The Lamentable Legacy of Laziness

Do you know what the seven deadly sins are? According to the Catholic Church, they are: pride, sloth, gluttony, anger, envy, avarice, and lust. Sloth? What’s that? No, it’s not a monkey that hangs upside-down from a tree. It’s just another word for laziness, idleness, indolence, or sluggishness.

Do you know what a deadly sin is? (They’re also known as capital or mortal sins.) Well, if you’re guilty of committing one and die before receiving absolution from a priest, the consequence is ghastly; mainly, everlasting damnation! Now, perhaps, you can understand my concern. You see, not only am I lazy, but I’m old, so I may be condemned to hell at any moment!

I know what you’re thinking, if I’m so worried about it, why don’t I change my religion? I’m afraid that’s not much help. You see, all religions, as well as the ancient philosophers, condemn laziness. I even tried Zoroastrianism, but one of their demons, named Bushyasp, is actually laziness incarnate. Imagine having a demon named after you! Don’t ask me to try Confucianism either. I already looked into it. Confucius believed that earthquakes and natural disasters were warnings from above that the “son of Heaven” (Emperor) was too lazy! Even benign Buddhism condemns laziness as one of the Five Mental Hazards (the other four are sensual desire, ill will, worry, and doubt).

What’s All the Fuss about?

I don’t have any problem when God commands, “Thou shalt not kill” or even “Thou shalt not steal,” but, “Thou shalt not be lazy” seems a bit harsh. However, after thinking about it, I came to realize that when we’re lazy, we are guilty of killing. Killing time. Which is another way of saying killing life. For idling away time is not living; it’s lingering. Don’t we grow old more through laziness, than through age? If we want to be lazy, why not just die? Perhaps that is what the Hindus mean by their proverb, “It is better to sit down than to stand, it is better to lie down than to sit, but death is the best of all.”

We’re not only guilty of killing when we’re lazy. We’re also guilty of stealing. For as the scripture of Zoroastrianism states: “If one does not perform duty to one whom the duty is due, one becomes a thief of the duty.” (Avesta, Videvidad 4.1) Goofing off at work? If so, we’re stealing from the boss! The concept that laziness is stealing is an important one. For we  have roles to play and people are counting on us to perform our duties. When we fail to do so, we are stealing from them. Yet, it’s not only others that we steal from. For each time we decide to do nothing, we are shortchanging ourselves, stealing from ourselves, robbing our own potential.

Did you ever take a lot of trouble to select a gift only to find the recipient didn’t appreciate it? Ingratitude or thanklessness is not a trait to be admired. Imagine being God and dispensing the greatest gift of all, life. What if that gift wasn’t savored, wasn’t used, wasn’t glorified, and wasn’t appreciated? Is laziness a sign of the appreciation of life, or is it an indication of our ingratitude? This is a question my wife asked herself when she saw me slumped over the computer keyboard. Gently shaking me, she roused me from my slumber and asked, “Are you being lazy again?” I awoke with a startle and quickly explained, “No, I’m not being lazy. I was just meditating on the vice of sloth.”

During my ‘meditation’, another point arose in my consciousness. Mainly, whenever we are lazy, we lose momentum or head downhill. In either event, it’s not a very good place to be. Before laziness becomes a habit, we should heed the following warning, “How long will you lie there sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11) By now you may agree with me that laziness is not as trivial as I first imagined. How can we tell when we’re being lazy? All we have to do is ask ourselves, “Is there a better way for me to use my time?”

Slaying the Dragon of Sloth

If I were to say, “I am lazy,” it implies that I cannot change. But that is not true. Of course, I can change. So, the correct statement is, “I am a person that sometimes engages in lazy behaviour.” The first step in slaying the dragon of sloth, then, is to monitor our thoughts and correct them when necessary. Once we stop saying “I am lazy,” we are preparing ourselves to slay the dragon before it devours us.

We often avoid tasks because we find them overwhelming. We can solve this problem by taking baby steps, or as Mark Twain explains, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Remember, we are never lazy when it comes to the things we want to do; so, it is not a matter of a lack of energy, but a lack of motivation. Therefore, to overcome laziness, we need to master motivation. If our reason to act is great enough, we will have the will to act. We need to think. Think of the reasons why we want to act. Think of and focus on the benefits we will gain by acting. Frequently reflecting on the person we can and want to be can help motivate us to act.

When the CEO of a large company was asked how many people worked in his office, he replied, “About half.” The other half were goofing off. How come? It’s about motivation or the reason for acting. For many people, the sole purpose of work is to make money. In other words, their job is merely the means to an end (money) and not an end in itself. And why do they want money? Possessions. A new car, stereo, or home. If their only reason for working is to make money, they will soon resent their job for ‘interfering’ with the pleasure of spending money and enjoying their possessions.

Our occupation is not a chore we need to do to get paid, but an opportunity for us to learn, contribute, grow, make friends, solve problems, overcome obstacles, and experience victories. When we see it for the opportunity it is, we will find our job exciting and have little time for idleness. Opportunities abound. They follow us whether we’re at home, in the office, or strolling in a park. Opportunities are the rays of sunshine that banish the shadows of laziness. No wonder lazy people appear to be asleep. They are in a stupor, unaware of the opportunities hovering around them. Busy people are aware, awake, and alive. So, instead of worrying whether I’ll go to hell after I die, I think I’ll start focusing on whether I’ll live before I die.

Case Study

This is in response to a reader’s e-mail. I have shortened her message and numbered her points, and will answer her questions or comment on her statements, point by point.

She writes, “I’m a woman in my fifties and will be starting a new job tomorrow. I have never been able to stick to a job and have moved around endless times. This has hurt my life in some ways because I never given myself a chance for promotion, and the like. I have to admit that I have a problem with laziness.

“When I allow myself to be, I am a deeply spiritual and creative person. I have noticed when I am doing something that I love to do like writing, directing and producing plays, I have a great amount of energy. But when I am doing something that I don’t like, which is working as a secretary (my career) I tend to be lazy and lack energy. (1)

“Anyway, since I am working on being honest and Christ-like, I don’t want to cheat my employers of a good day’s work. (2) If you have some suggestions, I would love to hear them. Also, if you can point me to some books that can help me with my problem, I would love that too (3). I do believe that I can change, even at this late date. (4) I want to change and be a better person in every area of my life.” (5)

Point 1. Congratulations on realizing we always have enough energy to do what we love. It’s surprising how many people miss this point. You see, it’s not a matter of you being lazy, but a matter of you not being interested in, or loving, what you do. Now that you realize we always have the energy to do what we love, you are ready to move on to the next level.

To move to the next level, understand that we can always love anything we do at any time and at any place. Once we awaken to this reality, we will no longer need to move from place to place or job to job. What we often forget is that love is a choice. It doesn’t matter if the object of our love is a person, place, thing, idea, or job; love is something we choose to give away. Interestingly, the more we give away, the more it flows right back into our lives. Since we always have the energy to do what we love, the solution to your problem is to learn to love whatever needs to be done to improve your life.

So, why don’t you love your job? Well, this leads to secret number two: Your lack of interest in your job (and resultant lack of energy) has nothing to do with the nature of your job and everything to do with the nature of your mind. You haven’t yet learned how to focus on the right things. When it comes to your job, all you can think about are unpleasant things. You do this automatically, without making a conscious choice.

Love is based on knowledge. If you can’t think of anything positive about your job, how can you love it? In your case, you probably are not entirely negative, but appreciating one or two of the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of positive things about your job isn’t good enough. Realize the tools we use to create our lives are our predominant thoughts. In other words, if most of our thoughts are negative, we will lead negative lives. In summary, whether you say you love your job or whether you say you hate it, you are right because thoughts are self-fulfilling prophecies. In a word, your thoughts will make it so.

So, to break the cycle of negativity, you have to get into the habit of counting your blessings instead of counting your so-called misfortunes. Start today by making a list entitled “What I like about my job.” And keep adding to the list every day. Later the message will permeate your consciousness and you will realize how fortunate you are. Your problem was simply a matter of forgetting to look for the good, but you can start remedying that today.

Point 2. Don’t worry about cheating your employers, they became successful before you entered the picture and remained successful after you left. No, the person you need to worry about cheating is yourself. Don’t rob yourself of opportunities, pride, satisfaction, confidence, self-respect, self-esteem, peace of mind, happiness, and a good night’s sleep.

Speaking in terms you readily understand, remember that you are the author, producer, and director of your life. If you are unhappy with the present situation, change the script. How should you change it? Well, make the hero of your play (life) a woman committed to being the best secretary possible. See her welcome every challenge as an opportunity to develop self-discipline, gain new skills, and grow increasingly powerful. See her life become filled with purpose.

In your script, make her more concerned about the problems her boss and coworkers are having than her own. In other words, don’t let the hero see herself as burdened with tasks to do. Rather, let her see herself as lightening the burdens of her boss and coworkers. See her work as worthwhile and watch her grow in esteem and self-esteem.

Make the star of your play playful. So, even when swamped with unpleasant tasks, make her play a game of “How many hateful tasks can I get done today?” Let her keep score and watch her grow in confidence and cheerfulness. Use your creative talent to create your own joyous life.

Point 3. You have arrived where you are today because of your choices. If you are unhappy about your present circumstances, that simply means you’ll have to change the way you choose to act. To learn how, go to the library and get this must-read: Choices: Manage Your Choices and You Will Manage Your Life by Shad Helmstetter (any book written by him is worth reading).

For a change of attitude, read Attitude Is Everything: 10 Life-Changing Steps to Turning Attitude into Actionby Keith Harrell. If you read this book, be sure to also get the workbook: The Attitude Is Everything Workbook: Strategies and Tools for Developing Personal and Professional Success, Keith Harrell.

To learn how to overcome regrets, mistakes, and missed opportunities, read: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda, by Dr. Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf.

To overcome self-defeating behavior, read: Self-Defeating Behaviors: Free Yourself from the Habits, Compulsions, Feelings, and Attitudes That Hold You Back by Milton R.  Cudney, Ph.D. and Robert E. Hardy, Ed.D.

Point 4. Yes, you can change at any age. Start by thinking about the subject seriously. As the Venerable Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche wrote, “If our clothes are caught on fire, would we just stay there and let them burn? Similarly, when laziness comes, we should always try to overcome it. If a snake comes on your lap, how quickly you will stand up and shout! Similarly, when laziness comes, act like that.”

Point 5. We become a better person by improving the world. And we improve the world by shifting our focus away from our problems to the problems of others. We make this a better world when we ask and act on questions like, “How can I help my boss, coworkers, neighbors, family, friends, and those in need?”

I invite our reader to become a hero in her own life-drama. Joseph Campbell hints at how we can go about doing that: “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”

Final Thoughts on Overcoming Laziness

It’s true that Bernard Williamssaid, “I like the word ‘indolence’. It makes my laziness seem classy.” But there’s nothing classy or much fun about laziness. So, what do we do about it? How do we overcome it?

At one time or another, we all will have things that need to be done and won’t feel like doing them. So what? It’s not a sin. It’s not a crime. It’s just a feeling. Don’t fight the feeling; acknowledge it. Tell yourself something like, “I don’t feel like going to the gym, but some things are more important than my feelings, such as my health and overall wellbeing, so I’m going to go.” To make this self-talk even more powerful, instead of just saying, “I don’t feel like going to the gym…” add the word ‘yet.’ That is, say, “I don’t feel like going to the gym yet, but some things are more important than my feelings…”

In other words, the solution to laziness is to follow the advice of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, who said, “Just Do It.” So, the next time you have to do an unpleasant task, don’t let the fact that it’s unpleasant stop you. Just do it! Overcoming laziness is a matter of adopting the right mindset and seeing the big picture; the books listed in the article and References section will help you do that.



The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life – Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process by Thomas M. Sterner

Masteryby Robert Greene

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillmentby George Leonard

FREE eBook

The Positive Thinking Secretby Aaron Kennard


The truth about “laziness”

How To Overcome Laziness and Get Things Done


The Kingship of Self-Control