The Hard Work of being Lazy – Free Ebook

At times, perhaps without quite knowing why,
we slip into a resolutely ‘lazy’ mood.

We’re simply not able to write anything
new or can’t face setting up more meetings.

We don’t want to clean the fridge or go
out to befriend prospective clients. All we

have an appetite for, it seems, is to loll
on the sofa and maybe dip randomly into a

book, wander down to the shops and buy a packet
of biscuits or spend an hour or so soaking

in the bath. We might, at an extreme, merely
want to sit by the window and stare at the

clouds. For a long time.

In such states of mind, we’re rapidly liable
to be stigmatized as profoundly (and incorrigibly)

‘lazy’ by friends or – more painfully

  • by our own conscience. Laziness feels like

a sin against the bustling activity of modernity;
it seems to bar us from living successfully

or from thinking in any way well of ourselves.
But, to consider the matter from another perspective,

it might be that at points the real threat
to our happiness and self-development lies

not in our failure to be busy, but in the
very opposite scenario: in our inability to

be ‘lazy’ enough.

Outwardly idling does not have to mean that
we are neglecting to be fruitful. It may look

to the world as if we are accomplishing nothing
at all but, below the surface, a lot may be

going on that’s both important and in its
own way very arduous. When we’re busy with

routines and administration, we’re focused
on those elements that sit at the front of

our minds: we’re executing plans rather
than reflecting on their value and ultimate

purpose. But it is to the deeper, less accessible
zones of our inner lives that we have to turn

in order to understand the foundations of
our problems and arrive at decisions and conclusions

that can govern our overall path. Yet these
only emerge – shyly and tentatively – when

we are feeling brave enough to distance ourselves
from immediate demands; when we can stare

at clouds and do so-called nothing all afternoon
while in fact wrestling with our most profound

dilemmas.

We need to distinguish between emotional and
practical hard work. Someone who looks extremely

active, whose diary is filled from morning
till night, who is always running to answer

messages and meet clients may appear the opposite
of lazy. But secretly, there may be a lot

of avoidance going on beneath the outward
frenzy. Busy people evade a different order

of undertaking. They are practically a hive
of activity, yet they don’t get round to

working out their real feelings. They constantly
delay the investigation of their own lives.

They are lazy when it comes to understanding
particular emotions. Their busy-ness may be

a subtle but powerful form of distraction.

Our minds are in general a great deal readier
to execute than to reflect. They can be rendered

deeply uncomfortable by so-called large questions:
What am I really trying to do? What do I actually

enjoy and who am I trying to please? By contrast,
the easy bit can be the running around, the

never pausing to ask why, the repeatedly ensuring
that there isn’t a moment to have doubts

or feel sad or searching. Business can mask
a vicious form of laziness.

Our lives might be a lot more balanced if
we learnt to re-allocate prestige, pulling

it away from those with a full diary and towards
those wise enough to allow for some afternoons

of reflection. We should think that there
is courage not just in travelling the world,

but also in daring to sit at home with one’s
thoughts for a while, risking encounters with

certain anxiety-inducing or melancholy but
also highly necessary ideas. Without the shield

of busy-ness, we might bump into the realisation
that our relationship has reached an impasse,

that our work no longer answers to any higher
purpose or that we feel furious with a family

member who is subtly exploiting our patience.
The heroically hard worker isn’t necessarily

the one in the business lounge of the international
airport, it might be the person gazing without

expression out of the window, and occasionally
writing down one or two ideas on a pad of

paper.

The point of ‘doing nothing’ is to clean
up our inner lives. There is so much that

happens to us every day, so many excitements,
regrets, suggestions and emotions that we

should – if we are living consciously – spend
at least an hour a day processing. Most of

us manage – at best – a few minutes – and
thereby let the marrow of life escape us.

We do so not because we are forgetful or bad,
but because our societies protect us from

our responsibilities to ourselves through
their cult of activity. We are granted every

excuse not to undertake the truly difficult
labour of leading more conscious, more searching

and more intensely felt lives.

The next time we feel extremely lazy, we should
imagine that perhaps a deep part of us is

preparing to give birth to a big thought.
As with a pregnancy, there is no point hurrying

the process. We need to lie still and let
the idea gestate – sure that it may eventually

prove its worth. We may need to risk being
accused of gross laziness in order one day

to put in motion projects and initiatives
we can feel proud of.

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