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6 Things That Look Like Laziness, But Aren't

Low mood, lost motivation, executive struggles, and more.

Key points

  • Laziness is not a helpful descriptor for the difficulties we experience with getting started on tasks.
  • Perfectionism, loneliness, low mood, fatigue and low energy often play a part.
  • Understanding what is keeping you from doing things is key to being able to address the problem.

Laziness. It's a word tossed around quite a bit. Why didn't your neighbor cut their lawn? They're lazy. Why is Carol's car a mess? She's lazy. Why haven't you finished your term papers yet? You're lazy.

Okay. Wait. What even is laziness? Not wanting to do something? If your neighbor didn't mow their lawn because they've been ill, are they lazy? What if Carol hasn't cleaned her car because she's working two jobs and using it as a sort of home away from home sometimes? Lazy?


Yet, there are excuses for everything, and, indeed, we all at times do not feel up to doing things (and maybe don't). For those who chronically struggle, however, the challenge is usually deeper than laziness. Here are some issues that pose as laziness, and what you can do about them.

1. Low mood. Don't feel like it? Maybe you don't feel like much of anything. If you find it difficult to enjoy even the good things, it can be difficult to do the chores of life.

What You Can Do: If your low mood has been a one-off thing lasting less than two weeks, it might make sense first to take a step back. What's bringing you down? Do you need time to grieve something, or is something missing from your life? Sometimes sadness is our mind's way of letting us know something isn't right. If it has been more than two weeks and there is no clear reason for your sadness, it may be worthwhile to reach out to a medical professional, such as your doctor. It could also be meaningful to seek counseling.

2. Lost motivation/sense of direction. Maybe there doesn't seem to be a point to what you are trying to do. You go to work every day at a job that has lost its glimmer. You've lost sight of your values and goals. You feel adrift.

What You Can Do: Knowing where you are headed, and what values you have is essential for life to feel meaningful. It's very normal to lose sight of these things at times. This may be a good time to reach outside yourself. Talking with a friend, mentor, teacher, spiritual leader, or therapist can help you remember what matters to you. Journaling on what matters to you, writing about what legacy you hope to leave, and/or doing things you enjoyed when you were younger are also ways to get back to you.

3. Perfectionism. One of the best ways to put the brakes on finishing something is with perfectionism. This is ironic as many people use self-criticism in hopes of bolstering their performance. Perfectionism creates a fear that is quite demoralizing making it tough to bounce back from imperfections fueling procrastination and giving up.

What You Can Do: Notice your critical voice. Have compassion for the difficulties you are experiencing, and practice introducing a kind voice. Moving toward compassionate self-talk when you've been beating yourself up over any perceived mistake takes time. You may always tend to notice the little mistakes. Still, compassionate self-talk can take away their paralyzing nature.

4. Struggles with executive functioning. Maybe you don't know where to start. Or you find yourself starting so many things at once that it's hard to keep track. You might find it difficult to focus for long periods, and just when you are about to get to the project you realize that you lost the tools you need.

What You Can Do: Executive functioning difficulties are extremely common, especially for neurodivergent people. If you are having difficulties with planning, focusing, or sticking with a task this is a good time to first be kind to yourself. Virtual and physical tools such as planners, executive functioning apps, or visuals can be helpful. Finding someone to body double, or do a similar task alongside you can also help. Lastly, meeting with a therapist can help keep you on track and discover which organizational strategies work best for you.

5. Loneliness. We are social beings. We need to feel some sense of connection. When this need is not met, it is painful and a strong force against motivation.

What You Can Do: Have you been isolating? Are there old friends and/or family you can reach out to? This is often a good place to start. Re-connecting with old friends can help you to rebuild your social network. If you are having difficulty thinking of anyone to reach out to, consider the people you might know on a casual basis such as neighbors and coworkers. Would you be open to building up some of those relationships? If not, maybe it's time to seek out some new places to meet people such as a community organization.

6. Low energy. Maybe you're tired. Even if you are getting enough sleep. Low energy can make doing things feel much harder.

What You Can Do: A first step is to reach out to your doctor. There are several physical causes for low energy such as illness or medication side effects. If those have been addressed, a new space to look at could be your sleep patterns. Do you have a set routine or does your sleep schedule vary wildly? You might also consider when your energy is highest and try to schedule your activities at that time.

All in all, there are many reasons people stop doing things. Laziness is not a helpful descriptor. Determining what is behind your lack of wanting to do things is the first step to working through things.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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