How Executive Function challenges can appear as laziness
“I’m just lazy,” is something we hear so often in our work. It’s very easy to attribute laziness as the reason for why we don’t advance ourselves. It is one of those phrases that gets overused and can become a cloak for what is really going on.
What is Laziness?
According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, lazy is defined as “showing a lack of effort or care” I think it’s important to break down a few things here before we go on to what may actually be going on:
- We can be lazy in certain domains of our life, but the important thing to look at is what do you care about? Are there aspects of your life that are important to you? Do you put in effort or care into those parts of your life? If so, you aren’t a “lazy person.” Through an executive function lens, we’d want to explore what you think your goals are, and how to make connections between your activities and those goals.
- Another important lens to look through is the “lack of effort” piece. I often use this example: If I had a goal to be more social, but I was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, I could appear to be lazy in being social. Although labeled as lazy, what is really going on? I just am lacking the skills to accomplish my goal, but this is appearing as a lack of effort.
- Similar to the above, when you don’t have the tools or strategies to accomplish a task, it is easier to label your inaction as not caring. We find that people struggle more in admitting what they struggle with, then saying that they don’t know how to do something. This can be because of our pride (not wanting to admit faults) or it could be that we don’t even realize that we don’t know how to do something!
What executive function deficits can appear as Laziness?
Although most executive function challenges can appear as laziness, we’ll just highlight a few in this blog:
- When we aren’t able to brainstorm, or think of multiple ways or strategies to move towards a goal, we can lose motivation because the strategy we know of isn’t working. Why would you keep doing the same thing over and over if it doesn’t help you towards your goals? Without having the flexible thinking to develop new strategies, it makes a lot of sense to stop trying because “nothing works.” By working on cognitive flexibility, that ‘laziness’ can be turned into action.
- If you don’t have any idea whether or not a strategy is working, you don’t have the feedback loop to help you adjust strategies when necessary. This can lead to a similar mentality as with cognitive flexibility – “nothing I do works!” If we can fine-tune our self-monitoring skills, we can know sooner if a strategy is not working, therefore saving time and effort by going to a new strategy.
- Just as presented before, once we know a strategy isn’t working, the executive function of shifting gets tapped into. If one struggles with the ability to shift between strategies or tasks, they may not even make the attempt. Also, shifting from enjoyable tasks to non-enjoyable ones can be very difficult. If you find your ‘laziness’ mostly when you have to move from something enjoyable to something not-so-enjoyable, this may be addressed with shifting strategies.
- If you struggle with planning and prioritizing, then your ‘laziness’ may really just be not knowing what is important to work on! Without any idea of prioritizing tasks, how are you supposed to know what is productive (higher priority) vs what is lazy (low priority). This does tap into time management as well. If we lack the skills to be able to plan and schedule time for things, it is very easy to tell yourself, “Why do this now, I don’t have enough time,” which can come across as laziness.
- A big executive function challenge that looks like laziness is initiation. If you struggle with getting started on tasks, you may gravitate towards the things that you don’t struggle getting started on. So instead of being productive, you look lazy because you are doing things that “don’t take as much effort.” In reality, these are just tasks that don’t take as much effort for you. It isn’t a lack of effort, but rather a lack of the skills necessary to get started on tasks. If we never get started on these tasks, of course it will look like laziness!
Just as a disclaimer, this is not to say that laziness is never a reality. The main point is that it is both easier to accept and easier to label laziness than it is to identify dysfunction in executive functions. Also, try and not jump to laziness first. It is better to try and cross other things off the list first before you jump to the laziness conclusion. Laziness also gets confused with motivation. We will do a deep dive into motivation in our next blog!