How do I stop being so damn lazy?

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Perhaps our generation’s greatest failing is how lazy we are.

How many of my readers have sent me emails talking about how they want to change… how they want to improve their finances, earn more, or get healthier…or even READ my book (which is sitting under their bed)… but they simply can’t find the motivation to do so? They can’t stop being lazy.

can't stop being lazy

Thousands and thousands every year.

Interestingly, we GENUINELY want to change our behavior. We simply cannot figure out how to stop being lazy. We use words like “motivation” (one of the worst words to use in behavioral change since it means almost nothing). We say the “S” word: “Yeah, I really should do that…”

We do all kinds of things that seem intuitive, but are worthless at best, and counter-productive at worst.

Think about the most common things you want to change. For most of us, they fall into similar buckets: Improve our careers, money, relationships, and health. Under those, you get specific things like “I want to travel more”, “I want to work less”, “I want to stop procrastinating”.

All achievable. Yet few of us do.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve developed several models for driving behavioral change. That’s how I get results like this.

I publicize these behavioral models of these in a variety of places, and some I keep private.

Important behaviors on how to stop being lazy

  • Whenever you say “should” — “Yeah, I really should do X” or “They should just do Y” — you have already lost
  • Guilt is not a productive emotion
  • Quick wins produce massive momentum for behavioral change. (Hint: This is why financial books that begin with “create a budget” are almost never effective. This is a massively important and frequently missed point.)
  • Automation is more powerful than almost anyone can imagine
  • Simply “trying harder” will almost never work, yet most Americans follow this policy repeatedly for their entire lives
  • Tactics are not enough. Most of us have crippling barriers and invisible scripts that “screen” out even the most sophisticated tactics. (For example, I could give you the best tips on earning more ever created, but if you don’t believe you deserve money, nothing matters — you will not even process the tips.)

I can get into more of this later, but today, I wanted to share an extremely insightful comment I ran across about being lazy.

How to stop being lazy: one Redditor’s answer

The answer one commenter gave was so insightful that I’m re-posting it here for my own readers:

QUESTION: How can I stop being so damn lazy?

BEST ANSWER: “Look man, there are literally hundreds of good ways to get on with the tasks on your plate.

I find a combination of good goal setting and use of things like The Pomodoro Technique work wonders for helping me get stuff done and move forward.

But it’s not so much about being productive. It’s about living up to your word.

I’m guessing that you’re a creative, intelligent sort of person. Are you a perfectionist? That seems likely. Oftentimes, people with those characteristics really get bogged down by the magnitude of the tasks in front of them. Doing something means risking failing at it. Sometimes that risk seems to loom so large, and the drive to perfectionism is so strong, that any sort of meaningful and productive task just seems like it’s not worth it. Why risk failing, when you can just do something else instead?

Of course, in the back of your mind you know that those choices are causing you to fail anyway. That’s why you’re miserable.

So you have to re-think things in a different way. First up, you have to give yourself permission to fail, permission to be less than perfect sometimes. Failing at something, making mistakes, opens up a great opportunity to learn something new.

Second, you have to recognize that laziness and procrastination are destructive to your word. When you take on a task you make a promise to somebody (perhaps just yourself, but somebody) that you will complete that task. Putting that off brings you out of integrity with your word in the matter. That’s not bad, or wrong, it just is what there is in the situation.

But integrity is the thing that makes life work. It is the structure that holds our interactions together. When integrity fails, the structure collapses. Honoring your word is the way to make sure that the integrity of the situation remains intact.

The best way to honor your word is to put it into some sort of reality. Start making and keeping a schedule, and a to-do list, if you don’t already. Start planning your actions, breaking them into smaller tasks that are more easily achievable. Those things serve as a very real reminder that you’ve made a promise that you need to keep. Your word has to be the thing that keeps you moving forward. Honoring that word has to become your primary motivation.

You also need to enlist others to keep you accountable. Get a friend to check up with you, and kick your ass. When you need motivating to take an action, somebody is there to hold you accountable for that action. This piece alone helped me finally finish up a college degree that had been awaiting completion for over 6 years. My friends found out, did all they could to help, and held me accountable to get it done.

But, most importantly, you have to recognize that honoring your word to yourself is absolutely critical. It’s easy to keep promises to others, we don’t like to disappoint. But it’s much harder to keep your word with yourself. You are every bit as deserving of that respect as anybody else who might be involved.

Change your perspective. It’ll change your life.”

Nicely put. See the full discussion on how to stop being lazy here.

Want to stop being lazy? Start by listening to my interview with BJ Fogg

Earlier this year, I spent 16 hours prepping for a very special phone call. One of my mentors, Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg, taught me much of what I know about psychology and persuasion.

I asked him to spend an hour with me, where we would share our favorite techniques and tactics on behavioral change — on everything from money to exercising and flossing.

We talked about favorite persuasion studies from the academic research — then spend time sharing some of the persuasion models we’ve developed ourselves. And we recorded it.

It’s easy to find some jackass blogger who can write “TOP 10 WAYS TO INFLUENCE YOUR NETWORK!!!” But finding someone who has a deep, thorough knowledge of academic research, plus practical persuasion is extraordinarily rare.

If you’re interested in how to change your own behavior, I strongly encourage you to spend an hour listening to our conversation.

You can’t get this kind of material anywhere else, and BJ is a tremendous expert with a lifetime of experience.

Here’s what a few people said about the talk:

“Fantastic podcast… I have 5 pages of notes and a few great ideas to apply to my next training class I am holding in 2 weeks time.

I realise that I must change BEHAVIOUR, then the attitude and information will fall into place – the information itself is not enough.

Thanks Ramit & BJ.”

- Michelle Brown

“I got so many things from this that it’s difficult to choose. However, the two that really grabbed me were:

1. show gratitude

2. with the right baby steps you can get almost anyone, including yourself, to do anything.

I am off now to do some baby steps.

Thank you BJ and Ramit. Also thanks for posting the audio and transcript.”

- Rob Middleton

“The one thing? That people are not rational. I KNOW this, but my default seems to be a belief that just a little more of the right information will do the job. Maybe it’s because deep down, I don’t want to admit that I’m not as rational as I would like to be, along with everyone else.”

- Christina Ochs Nichols


In this conversation, here are a few nuggets that we share:

  • Why you should never use the word “motivation”
  • How to use the same principles that top persuasion experts use to persuade YOURSELF to change
  • How a famous social psychologist used “self-persuasion” to change the way Americans eat
  • How to use a simple, powerful technique to make yourself floss every night
  • The role of barriers in persuasion
  • One of the most famous examples of self-persuasion from WWII — and how you can use it yourself
  • Unconventional approaches BJ has used to help people get dream jobs, get speaking engagements, and get national recognition
  • How to become an expert in your field
  • How to get a dream job that’s not on ANY job board
  • How to carve out a niche for yourself where you’re the world’s best person — and you can command the according respect and rates

Most importantly, instead of feeling guilty about how lazy you are, you’ll learn productive techniques to change your behavior. And that is, quite simply, why this site exists.

Sign up below to get the free interview – which you can’t get anywhere else:

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37 Comments

 
  1. Sounds to me that Ramit is a platinum member of Tony Robbins, both have great advice, but present it differently. But this post really makes me believe that Ramit is trying to be Tony. Both have their places, both have their audiences.

    Just thinking out loud here.

  2. Cal Newport talks about another reason for “laziness”, or total demotivation, something he calls “deep procrastination,” which happens to a lot of college students.

    Cal lists the following reasons for procrastination:

    1. Fear (of both success and failure).
    2. Perfectionism.
    3. We think our work is of low quality.

    But the biggest, Cal says, is that, “Your brain doesn’t buy your plan.”

    http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/07/10/the-procrastinating-caveman-what-human-evolution-teaches-us-about-why-we-put-off-work-and-how-to-stop/

    Cal has good solutions for students. Ramit Sethi has good solutions for earning money. But these are specific rather than general answers.

    The real problem is not the plan itself, but the plan before the plan… or, HOW you plan.

    So what is the “plan before the plan?”

    It’s your info organization method – be it paper or digital. It’s how you process all your thoughts, including your tasks.

    A bad system generates mental resistance by exceeding the limits of your working and long-term memory, by creating info fragmentation, by failing to provide default procedural algorithms. Or by generating so much overhead that adherence is impossible.

    This is the slippage in the gears before action ever begins.

    Human working memory is limited to 7 items, and long-term memory forgets everything that isn’t vividly imprinted and then given spaced repetitions.

    If you automate your finances, how much more important to automate your brain?

    Only Cyborganize can do this.

    • I disagree! The system isn’t the problem – deep procrastination is an indication of no motivation. However, motivation is a studied topic and there are strategies for biasing our own thinking to become more motivated. On my blog, I discuss motivation strategies originally developed to help drug addicts recover; a major motivation win (http://www.happyhomunculus.com/2011/07/week-of-motivation.html). Break out some metacognition and change your thinking first! Rock on!

  3. [...] has good solutions for students. Ramit Sethi has good solutions for earning money. But these are specific rather than general [...]

  4. 1. Details.

    Be very specific. If your goal is to make more money then you basically need to map out a business plan. Not a biz school type of plan, but a real business idea with concrete ways that you will make money off this thing, hopefully from the beginning. Even if you are a full time employee, you are still selling your time, and that’s a business. Map out your strategy for getting that raise or perhaps jumping ship.

    2. Treat it like a job.

    If you need to make more money and you have gone through step number one, then you need to create a space you can work from. Your day job provides this for you, so you don’t have a problem there. Unfortunately, you probably don’t have this for your “side” stuff. Everyone needs a place to work from. A student might study in the library. A web worker might work from Starbucks. Just make sure that you are getting out of your lounge space. You aren’t going to get anywhere if you are contemplating your options when you haven’t even put any clothes on for the day.

  5. [...] I happened apon two that together struck a cord.  First is This Article by Ramit Sethi Titled How do I Stop Being so Damn Lazy?  In the article Ramit talks about how lazy “Our Generation” is and how we [...]

  6. “In this conversion, here are a few nuggets that we share”

    Freudian slip

  7. Took me a long time between buying your book and starting to read it. No surprise that it’s taken me a long time to make progress in reading a book on procrastination. Fear of failure/success is a huge hurdle.

  8. Sigh. My first time on your blog in a while, and I was excited to see an interesting topic. Yet as usual, it requires some sort of sign-up at the end. Why? If you’re not going to use our email addresses to send us spammy appeals and sales pitches and whatnot, then why even require it?

    I’m already on the newsletter list, so I’m already hassled every time I visit this website with the popup invite to join. Now, to get content, I need to provide my information again.

    I see that you spent a lot of time on this phone call, and I have enjoyed your content in the past. Both of these things make me willing to sign up for something – I just wish I knew what I was signing up for. If you gave a reason for requiring our email address, I would feel a lot better about it.

    Also, just a comment on the sales pitch, the “testimonials” are really unhelpful. I would rather get a breakdown of the content of the phone call, like a table of contents, and a description from YOU of why it’s helpful. I suspect that the “Tony Robbins” comment you got stemmed from the structure of this (confusing) sales pitch.

    • If you click “Maybe later” on the popup, you will be cookie’d and won’t see the popup again.

      I think it’s more than fair to ask for your email address in exchange for this premium material that you can’t find anywhere else.

      If you think that (1) all I will do is sell things to you using (2) spammy appeals, then you really need to ask yourself whether you trust me to provide you useful material.

      If you do, then sign up and you’ll get the information, and you can decide on a day-by-day basis if I’m providing value to you. As usual, about 98% of my stuff is free.

      If not, why bother signing up? Unsubscribe and be on your way, and we won’t waste each other’s time.

      I suspect that someone who complains about “spammy appeals” is probably not right for this site.

    • Again – just to clarify – I, too, agree that it’s fair to ask for our email addresses. I just think you should state WHY you’re asking for it.

      As you (probably don’t) know, I’ve been a subscriber for a long time. I go back and forth on this stuff. Among your readers, I am NOT alone in feeling like you send too many pitchy emails. Many people have complained about it.

      It is a little disheartening that, every time people complain about something, you tell us we’re not right for your site.

  9. Personally, when I get up in the morning the best thing for me to do is eat a good hearty breakfast and go work out. Whether thats going to the gym or going for a run around my neighborhood. I find that it makes my day a lot more productive.

    I try to focus on killing two birds with one stone to be more productive as well. For instance, when I go for a run, I run to a neighborhood that I am interested in buying real estate. And, it just makes it more enjoyable for me (since I enjoy and my passion is for real estate).

  10. I’ve had some success changing my behavior by using positive reinforcement to try and make myself want to do something. For example, I want to want to workout regularly – if I can make the jump from “wanting to want” to “wanting to workout”, that’s a huge behavioral change, and makes behaviors easier to accomplish and automate because they are desirable. It also effectively combats procrastination.

    It’s a slow process, but I reinforce myself positively whenever I observe that I “want to want” to workout. Eventually – after about 4 weeks of continued observations of these thoughts and subsequent rewards – I noticed that I now want to workout. I’m interested to see how long this perspective will last, but it’s been a great experiment.

    Thanks for all the work, and the call with BJ – I learned a ton last time around.

  11. I listened to this a while back. I’m going to give it another listen.

    The one point that I will never forget from this is the idea that you can convince people to do a few small things much easier than one big task (something along those lines).

    I’ve applied that tip to every single area of my life.

    No girl will ever go home with a stranger. Most will however agree to leave to grab a snack. The rest is up to you.

    Blog readers won’t just buy something from you. They will give you their email in exchange for a “free gift.” How you convert that over time is once again up to you.

  12. I think the secret to beat most procrastination is to have a system. Something that feels easy.

    For example, I’m currently writing a lesson for a course I’m running. Everything was flowing until I reached a section I wasn’t sure how to tackle. This is usually where I decide to ‘take a quick break’. Perhaps check Twitter/FB/Blog comments etc. These breaks can turn into afternoon-long sessions if I spot something that interests me.

    My system these days is to identify that temptation to check those platforms and tell myself: “ok, I’m going to make the slightest dent in this next section, perhaps just 2 paragraphs, then take a break”. I use StayFocusd to lock me out of the time-sucking platforms after 10 minutes on any one day.

    I’ve found that once I’ve made the slightest dent into something, it’s a hundred times easier to get going again than when I don’t know how to begin.

    It’s not a perfect system, I wouldn’t be writing this common right now if it was, but I don’t want a perfect system. I’m at a level of productivity I’m very happy with.

  13. This is my first comment on this blog. I appreciated the BJ Fogg interview. The baby steps interview articulated a principle I practiced many years ago. I started running for enjoyment in college (10+ years ago). I started out telling myself I would just run a bit and stop when I no longer enjoyed it, even if I only made it two blocks. As I accomplished those goals, I would start adding time in very small increments. About three years later I ran a full marathon. I had forgotten about this principle. I’m currently working on some fitness goals, and have been inconsistent, probably because the lack of immediate results discourages me.

    I have also enjoyed some of your other material. I have identified some mental barriers relating to income and responsibility and failure. I’m recognizing a need to “fail more” — to attempt the process and use the results to fine tune the work. Additionally, being aware of certain mental barriers is enlightening. It’s difficult to work through and create the baby steps and systems to overcome them if I’m not cognizant of them. I also appreciated the insight that context can change attitude — I recently have seen very personal examples of how this principle plays out. Articulation of these ideas can definitely lead to productive action.

  14. “Unconventional approaches BJ has used to help people get dream jobs, get speaking engagements, and get national recognition”

    Unconventional, BJ, dream job and national recognition should never be used in the same sentence…..

  15. Ramit – thanks for including my comment! I had forgotten about it but elements of that interview do often pop back into my head!

    I have found a way of influencing behaviour is through creating “Standard Work” and then auditing it, in a company environment, and having behaviour influence others who have trouble buying into a change process.

    Behavioural change on an individual level is more challenging but the principles are the same!

  16. Nice psycho talk. I have a Phd in accounting with a concentration in behavioral psych. We all have anchoring heuristics that dictate behavior. Changing them is not simply using some code word like should have or would have. It takes significant behavioral change in our decision making processes not just a slick blog filled with Tony Robbins football coach Rah Rah talk. Please get serious and stop wasting the most important resource everyone has … TIME. Stanford has one of the best industrial psych departments in the world. Let’s use something in the DSM and not option.

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  18. I discovered (about 12 years ago) that a huge component of my lethargy/laziness came from my diet. Once I eliminated sugar, grain, and transfats from my diet, not only did I lose 100 lbs and improve my health, but I got a boost in my physical energy and my ability to focus my mind.

    • Same here. I think it would make sense for Ramit to partner with some kind of paleo diet info resource, since he’s interested in behavior change.

  19. [...] has good solutions for students. Ramit Sethi has good solutions for earning money. But these are specific rather than general [...]

  20. Sometimes, I wonder if technology is to blame for this generation of slacktivists that we are all in. I guess, one can always think that there will be no tomorrow so they have to do their best – today. Love your insights, anyway.

  21. My father always said I was lazy when I didn’t put the screwdriver back when I was done with it. I explained to him “If I was lazy, I would have never used the screwdriver in the first place.”

    I do not have fear of success nor failure. I am a perfectionist but a minimalist so it is even. I know my work is of high quality, though my clients believe my work is of a genius.

    Unfortunately, whenever I “begin to begin” a project, I instantaneously feel the urge of “I don’t want to do this”. It’s not a fear, it is a stubbornness.

    I am an INTP with asperger’s syndrome.

    Anyone care to throw a few nuggets this way?

    • Given that you’re not lazy and have Aspergers, you’re probably experiencing anxiety produced by the mental resistance of a blossoming set of possibility trees and unprioritized actionables that you don’t know how to properly process into your digital info processing system.

      The hurdle of beginning to begin is what eliminating resistance by creating an automatic workflow is all about.

  22. I often run into this, especially when I’m working from home. What I’ve found that works for me is regular quick phone calls with others in similar situations. Kind of a HooRa! motivational check-in a couple times during the day.

    This worked so well for me that I’m building a service specifically around automated short group accountability calls. It’s called 15 Minute Calls (15minutecalls.com) and you can set-up regular quick accountability calls for yourself. Enjoy and let me know if you stop by. ;-)

  23. Hi Ramit. Your views have certainly challenged my thoughts on personal finance. I have been one of “those” bloggers who tend to focus more on the save here and there – while sometimes neglecting that the greater reward can be in creating more income.

  24. Also, I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned before, but MEASUREMENT is critical – whatever you’re trying to change! Money, health, how many emails you sent today, whatever. If you really want to get good at something, find a way to measure it and stick it in your face, so that you can’t avoid it!

  25. [...] How to Stop Being so Damn Lazy A great post for all bloggers. “It’s easy to find some jackass blogger who can write ‘TOP 10 WAYS TO INFLUENCE YOUR NETWORK!!!’ But finding someone who has a deep, thorough knowledge of academic research, plus practical persuasion is extraordinarily rare.” [...]

  26. [...] sometimes that’s true. I just wrote a blog post on laziness, because it really does hold people back. But often times, the issue isn’t a lack of ambition: [...]