Update: For next in series click here
Q. Why don’t you just do the work you need to do now if you know you need to get it done?
A. It’s not always that easy to do something you need to do, and is much easier to be distracted
When I started writing this post I got through the bulk of the below in a burst of thought and stream of consciousness, and in the following days started to edit and update some ideas intending to post it by that Monday.
That was over a month ago.
Why did I stop and not post it then? If you asked me normally I’d say I either got distracted, or needed some more time to think, or because I needed a better angle. None of those are false statements, but in reality I couldn’t write it because I struggled with motivating myself to do it.
Who is Always Motivated Anyway?
This is something I think we all have experience with – you have a list of to-dos in work or your personal life, but you struggle getting through the first few easy ones. New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February, and fitness goals are lost to memory in favor of chicken nuggets. Normally not a huge deal, but a source of personal frustration nonetheless due to internal concerns. The real issue comes when you struggle with motivation for things you need to do that effect others as external concerns. These can impact your relationships, your job, and your overall life.
For most of my life I’ve struggled with this and have been trying to find a way to understand and fix it, and remove what I see as the biggest hurdle to doing what I want and being happy in my life. When I’m asked about why I didn’t do something or finish something on time, more often than not I’m pressed to create a reason to mask my lack of motivation for external items; other priorities, personal crisis, conflicting meetings, traffic, and other commonly accepted excuses. However, I think I’ve finally arrived at an understanding that’s helped me move forward.
Why am I lazy?
Being able to motivate yourself to do work just to get it done is something I’ve marveled at but never had for most of my life. But being unwillingly distracted for hours on end in a Wikipedia rabbit hole to learn about the history of the Jolly Rogers Missile Unit – that is something I’m used to. Why? Because doing something I don’t want to do is annoying work, and doing something I wouldn’t mind doing is fun work. Positive catharsis vs negative; I’d rather feel good with what I’m doing than feel bad.
Though it’s often assumed that laziness is the unwillingness to work, I find it’s more the unwillingness to do work you’d rather not do. ‘Lazy’ people are more than happy to spend hours working to set up a game of capture the flag or figuring out how NOT to do the work that they need to do. But ask them to spend 30 minutes performing uninteresting external work (like data entry for a pointless project) and they’re completely unwilling and would rather find a way to get out of it. Why is that?
For myself I believe it’s because I don’t see the point. I’m not motivated to execute or even start on something because I can’t fully recognize the satisfaction or personal reward in doing it. I must be crazy to not be able to be able to sit and read then enter data into an excel spreadsheet, and get paid to do it, right? As it was my job, it shouldn’t have mattered, as it’s one of the main external drives that governs our lives – but that doesn’t mean it became any easier.
What effects this?
I’ve found there’s a few factors that play into my ability to get something done. Do I know how to start or complete the task? Do I feel anxious or stressed about even thinking about it? Do I really care about the result, and if I do it well vs. just get it done vs. wait for it to blow up?
Do I care. That’s where I end up when trying to motivate myself. Do I care now? Even if it’s something I know rationally will benefit me in the future, or makes the most sense to do, like call a relative to keep in touch, or check a marketing presentation before I submit it for review. Conceptually I know the rational arguments, but when it comes down to motivating myself to start I may be stuck in place and unable to move. It’s not just lack of motivation, but the anxiety feedback loop created out of it that becomes a concern. I can’t be motivated, but know I should be, which makes me anxious, which impairs focus and ability to actually work, which amplifies the net effect of not being able to do the work. I can plan every detail of what to do, but fail at implementing and just stare at the plan like a deer in the headlights.
It doesn’t feel good, but it’s not something you can’t get out of. Not only is there a way out, but there’s a way to use that auto-determination of relevance and priorities for yourself!
They say lazy people end up figuring out how to improve things more than others. This makes sense intuitively – instead of doing work I’m going to figure out a way to not do the work. But that only happens when you don’t want to do the work at all. Instead imagine you want to get the same work done, but just don’t want to put the time in to do it how ‘you’re supposed to.’ When you’re lazy but still want to get something done, that’s where you become an optimizer.
How do you get there? Let’s hope I don’t take another month to write the next post.
Update: I didn’t. Click here