of medicine before you can make life changes to get you away from behaviors that exacerbate your illness.

    This is way longer than I intended but I REALLY don't want anyone that still has that depressive brain crafting their narratives to read your comment and think that you are correct. You are not.
    posted by lazaruslong at 8:29 AM on January 7 [34 favorites]


    And I forgot to add: emphasis back to my first comment in which I very strongly urge those considering seeking medical help to consult with both your doctor and a therapist. Drugs can help a ton, and can help in isolation, but are most powerful when combined with therapy.
    posted by lazaruslong at 8:31 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


    lazaruslong, if that's how my post was coming across, thanks for clarifying. I didn't mean to imply that drugs should have no place in the commitment scenario, only that they alone can't address the narrative issues I posited.
    posted by Coventry at 8:53 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


    "Anxious Underachiever" is Mefi's core demographic.

    Another data point here, checking in.
    posted by Halloween Jack at 10:10 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


    And I honestly thought that doing work or cleaning or whatever was a feeling that came to you, like hunger or tiredness, and so I am inclined to wait until I feel like doing something instead of just getting on with it. I was in my 30s before I even started relearning otherwise and I'm still often not good at it.

    I'm 39 and this is a goddamn revelation. Holy shit.

    I've been blaming myself for my entire life for never having the right feelings.

    Jesus do I have a topic for next therapy.

    Also that Morita stuff looks super interesting and is exactly about this...realizing you will never "feel" like cleaning or doing taxes the way you do hunger or sadness and choosing to just say meh and clean/do taxes. I have spent so much time beating myself up for being a lazy bad human.

    I'm still not gonna do the dishes tonight but I feel like I can make a plan to do them and that's ok. What a liberating feeling.
    posted by sio42 at 10:28 AM on January 7 [23 favorites]


    I've learned that I "feel like" having a clean kitchen, but I am never going to "feel like" doing what I need to do to get to that point. It's really kind of a childish entitlement - I expect to magically be able to get from A to C without doing the work of B. Whether B is an unpleasant slog or not depends entirely on my attitude; it must, because there are people who enjoy cleaning, so there's nothing inherently horrible about it.
    posted by AFABulous at 10:59 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


    What's powerful about framing it as having a mental disorder - ADHD, isn't to reach for a diagnosis (professional or otherwise) which results in a quick and easy fix - just start popping Adderall every day, but to encourage a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. Whereas lazy is an end state, one that we are helpless to fix or change, looking at it as a treatable disease encourages techniques for handling it like you would a sprained ankle.

    The power is in believing you can improve.
    posted by fragmede at 11:36 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


    When it comes to things like basic chores and household tasks, my mantra is always motivation follows action. I never want to do them and sometimes I skip on them, but I do find that if I can force myself to go from zero to 1, then the momentum kicks in and I can go to 10. YMMV
    posted by lazaruslong at 12:39 PM on January 7 [10 favorites]


    I've learned that I "feel like" having a clean kitchen, but I am never going to "feel like" doing what I need to do to get to that point.

    This was a hugely necessary thing for me to internalize, along with the fact that you can get a LOT of work done in just 15 minutes, which is not very many minutes at all. I was chatting with friends last night about our big weekend housekeeping plans, and one of them used the phrase "pomodoro'd my office" and that made total sense.

    I am in the middle of a major kitchen sump-out today that has involved emptying the contents of two large cabinets onto the counter and this is taking a shitload longer than 15 minutes so I am definitely pomorodoing it, but I've had this planned all week and I was well aware I better pick out a good audiobook and just brace myself for the fact that it'll be awesome when it's done, but it'll be cheerfully awful until then. The other critical component is that I've spent all week planning this, I already know what's going to go into storage and what's getting thrown out and what I'm going to have to work on next weekend to hopefully finish this project.
    posted by Lyn Never at 3:27 PM on January 7 [9 favorites]


    Lyn Never, I stopped breathing at how accurately this describes my life and relationship with my mother. Only difference is she was 5'8".

    My entire educational life can be (extremely simplistically) summed up by my mother (type A in the organizational sense at least) showing me how to make a bed once and then complaining for years that I never did it right. I was 5, she showed me once and expected me to know how to do it and be able to do it like a 5'10" person, because I was smart.
    posted by Constant Reader at 3:36 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]


    I’ve often thought that the A+ procrastinators can intuit when procrastination will result in more work. This is advanced procrastination and trips most people up.
    posted by Automocar at 3:57 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


    I found this article on procrastination very helpful, especially it’s descriptio of the “dark playground.”
    posted by 4ster at 4:54 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


    I recommend What Motivates Getting Things Done by Mary Lamia

    Most of procrastination for me is that I am "deadline driven" - always doing the assignment at the last possible moment, failing badly at tasks that have no definite deadlines (thank-you notes are one definite failing) - and often put off tasks with no deadlines.

    It's more complicated than making deadlines, though. It's more about recognizing your motivational triggers, and regulating your emotions.

    One thing that usually motivates me is remembering that starting a task is almost always the hardest part. There are other very simple triggers and tricks that help me motivate.

    I still procrastinate, but at least I have some tactics for fighting it.

    (A lot of the column seemed like overgeneralized projection.)

    The power is in believing you can improve.

    Yes, that's one of the major tricks or tactics that I've learned. If you REALLY want to make a change, you have to identify with that change. If you want to paint, you honestly have to believe you are a painter.

    Unrelated, but I'm reminded of one other trick/tactic that works for me (actually very well) as far as getting things done.

    Imagine yourself tomorrow, considering the day before, and thinking, "Boy, am I really glad I got ____ done yesterday." (It works pretty well for interpersonal relationships too ...)
    posted by mrgrimm at 10:54 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


    Grr, that was an extremely frustrating read because I was that woman until several months ago when I was diagnosed and started treatment for ADHD.

    And I spent literally decades listening to the kind of advice that's in this article and it NEVER worked, it only lead to more depression and more feelings of worthlessness because why didn't these things that are supposed to work work for me???

    But now, with treatment, I am able to not put things off that I really want to do. I am able to finish projects. I am able to *HAVE A ROUTINE* which is a thing I was never able to pull off before.

    It is miserable to sit there, honestly wanting to do a thing, and not be able to initiate the process of actually doing the thing. They've studied rats with very low dopamine who will sit staring at a food lever while starving to death, so when your neurotransmitter levels are off, seriously, no amount of reframing and just doing it, g'dammit, are going to work.

    And I'm sad that this person who is honestly asking for help, because they know something is wrong, is being told by yet another clueless person, as I was for years, to just try harder, which is the last thing they need. :/
    posted by antinomia at 3:30 AM on January 8 [18 favorites]


    There's some kind of special irony in me just finding this post now, after the conversation has died down. A day late and a dollar short, per usual.

    Here's the thing. I've struggled with mental health problems for my entire adult life, but it turns out I was only addressing one of a couple of major disorders until very, very recently. Back in August, a counselor I had been talking to for a while made an offhand comment about why I wasn't treating my ADHD symptoms, which... what? I'm in my mid-thirties, doc--if that were my problem, someone would have found it a long time ago. Except they hadn't, and it turns out that everything enumerated in this article: it me. But because I only started treatment for it a few months ago, I can tell you what sort of night-and-day difference it's made for my life. Anyone on the fence about this, who identifies as the undermotivated gifted kid: go talk to your psychiatrist, like, now. Work no longer feels like something I have to slog through and force myself to do between MeFi articles. (Um, current one notwithstanding) . I get home in the evening, and the kitchen is a mess, and my first thought is now "I should do something about this" rather than "well, now the house is an unsalvageable disaster, might as well resign myself to eating off the paper plates." All the impulsivity that I had resigned myself to being my own kind of normal is just gone.

    Properly addressing your own mental health problems is the biggest positive impact you can make on your life, and the lives of your loved ones. I am 100% serious: if this article is resonating with you, go talk to the doctor about it.
    posted by Mayor West at 5:14 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]


    This is a great help, thank you!
    posted by LBM at 9:27 AM on January 8


    I could very easily have written this letter to Polly. I've got the requisite piles of stuff all over the place, and I hate it. I'm a world class procrastinator. My anxiety meds probably need to be adjusted, as do my bipolar meds. The combo of the two, plus the OCD, makes it seem as if I have ADHD.

    When I was a kid, the first time I got a B on my report card, I was grounded for the next 9 weeks grading period. That's where it started. That's where the anxious perfectionist was born. If I wasn't perfect, I wasn't even worthy of spending time with my family.

    Thank you all for your comments, and especially for your links to more and more resources. I've got 13 tabs open now to go and read. Thank you.
    posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 12:45 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


    If I had started Adderall while I was in elementary school I'd be a rocket scientist now.
    posted by bendy at 9:14 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]


    One more thing about my life with high-functioning ADHD, before the thread closes. I mentioned upthread the art of recognising at any given moment what you need to do, and not to confuse it with what needs to be done right now.

    The hardest thing anyone with this affliction ever has to deal with is time management. Everyone hates us for it. Moment to moment, this is our nightmare, and nothing, not even Ritalin, will ever fix this. But here's the thing your neurotypical CBT provider never tells you: you can work around it.

    One of the great pillars of time management is the Eisenhower method. An executive function disorder can really screw with your conception of how this works from moment to moment, but the key to living successfully is to keep an eye on the top right hand corner - those things that are important but not urgent.

    Exercise. Vocation. Planning.

    For those with ADHD, I would add that the mindset for self-growth is crucial (as others have mentioned) and the compassionate self-care to foster the resilience we need to counter our deficits. Life is a work in progress, but if you look after what's in that quadrant and you can move forward.
    posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:17 AM on January 9 [6 favorites]


    Thanks for introducing me to the Eisenhower method! It made a few things click in my brain and now I'm inspired and setting up a Trello board for it. (ADHD temptation: futz around with endless configurations and neat things with your productivity app, instead of, y'know, actually being productive with it)
    posted by naju at 11:47 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


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