It seems that the main resistance from doing important work today is laziness. We should start writing that novel we’ve been wanting to take on for months, explore some philosophical questions that are nagging us, practice that dance move, … But laziness is too great.
What I mean by important work is work that no one asked us to do, that we do on our own, a desire to create coming from a personal place. Doing a recording session with five musician friends is easy to commit to. But facing the coldness of writing that new song in our bedroom, without anyone expecting it, that’s a different story.
Now, if we feel an external appeal to do this important work, laziness doesn’t have that much of a grip on us. For example, the social status coming from a group workout or a personal accomplishment can pull us toward this work, overshadowing the resistance.
But if the only engine we have comes from within us, things get much harder. Once we see that clearly, it can seem crazy that the biggest thing preventing us from doing this work is laziness. It’s not that the work is beyond our physical or mental abilities, it’s not that we don’t have the means or the knowledge, it’s just laziness.
If we take the hunter-gatherers as an example, I don’t think they were facing that kind of laziness. There is a natural ongoing balancing process to that kind of lifestyle. The basic state is rest, and when we get bored with it, it becomes obvious to become active, until we get enough of the activity, in which case we change our activity, or rest again. When it comes to vital activities (hunting and picking fruits), again, there is no laziness : it is the obvious thing to do. Just like we don’t feel lazy when we rush to put out a fire in our home. It is the obvious thing the situation calls for.
There is another element in this lifestyle : the absence of should. People rest and accomplish tasks in a harmonious way, and they also don’t strive for an ideal of what one should do, how much he is supposed to accomplish, or what his role requires him to do beyond what is necessary for survival.
I find the example of hunter-gatherers very clear, but we can look just fifty years in the past and find a similar lifestyle. It is even very possible to experience it if we extract ourselves from the daily distractions we are exposed to.
There is a part of our laziness that is probably a call back to our prime balanced nature : there is no expectation to be doing anything more than ensuring our survival. That’s what we may feel when doing something for which the appeal doesn’t come from within. That can be feeling a pressure to write more because we are an author, the pressure to earn more, to live some kind of success, … We can have trouble accomplishing those things because we don’t see them as necessary.
And there is another kind of laziness, the one forming a resistance to what we feel compelled to do from within, by generosity. A resistance to the thing that speaks to us deeply, that we want to share, to help others feel. This laziness is caused by two things : the ego trying to run away from this work, because it is scary, and distractions inducing positive laziness.
When a hunter-gatherer rests, it is natural laziness. At some point, she will get bored, the position will grow more uncomfortable, she will feel compelled to do something else. Today, we have sources of what I call positive laziness. This is a laziness that actively pulls us, of which we never get enough. This is the Netflix catalog and its autoplay feature, most of the commercial internet, … Marketers are people who are trying to make change happen. Change is hard to cause, and they realize that the most effective way to make it happen is through the path of least resistance. So, they will make it easy as hell to get people to use what they are offering. That’s why most commercial products and services will encourage you to get lazy, especially those you haven’t paid for yet.
These sources of laziness are bottomless, because they are engineered for that purpose. The natural direction of an infinite YouTube recommended playlist isn’t a sense that we have enough. This is an ever-appealing source of laziness. Positive laziness.
It might be worth exploring, then, to cut all of those sources of positive laziness when we set out to do important work. If we decide to write that novel, we can choose, for the coming week, to cut all things that bring us this infinite comfort : all websites and apps that run for a profit, sugar-based food, …, and see what happens. We can rest on sources of natural laziness, and bounce back to activity in a balanced way. Even enjoying the comfort of a great sofa or a good book will bore us after a while and naturally move us to be active.
There is a reason why we feel particularly appealed to this positive laziness when we try to do important work. The work is scary, and this comfort is a very easy excuse for the ego trying to run away from it. So, when cutting these sources out, the work will still be hard and scary. That’s a given. But that way, we can face the hardship, look at it, get familiar with it.