In your new book, Laziness Does Not Exist, out January 5, you say that when people hear your thesis, their reflexive response is to argue why they, personally, are lazy. Why do you think that’s the reaction?
It’s a pretty human thing to hold ourselves to a higher standard than other people. It’s really encouraged by how individualistic our world is — this idea, ingrained in all of us from a very young age, that you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a self-made person. We have both this ego, thinking we need to control everything, and also this weird low self-esteem: I suck. I could be doing better.
Although you argue laziness does not exist, you also say we should “listen to our laziness.” Why is this distinction important?
When I say laziness doesn’t exist, I mean in the way we usually use it, as a moral, personal failing. But if someone’s not getting something done that’s important to them, it’s clearly because they’re facing a ton of challenges and barriers. When we talk about feeling tired or unmotivated — those are real experiences, and they’re not moral, they’re just neutral. Usually it’s the body or brain telling us we need to stop working so hard.
Do you think there’s pressure to optimize even how we take breaks?
Absolutely. Self-care has become just another thing that you’re supposed to put on your calendar and often something you’re supposed to perform on social media. It needs to be a beautiful Instagram image, like a bath or a craft, when really it has to do with systemic change. It’s very hard to adopt a mindset of “I’m enough, I don’t need to constantly be working and being productive” if the entire world around you is pressuring you to do that.
How has the pandemic reinforced the “laziness lie,” as you call it?
It has been heartbreaking to see so many people say, “We wouldn’t be in this place if people weren’t partying, or if people would listen to the science and wear a mask.” When we actually look at the data, it’s something like 94 percent of people say they’re completely uncomfortable going out in public right now. The vast majority are adhering to guidelines really well. It’s not individuals failing or being lazy; it’s the systems that failed us. We didn’t have good contact tracing or testing early on. That fuse was lit, and now we’re all having to deal with the blast.