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Why Are We Lazy and What Can Be Done About It?

  • You’ve planned to clean the house over the weekend, but in the end you just throw everything in the closets because it’s easier?
  • You’d like to start eating healthy, but you don’t want to cook, so you end up back eating fast food?
  • Do you set aside an hour for a workout that you end up spending lying on the couch because you can’t get yourself to get up?
  • You have a lot of tasks at work, but instead of doing them, you spend all day thinking about what you’re going to do first, until it reaches the point that in the end you get nothing done?

As you can see, laziness can take many forms. If we were to set down a definition that brought laziness closer to us, it would look something like this: 

“A person is lazy if they are able to perform a certain activity that they should be engaged in, but are not willing to make a sufficient effort to do so. They do so either superficially or by engaging in other, less boring activity, or by doing nothing.” [1]

Do you see yourself like this? You’re definitely not alone. However, you may be surprised by the fact that it may not all be your fault. Laziness is influenced to some extent by our genetics. In today’s article, we’ll talk about how it’s possible, what affects it, and we’ll also learn some tips on how to overcome laziness.

Why is somebody lazy?

Are our ancestors to blame for us being lazy? 

A form of laziness in us has always been instinctively encoded. Our ancestors lived in a time when they had to fight for limited resources and be able to flee enemies and predators. Putting the effort into anything other than an acute short-term advantage made no sense to them and could have cost them their lives. The current desire that they developed led them to immediate action. There was no need for long-term planning, preparation or devising a strategy. [2-4]

We are different from these people. We are not fighting for survival, and long-term strategic activity leads to the best results. Yet, we have it instinctively encoded that we try to conserve energy. This may manifest itself, for example, in not wanting to embark on abstract projects where we do not have a certain outcome. Each person differs in how capable they are of overcoming this instinct. This may also have something to do with how successful we are in the things we do.

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What effect does genetics have on laziness?

You may be surprised to learn that the genetic information you received from your parents is to some extent to fault for your laziness. What does that have to do with it?

Evolution has shaped our brains to respond positively to natural rewards such as food, sex or exercise. After these activities, we feel satisfaction that comes from the dopamine system of our brain. It is very important for the body as it helps it to survive. The satisfaction we feel after an activity can be addictive to some extent. In this case, we want to revisit the activity. But this brings us to the heart of the problem. Feelings after certain activities feel good. Nevertheless, we may often have a problem forcing ourselves to do the work because we simply do not want to. You know this from yourself. Movement is a natural part of life, you know the feeling after exercise is really great, but you still can’t get off the couch and start. How is this possible?

Scientists have tried to find out the answer to this question with experiments. Unfortunately, it would not be feasible on humans in such a timeframe, and many incidental factors would come into play. The research was done on mice. Scientists divided them into two groups – one running more, the other less. They found that even after 10 generations, the offspring of more active mice ran 75% more than the offspring of less active mice. Differences can be observed even after 16 generations, when the offspring of more active mice ran 7 miles each day and the offspring of less active ones only ran 4 miles. This research suggests that genetics is to some extent able to influence the desire to be physically active. [5-8]

Couch Potato gene and its effect on laziness

Become acquainted with the Couch Potato gene

From their parents, each person inherits a set of genes that play a key role in the development of them as a whole. However, they also affect how much we crave activity, which is also apparent from this research on mice. Those that were more active had more developed dopamine systems, as well as centres responsible for motivation.

As a result, just as an addict needs drugs, the mice needed movement. To some extent, however, genetics also influence our characteristics, such as impulsiveness, procrastination, work ethic, and laziness.

This laziness may be related to some extent to the mutation of the so-called Couch Potato gene, which regulates the level of our activity and is responsible for a particular type of dopamine receptor. If we didn’t have this receptor at all, we’d just sit around for days and generally do less than people who have a normally functioning gene. [5-8]

As you can see, the desire for activity doesn’t necessarily depend on you alone. To some extent, genetics and encoded instinct also play a role. But that does not mean accepting that we are lazy. There are many other factors that also affect our activity levels.

If you are one of those people with a mutation of the Couch Potato gene, while it may be more challenging for you to get active, it is certainly not unrealistic. You’ll see that eventually the dopamine centre in your brain will reward you for the activity.

How to outsmart other causes of laziness? 

Instinct and genetics are one thing, but there is also a need to recognize the role of upbringing, which has an unquestionable impact on our behaviour. Some children are encouraged from infancy to spend their leisure time actively, play sports, walk instead of using public transport and the like. They carry these habits with them into adulthood and consider them normal and natural. Not everyone’s led this way since they were children. Some parents drive their children everywhere, don’t sign them up for extracurricular activities, or even allow them to spend their days sitting at a computer.

Upbringing and genetics cannot be changed now, so let’s focus on the factors that are associated with laziness and which are in your hands to make a change to. 

1. Set your goals

It is much easier for a person who has a purpose in life or a clearly defined goal to pursue the activities that lead to achieving it. However, it needs to be realistic for the person in order to achieve it. If you set yourself a big goal, you may be afraid of it, which will rather lead you to avoid activities that lead towards its achievement.

How to set a goal correctly?

Learning to set goals correctly can ultimately make your life much happier. Achieving a goal is a very satisfying feeling. How to do this?

Try to make your goal:

  • specific
  • measureable
  • attainable
  • relevant
  • timely. [9]

A clearly defined goal is much easier to achieve. It will also help you to say with certainty that you have achieved it. Determining that you’re going to lose weight is nice. But how do you know when you’ve fulfilled it?

According to these criteria, your goal could look like this, for example:

  • I will lose a kilogram of fat per month.
  • I will run at least 5km in one go without stopping.

In order to help you achieve your goal, then divide this large goal into a few smaller ones that lead to its achievement and thus relate to a shorter period of time.

For example, sub-targets might look like this:

  • This week, I’ll cut sugar from my coffee and stop drinking sugary drinks and alcohol. 
  • This week I will run three times for forty minutes

If you learn to set goals according to these rules while adapting them to make them more achievable, the process will be much easier.

How to maintain your motivation?

2. Find your motivation

It would probably be a challenge to force a millionaire to work 12-hour shifts at a minimum-wage factory if they themselves didn’t see the point. Just like we probably wouldn’t get a person who doesn’t like animals to volunteer at a dog shelter. If you feel that you are struggling every day with the activities you set out to do, maybe being lazy isn’t a problem at all. Maybe you’re just not motivated enough because you haven’t chosen the right goal.

Try to think about the things you don’t want to do. Do you force yourself to exercise every day to lose weight? Maybe actually shedding weight isn’t what you really want right now. It may well just be the pressure of others, and thus you feel like you should be doing something, but you’re not convinced yourself. You should have a completely different goal yourself, and that’s okay.

When you find your goal, you will see that the activities that lead to it will be much easier for you to do. On this journey, set partial goals and be rewarded by the dopamine centre for what you have accomplished.

3. Prioritize

Knowing that you have a lot of things to do, it can be all the worse to start doing them. It’s natural. The brain sees an obstacle and looks for the easiest way to deal with it. It’s easy to spend a lot of time instead of a productive day thinking about what to do first and how to plan everything. And the result? You only spend a few hours on the tasks, you haven’t completed anything, and as a bonus, you have regrets about being lazy.

It doesn’t have to end like this. The foundation of success is that you learn how to prioritize challenges ahead. Break them down into three categories:

  • Urgent – tasks that cannot be put off.
  • Important – tasks that matter to you. This also includes activities that become urgent in the event of postponement (e.g. payment of bills).
  • Not important – tasks where nothing happens if you don’t undertake them. This could include folding clothes in the closet or baking a Sunday dessert.

You should always be able to undertake tasks that are urgent. At the same time, it would be ideal for you to be able to solve important tasks in a timely manner before they become urgent. When you learn to perform the duties gradually according to their priority, you will not accumulate tasks that you would not be able to handle. You’ll be less stressed, and you’ll also have more time for your hobbies. If you do not happen to undertake tasks in the unimportant task category, it doesn’t matter, and thus you don’t have to stress about it. [10]

Learn to plan ahead

4. Stop worrying about what others think

Fear of what others might say can often be the reason we’re afraid to try new things.

  • What would other people in the gym think of me if I started working out there? 
  • What would my family say if I changed jobs?
  • What would others say if I started my own business?
  • How would my friends react if I started to lose weight?

It’s natural to be afraid of the unknown. But you cannot let the fear of others hold you back from doing what you want. In the end, all the responsibility is yours anyway. These are your goals, your desires and your dreams, not anyone else’s. You’re the one who will meet with success or failure. If someone else has a problem with what you want to do, they may well be projecting a problem of theirs onto you, so don’t be discouraged and try to surround yourself with people who will support and stand behind you.

5. Overcome your inner fear

This point is closely related to the previous one. In this case, however, your fear is the brake that prevents you from getting out of your comfort zone. As a result, you remain unchanged in the vicious circle of your uncertainty and do not move forward. You may even blame yourself for being lazy and incapable of change, and your inner fear is stronger. The three scenario method and the realization that making mistakes is normal could help you with this problem. Even famous scientists made many mistakes before they invented a revolutionary invention. Take an example from them.

How to overcome your inner fear?

To combat your inner fear, try to clearly formulate 3 scenarios that might occur: [11]

  • What’s the worst-case scenario? (pessimistic version)
  • What’s the best-case scenario? (optimistic version)
  • What scenario is most likely to occur? (realistic version)

Let’s take a look at a simple example: You’d like to gain 5 kg of muscle mass, but you’ve never exercised.

  • Worst-case scenario: You get tired of it, you can’t do it, you give up, and your figure will be the same as before.
  • Best-case scenario: You’ll achieve your goal, look better, and probably push yourself even further.
  • What’s most likely to happen: You may not gain your dream 5k g of muscle, but you will work on yourself, gain some weight and definitely feel better. You’ll probably stick with exercise because you’ll enjoy it.

If people want to make a change, they often focus only on the worst possible option that could happen, which discourages them from going ahead with making a change. This seemingly primitive method can help you realize that two out of three options will advance your life for the better. You’ll even see that you’re more likely to make positive changes than end up settling for the worst possible option.

If there was a pessimistic version after all, you’d still be no worse off than when you started. In this case, you have nothing to lose and that’s worth a try, isn’t it?

6. Focus on your lifestyle

Apparent laziness can also be caused by lifestyle. Maybe you’d really like to make some changes or do some hard work, but you don’t have the physical strength. If you feel that the previous points do not concern you and you are not afraid, on the contrary you have a clear goal, motivation and plan, then try to focus on your lifestyle and answer the following few questions:

  • Are you eating enough?
  • Are you in too much of a caloric deficit?
  • Are you drinking enough liquids?
  • Are you drinking too much?
  • Do you pay attention to the intake of sufficient micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals?
  • Are you sleeping enough?
  • Are you overburdened in some areas (work, sport)?
  • Are you under excessive stress?

If you think any of these areas may be related to your lack of will, try to focus on them. Our articles about healthy eating, training, stress or sleep can help.

7. See a doctor

The condition, which can appear as laziness in some circumstances, is in some cases often associated with a number of different psychiatric illnesses. Typically people suffering from depression can get to the point where they are unable to even get out of bed. If you feel you are one of these people, do not rely on advice from online discussions and contact a specialist. [12]

What should you remember?

We could now list dozens of other tips to overcome laziness, but none of them will work unless you realize the cause of your laziness. Accept the fact that it may to some extent be caused by encoded instinct, genes or upbringing, but do not absolve yourself of responsibility. While it is easier for someone not to be lazy, that does not mean that you are resigned to all efforts of activity. We are each the masters of our own happiness, and so it is up to us to rise up against laziness. Try using our advice to learn to fight its most common causes and rejoice in the progress you are making. Even the biggest couch potato can do great things.

What about you and laziness – do you fight it every other day, or do you not know what the word means? Share your experiences and advice on how you fight it. If you liked this article, don’t forget to share it with your lazy friends. Maybe you can help them finally make a few changes in their life.

Sources:

[1] Neel Burton M.D. The Psychology of Laziness – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201410/the-psychology-laziness

[2] Amy M. Knab, J. Timothy Lightfoot Does the difference between physically active and couch potato lie in the dopamine system? – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20224735/

[3] Janine H Stubbe et al. Genetic influences on exercise participation in 37,051 twin pairs from seven countries – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17183649/

[4] J Timothy Lightfoot Current understanding of the genetic basis for physical activity – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21270357/

[5] Justin S Rhodes Neurobiology of Mice Selected for High Voluntary Wheel-running Activity – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21676789/

[6] Justin S Rhodes et al. Patterns of brain activity associated with variation in voluntary wheel-running behavior – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14674844/

[7] Erik M. Kolb et al. Mice from lines selectively bred for high voluntary wheel running exhibit lower blood pressure during withdrawal from wheel access – https://biology.ucr.edu/people/faculty/Garland/Kolb_et_al_2013_exercise_addiction_in_High-Runner_mice.pdf

[8] The Science of Laziness – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd7wAithl7I

[9] The Only Way to Eat an Elephant – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindfully-present-fully-alive/201804/the-only-way-eat-elephant

[10] Why is time management key? – https://www.stress.org.uk/why-is-time-management-key/

[11] Blog Terap.io – https://blog.terap.io

[12] Depression – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/