‘Will do it tomorrow’, ‘Maybe next week’, ‘Will finish it soon’…we often hear these sentences, but that tomorrow, that next week, seldom happens for many. With the advent of COVID-19 and the global uncertainty persisting for the last six months, things have only become bleaker for the less determined. With no end in sight to both the disease and unprecedented measures it has imposed on humanity like virtual house arrests, social distancing and total technology dependence at the background, let us take a look at ‘laziness’ and its changing precepts.
Laziness: How to define it?
Some call it laziness, while others term it procrastination. Both the words are completely different in meaning, but affect human development and day-to-day activities almost in a similar fashion.
This constant postponement of difficult tasks is common among some adults and children alike. While some people are target oriented and focused on what they want to do, others fall on the wayside, taking the less strenuous path to pleasure.
With global coronavirus pandemic driving up stress and anxiety levels in human beings, motivation, a vital factor that activates human beings, is on the ebb.
Is it the genetic makeup of humans or the environmental factor surrounding us that is driving it all? The picture created by the scientific community is not very clear yet, but let us try to distill what is known so far.
Anatomy of laziness
The psychological aspect
Laziness is not a trait but a set of states and habits. The Greeks termed it ‘akrasia’ (weakness of the will).
“A person is said to be lazy if he/she has the potential to carry out some activity that ought to be carried out, but is unenthusiastic to do so because of the effort involved. Instead, he/she engages in some other, less strenuous activity; or just remains idle,” said Marisa Lobo Biddappa, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist.
Most people could occasionally feel lazy, but that is not a permanent state. However, “when this state is prolonged it could become a problem and interfere with the proper functioning of the individual,” said Dr Andrea Tosatto, another Dubai-based clinical psychologist.
A person is said to be lazy if he/she has the potential to carry out some activity that ought to be carried out, but is unenthusiastic to do so because of the effort involved. Instead, he/she engages in some other, less strenuous activity; or just remains idle
The physical aspect
Is laziness only psychological? It doesn’t seem to be, explains Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar, Sharjah-based Consultant Endocrinologist: “In my clinical practice, one of the most common complaints that patients report is tiredness and low energy. Sometimes they call it ‘laziness’.”
Tiredness or low energy can be caused by a lot of medical conditions: Hormonal deficiency like hypothyroidism, pituitary and adrenal gland disorders, electrolyte imbalances, nutritional and vitamin deficiencies and chronic illness can all result in low energy levels, said Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar.
“Environmental factors like extreme temperature and humidity can also affect human energy levels. Over the last several decades, we have seen an alarming increase in the so called lifestyle diseases like Type2 diabetes, heart disease and cancers. This trend is closely related to increasing rates of obesity, which in turn is due to decreased physical activity and increased availability of unhealthy food choices,” Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar pointed out, clarifying the difference between the physical and psychological conditions.
What is procrastination?
To procrastinate is to put off doing a task in favour of other tasks, which are less important but perceived as easier or more pleasurable.
“To postpone a task for a reason is not procrastination. It becomes procrastination when one postpones it with the intention of doing it later but because of poor planning, ends up doing it at the last hour, resulting with feeling stressed and guilty, besides not getting the best out of it,” explained Marisa Lobo Biddappa.
Is COVID-19 abetting laziness?
The sometimes-exaggerated response to COVID-19 and the lockdown measures taken by various governments have caused loss of trust in the future and created fear, sense of fragility and a wrong perception of possible near death, said Dr Andrea Tosatto.
This promoted depressive conditions and states of severe anxiety that made some lazy who were not lazy and some others lazier who were already lazy, the clinical psychologist said.
Environmental factors like extreme temperature and humidity can also affect human energy levels. Over the last several decades, we have seen an alarming increase in the so called lifestyle diseases like Type2 diabetes, heart disease and cancers. This trend is closely related to increasing rates of obesity, which in turn is due to decreased physical activity and increased availability of unhealthy food choices.
Laziness, is it genetic or nurtured?
My son is lazy, my daughter won’t do anything; these are the complaints that we generally hear from parents. Why do children of the same parents show different traits: one is active, while the other inactive?
Human behaviour is controlled by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
For instance, explaining the different attitudes of children of the same parents, Dr Andrea Tosatto, said: “Two siblings share the same parents but not necessarily the same genes and they are exposed to daily stimulus that could be very different. Growing up, they interact more and more with different people and different environments.”
Highlighting the differences further, Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar said: “A growing body of research in humans and animal models suggest that the primary controller of physical activity may be genetic in nature. Although some potential genes that may be involved in controlling our physical activity have been identified, much work is needed to confirm and establish the mechanisms through which these genes function.”
Dopamine and reward system
Humans are wired to expect a reward for all our actions. Our brain has a reward system, which works through the dopamine neurotransmitters. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with physical pleasure and reward.
Experiments on mice have shown that certain neurochemicals released by the brain makes you active.
“Animal studies have shown that mice that run more have stronger dopamine reward system. After ten generations, the offspring of the group of mice that run outsmarted the other group. This suggests that motivation for physical activity is genetic. Other researchers have identified a gene for a type of dopamine receptor, which allows your brain to reward you and make you feel good when you take action. Absence of this receptor may decrease your motivation and make you feel lazy,” Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar explained.
Psychological factors that could lead to Laziness
- No immediate gratification
- Lack of motivation
- Emotional state: depression, feeling down can all be a dampener
- Fear of failure
- Fear of success: Afraid of being successful as it means taking on more responsibilities
Laziness: Games, social media and reward abuse
Laziness is seen to be increasing in children. “Getting ‘hooked’ on video games and social media is said to be one of the contributing factors for this. When the child is engaged in gaming, dopamine, the ’feel-good’ chemical, is released. Studies have shown when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and need more and more stimulation to experience pleasure,” said Marisa Lobo Biddappa.
However, before calling a child lazy it is important to rule out that the child does not have Attention Deficit Disorder or Executive Function Deficit, which includes both neurocognitive and behaviour symptoms, warns Marisa Lobo Biddappa.
“Those with an Attention Deficit Disorder may get distracted easily or daydream and forget to carry out the assigned tasks, while those with an Executive Function Deficit may be inflexible, find it hard to initiate, plan, organize and execute a given task and have a difficulty regulating their mood and behaviour. Hence this should be ruled out by a professional before one calls a child ‘lazy’.”
The sometimes-exaggerated response to COVID-19 and the lockdown measures taken by various governments have caused loss of trust in the future and created fear, sense of fragility and a wrong perception of possible near death
Some of the symptoms seen in children and adolescents who are lazy
- Have no sense of curiosity about the world
- Have little interest in most activities
- Passive and enjoy activities that require little effort
- Cannot accept a ‘No’
- Do not know how to wait and want immediate gratification
- Always dissatisfied and easily frustrated
- May throw tantrums constantly
- Try to control everyone
- May have an inflated sense of self-worth
- Do not value their possessions
- Expect to be entertained or be given things to keep them happy
- Accomplish little in spite of being given a lot
- Lack empathy and avoid helping others
- Are selfish, do not respect their parents
- Parents feel the need to give in to pacify them
- May have parents who demand little and expect even less
- Avoid engaging with the world in spite of having the potential
Can laziness be cured?
There are various ways in which human being can be motivated and self-driven.
Factors that could improve motivation are: awareness of our capabilities, receiving feedback that progress has been made, realizing that the goal is within our reach and social support from our friends and family, said Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar.
“Motivation also depends on how we imagine, or mentally represent our goals.”
One way to overcome laziness, suggested Dr Nishanth Sanalkumar, is to create a reward system: Every time after you have taken some action, reward yourself with your favorite beverage, a snack, a movie or games. “Thus, slowly train yourself to feel the sense of accomplishment and victory every time you achieved your target. Developing habits or specific plans can also help, as these behavioural patterns require lower levels of energy due to their automaticity.”
How to tackle laziness in children
Parents play a vital role in motivating children. Here are some tips suggested by Marisa Lobo Biddappa, psychologist.
Be available for your child
Be around for your child, especially when they are young and engage them in different activities, instead of being in front of the screen.
Give your kids quality time
Spending time with children will help to connect with them and understand them better. Make sure you have family time, if possible every day. Do things together during the weekend. Get children involved in planning, like outdoor activities, within the options and budget you set. This helps in giving children choices while parents are still in control.
Encourage communication in the family
It is so important to have good inter-personal communication in the family. When communication lines are open children will feel more confident to talk about their joys, conflicts, boredom and needs.
Be a role model
Children tend to imitate what they see, be it good or bad. It is imperative to set an example. If we spend the day on social media or in front of TV, instead of attending to chores, exercising or playing a game, it is highly likely children will follow suit as they perceive it as being normal. Make sure to make physical exercise part of your day.
Get children to enjoy the outdoors
Encourage children to enjoy nature from a young age (do take COVID-19 preventive measures while being outdoors, and follow rules and regulations set by the government).
Get children to believe in themselves
Encourage children to have a goal and pursue it. Motivate children by giving them feedback. When children are positively reinforced, they start to believe in the task and feel that it is within control.
Set achievable standards
Know children’s potential and set achievable standards.
Teach children to be responsible
Instill a sense of discipline and responsibility in children. Make children understand how important it is to be responsible at home, school and in the community, how important it is to stick to rules, complete assigned chores, and fulfill commitments. Children should be taught to be responsible both for themselves as well as for others.
Teach children the need to do what they don’t like to do
Children will learn what they want if you give in to them. The concept of ‘need to do’ or ‘have to do’ is absent in children. In order to achieve our goals, we have to do what is necessary, which may not always be what we want to do. Make children understand that it is also necessary to do things ‘we don’t like’.
Teach your child to do mundane, every day work
Get children to do routine age appropriate chores as it fosters taking responsibilities as an adult.
If children are assigned a task or a chore, make sure that it is done. Deny privileges if the work is not done, making the child understand the value of commitments.
Set rules and expectations
Teach children in a calm, positive manner the importance of discipline, keeping to limits set, cooperation and helping each other if a family has to function well. Make a chart with family rules, chores and give incentives initially to positively reinforce them.
Children need to learn to keep limits. Teach children to keep to the limits you set especially with regard to use of gadgets.
Be consistent in your disciplining
Consistency is very important. Be consistent with disciplining, limits set, keeping promises (make promises that you can keep), giving rewards and denying privileges.
Teach children to accept ‘No’
Do not give in to all the demands of children. Make sure you are consistent and stay firm with your ‘No’ even if children throw a tantrum or rebels.
Teach children the value of things
It is important to teach children the value of things. Do not give them what they ask for easily.
Teach children to wait
Make sure you do not give children the things they demand immediately. Children will become less equipped to deal with even minor stress if you give in to all their demands and reduce children’s ‘frustration tolerance’. The ability to delay gratification is one of the key factors for future success. To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress and help children become resilient.
Do not use technology as a baby sitter
Get children to engage in different activities from the time they are young. Play different indoor and outdoor games. As children grow older get them to engage in free play and different activities, like painting, reading, making structures out of clay and blocks.
Restrict internet and gaming time
Make a schedule for children and teenagers, including studies, physical activity, sleep time, technology time and free time.
Allow children to be bored
If children complain of boredom, ask them to think of something to do or entertain themselves other than screen time. Teach children that boredom is a choice. Once children realize this, it will help them to unleash their creativity. Boredom can lead to self-discovery.
If you repeatedly tell children that they are lazy and yet never show them alternative ways of thinking or behaving, you will condition them to believe that it’s out of their control
Teach children mindful relaxation
Teach children simple deep breathing and relaxation exercises or yoga.
- Engage in different activities with your children
- Encourage children to take up a hobby
- Get children interested in cooking
- Inculcate in children the need to help those in need
- Motivate children to engage in recycling
Avoid telling children they are lazy
However, if you repeatedly tell children that they are lazy and yet never show them alternative ways of thinking or behaving, you will condition them to believe that it’s out of their control, which creates ingrained habits and unhelpful beliefs as an adult, cautioned Dr Melanie C. Schlatter, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist.
Well, an occasional break from the regular rush of life is a healthy step to recuperate and bounce back, but when that becomes the norm, it is time for a close scrutiny and remedial measure.