I’m lazy. I’ll try that again. I’m a lazy person. I have lazy person tendencies. I can be lazy. I have lazy spells. On occasions laziness overcomes me.
I am lazy.
We can now throw in unadulterated laziness to that long list of shameful secrets I’ve been, hereunto, harboring. Such as my proclivity towards procrastination, my yoga farting experience, my brain farting experiences and all those heartwarming emotions of envy, anger, anxiety and fear, and that’s on a good day. Like the aforementioned procrastination, up until recently I would view my laziness with a nauseating gulp of shame, using periods of hyper productivity to mask the days of unwashed dishes and mountain slopes of clothes, which, if revealed, would betray the glamorous shabby chic exterior I work hard to maintain.
My laziness has always been a misunderstood but begrudgingly accepted trait – ‘Oh Njeri will get to it when she feels like it. Sigh’. Being lazy is only permitted if you’re a 16-year-old teenage boy, and is certainly looked upon with disgust if you happen to be an adult brimming with potential at the prime of your life. And in the unfortunate circumstance that you happen to be a lazy young woman, well then society would have you believe that a wine and ice cream soaked future, accompanied by cats, awaits you.
No, it is not becoming for a lady to be lazy. One should be talking about getting beauty sleep, not actually getting any sleep. Who has time for that? Mopping every last corner, grilling every piece of fish perfectly, and ensuring your manicured nails are chip free when you hand in the perfectly completed work project, on time naturally, is the epitome of being a hard working, productive female adult.
Beyond the mirth of activity, ‘busy-ness’ and ‘getting stuff done-ness’ that is the antithesis of laziness, lies a long list of shoulds, a pre-determined set of expectations that are meant to define adulthood. Adults get things done. When we’ve gotten stuff done we don’t rest, no we’ll sleep when we’re dead thank you very much. Instead we invent more stuff to do, more busy-ness to drown ourselves in. Why? Proclaiming the raw extent of our productivity is a source of pride, a gold star badge to add to our identity uniform, which also serves as a confirmation of our deserving-ness. And how we decry those who exert no effort, those to whom things just ‘happen’, the lucky ones who didn’t have to break a back, or skip a meal, or experience a sleepless, anxiety-ridden night!
Having come to understand and accept my laziness I realize that most of us have a misguided understanding of what it means to be lazy. More often than not laziness is grouped together with sloth, apathy and inactivity, yet they’re not quite the same thing. Laziness is defined as ‘disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so’; apathy is ‘a state of indifference, a lack of interest and/or concern’.
Being lazy doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t interested in doing something; it just means that you’re disinclined to exert a certain amount of energy doing the said thing. For example, I really want to be a proud owner of a spotless, clutter free spic and span apartment. And I am the owner of a spotless clutter free apartment, at least once a month when my amazing cleaner comes in. And it’s not like I just rest my feet up while the apartment is being cleaned, no I use the extra time to do work I actually want to do (i.e. anything but cleaning).
That’s how well adapted laziness works; you’re constantly trying to find and/or make shortcuts to reach your end goal, whether that goal is spending the rest of your life lying on a beach and not lifting a finger, or simply getting a lot done with the least amount of effort. It’s called being judiciously productive. A smart lazy person intuitively knows that certain resources, such as willpower, are finite; once you use your current stock it’s gone. So is it really worth your time using up your willpower chasing dusty curtains and unmade beds? Will this matter an hour from now? A week from now? A year, five years?
My theory is that laziness works in conjunction with creativity. Creativity is about connecting the dots; laziness is about reducing the amount of dots to be connected. For us slackers the desire to find these shortcuts, and the work we put into uncovering them may seem to stand at odds with our laziness. But a smart slacker is constantly weighing the odds between value, energy and the end goal. With fewer dots to worry about you can focus on developing stronger connections between the dots that actually matter.
Let’s put it this way, in 1642 Blaise Pascal was co-opted into his father’s labor as tax collector in France. The one thing that upset him more than this was the large amount of tedious arithmetic required for the job. Too lazy to continuously do the work assigned, he invented the mechanical calculator – problem solved and humanity changed forever.
And guess what? Science may just be on my side. There’s this thing called the Default Mode Network (DMN), which has been identified as ‘a network of brain regions that are active when the individual is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest’. During goal-oriented activity, the DMN is deactivated and another network, the task-positive network (TPN) is activated. The default network may correspond to task-independent introspection, or self-referential thought, while the TPN corresponds to action. Basically this network comes alive when our brains take a break from conscious processing. It is the source of daydreams, planning those future scenarios where you are incredibly rich, or replaying that awkward conversation you had earlier on in the day with your boss.
And what does this DMN actually do? Many researchers believe it helps restore our attention and motivation, encourages creativity, forms our stable, long-term memories and influences our morals and sense of self. While the structure of our brains are in constant flux, we never lose that sense of self, we still remember who we are, the experiences we have had and what we want to achieve in the future.
Thus, researchers argue, this sense of self stems from the background activity of the DMN, generating our inner narrative and daydreams, which all play a role in giving us our morals, desires and intentions. The DMN is activated whenever our bodies take a break (even when blinking the DMN briefly becomes active), and this state of relaxation is necessary to clear out ‘noise’ from our minds, strengthening our memories and improving our decision-making.
I believe that it’s during this restful period, when the DMN is active, that us lazy people get our stuff done. Because with less noise, we can hear better. By sitting still we can move faster, later. By pausing to reflect, step back, or simply sleep, we’re tapping into a more intuitive, efficient and sustainable source of energy and productivity. So go forth, and be lazy! Tear up the to-do lists, take all those naps you’ve been meaning to take, eschew the laundry for now and just be lazy. With practice you may find yourself sprouting world-changing inventions, all thanks to your laziness. And when you do I’ll happily wake up from my afternoon siesta to celebrate your laziness with you.
Published in June 2014