Most of us, as we grow older, experience having less energy than in our younger years or we need to take a short nap while reading a book, and so it is easy to fall into a lazy frame of mind.
Yes, I said, “lazy,” although lazy is a negative word - for it implies a person who should be active and productive but is irresponsible and chooses to let others do the work.
Actually, laziness is in our genes according to clinical psychologist Dr. Nando Pelusi. There was a time when conserving energy was a survival tactic. For most of human existence, predation and starvation were constant threats. Our ancestors lived for the fulfillment of immediate needs, thirsty, look for water, hungry, look for food, cold, look for shelter. Thinking long-term made no sense in a world where the future was uncertain and the present required one’s full attention. Laziness, by definition, is an unwillingness to expend energy; in a world that only rewarded instant gratification, putting things off that had no immediate reward was smart.
Today, we call this postponement, procrastination and deem it a negative behavior. All of a sudden in the history of human evolution, we have more distant goals; we must plan for a future. And whether it is cleaning out the file cabinet, studying for an exam, preparing our tax returns, or finally starting work on that book we are forever planning to write, our natural propensity is to avoid it, opting instead for some task with an immediate reward. We fool ourselves by believing that we’ll do it tomorrow; we find reasons to avoid doing now something which could wait, saying to ourselves, it’s too difficult or time-consuming, feeling an aversion to start tackling that task immediately.
This feeling of aversion which changes into inertia and an inability to get going is what is ingrained in us and needs to be dealt with. Once we understand that we are programmed to feel this way, we can consciously overcome it using several strategies. I have always believed that by making our unconscious more conscious, we have the means then to deal with it.
- First realize you are doing battle with yourself and your own natural propensity to procrastinate.
- Then look at the task at hand and divide it into small segments. Can you do this for 30 minutes, an hour? And then push yourself to finish it in the allotted time.
- Be wary of interruptions - you may encourage them thereby sabotaging yourself.
- Write down a schedule for getting it done - what day, what time, for how long.
- Tell someone of your plan and ask that person to prod you if necessary and then monitor your progress.
- Give yourself a reward upon completion, such as permission to rest on your laurels and be lazy for awhile.
Some people can only finish a task when there is a deadline to be met, and they then wait until the last minute to start working feverishly at it. This is in fact a strategy for overcoming the inertia.
So even as you grow older and indeed must conserve energy for the tasks of daily living, putting aside some energy for a long-term goal becomes another kind of reward - you have overcome your genetic predisposition, you have conquered, and you have won.