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How To Beat Laziness

How To Beat Laziness

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Question:

How do I get over my laziness? I keep wasting a lot of time sitting around doing nothing and regret it afterward.

Response:

Asking for a strategy to overcome laziness means you believe it's possible to beat it. And you're right. Any negative character trait can be beaten. But first, it helps to understand where laziness comes from.

In Shaar HaKedusha, Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that we all have two souls. One is the divine image within us, the seat of our creativity, intellect, and sensitivity to holiness. The second one is an organic, metabolic soul—sometimes called the animal soul—that powers our bodily functions and drives. This is where we need to focus.

Like everything in our world, Rabbi Vital explains, this animal soul comprises four primary natures: the nature of fire, of wind, of water, and of earth. Each animal soul carries a unique composition of these elements – and so the unique character traits each person grapples with in life.

Laziness is earthy. After all, dirt is heavier than fire, air, and water. It drifts to the bottom of things and gets kicked around beneath our feet. Like depression (also earthy stuff), laziness is characterized by a sense of heaviness and lowliness. That's one of the reasons laziness is so hazardous, because it's right next door to depression and can slip you in there very easily.

Yet as heavy or overwhelming as laziness might get, it still remains a manageable trait. It's just soul dirt, after all, and like any dirt, you can get up and shake it off any time you want.

In chapter 41 of his classic work, the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi offers a guided contemplation for laziness-busting:

First think of how G‑d is truly great, a masterful king over all the worlds He created. He is found within all things and yet is beyond them all, so that for Him, all is the same, all is equal. Now think of how He nevertheless brushes that all aside to focus on us little people down here on this speck-of-dust planet and on you in particular. Yes, you, because the Mishnah says that every person is not only permitted, but must say, "For my sake, the world was created." Meaning that this entire universe is waiting for you to get your act together and fix it up—because that's what it was created for.

In other words, G‑d put you here for a particular mission that only you can do and upon which everything depends. Who has time to be lazy?

So important is the contemplation, that the Rebbe advised people to learn it by heart1 so they could easily review it on a regular basis. Especially at those times when the couch is tugging you extra hard.

Footnotes
1.

Igrot Kodesh - Vol. 18, p. 106.

All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Anonymous March 8, 2014

Though I admire your very different point of view I found this to be utterly useless in terms of finding a solution ......possibly you too have procrastination issues there for write very long winded elaborate unhelpful answers to a simple question...? Reply

Leonard Goff Los Angeles, CA August 15, 2012

Then can you please explain how some of the most earthy/materialistic people are often some of the most un-lazy, creative, productive,etc. etc. people? Reply

Rorik Rorikstad, Skyrim June 5, 2012

This didn't help a bit. I am a man of science and this thing didn't work for me at all. I was looking for a tip or a solution that's more logical...and real. Cool article thou. Nice way to see things from different perspective. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA June 17, 2011

water in our human traits. I think the only way to get rid of the heaviness of the dirt is to try to become more like one of those other three. Reply

liat chaye sara johanesburg, south africa May 18, 2011

after reading this i, liat have renewed energy, strength and emunah to go about my daily life knowing that if hashem can focus his attention on me, all the more so must i, liat , stop being lazy and spend time working on myself, my middot and mitzvot. i would like to thank the rebbe for teaching me these wise words and i will heed his advice and learn this teaching off by heart! may the 3rd beit hamikdash be built speedily in our days, amen selah! Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, Ca, USA April 8, 2011

What a tremendously creative way to view laziness. Hahaha. I am so very laughing right now. This is me, after all. Hahaha. You should see my apartment. I have so much to do that it overwhelms me, and I get too tired to do even one thing. Hahaha. You are so FUNNY! At first, when you mentioned the fire, etc., I thought of the children's game, rock, paper, scissors, etc. But, this is not a subject for children. It's very appropriate for adults! Thanks for this response. I hope I'll remember it and it will help me get up and clean up around here. Yes, I have arthritis pains and it hurts to walk, and I use a walker, but I am not dead yet. I can still do stuff. Reply

Tzivia somewhere in, Ontario December 30, 2010

I think that one point that hasn't been touched on is that fear, or the need for perfection, can underlie what we perceive as laziness or procrastination.

All of the above comments and tips are useful (and the article itself does offer an important message), but I think there are other things that the perpetually lazy need to consider. What are you afraid of? Why are you procrastinating? Are you scared that you're in the wrong place with your life or that you've made a series of wrong decisions? Perhaps you feel that you can never be 'perfect', so why bother trying?

I know that I personally am dealing with the issue of 'laziness'. As a PhD student, I can't afford to be lazy...but I know that fear (of many things) is at the root of it...

If only everyone had a Jewish mentor they could turn to for advice on how to deal with such issues (as well as the larger root of the problem)... Reply

Mark R Reston, VA December 23, 2010

In my case, if I'm relaxing a bit too much, to the point that I'm getting uncomfortable or bored, that feeling will almost automatically cause me to start doing something. It's like food; when you're not eating enough, you'll automatically be hungry and will seek for food; it's not a moral issue but just a simple physical reaction. I guess for that reason, I don't feel any guilt for occasionally being a little lazy (or relaxed, etc). Maybe it works differently for other people. Reply

Sara in Alexandria alexandria, va September 26, 2010

A wonderful commentary by Yehuda Shurpin, so characteristic of the wisdom found on this website! And the comments from the readers also contribute to the reflection begun by Yehuda, in response to a very universal problem! Imagine a world where most of the individuals were as thoughtful and intelligent, as those who contributed here, rather than where we currently find ourselves in this world! Perhaps it is within my mission to go forth and share the wisdom of Chabad. G-d bless each of you! Reply

jacob Bogota, Colombia September 21, 2010

So, dont you get it my dear friend?
At the end the important thing is that your life , our lives had been created with a divine purporse so important that "for our sake the world was created". In such a deep perspective there is no time for laziness, it would be a very foolish thing to waste the potential of your life just "doing nothing". So please think again and undestand the responsibility of just having the priviliege to be alive! realise your true potential, all the blessings you recieved from heaven and that's it. Reply

danny london September 4, 2010

no offence but i didn't see any real advice about how to beat laziness. he just said that laziness comes from 1/8 of your soul and that we have a responsibility to not be lazy. i think the person asking the question was looking for something more like "go to bed and wake up at a set time and stick to it even if you're not tired or exhausted" or "eat a low GI diet to stop your blood sugar levels from slumping" or "get decent exercise regularly" or "go and get diagnosed for depression as that also causes laziness" AND "all the while, don't hate yourself for your situation. keep your head up and stick at it". not every answer has to be something unknowable and mystical and as G-D created the laws of nature, science (psychology) does have its place. Reply

natasha August 28, 2010

Yip yip yip SO TRUE. I am a taurus, the earth sign and boy can go through spells of laziness/ depression if I am not careful. I need to always be in a stimulating environment and stick to a disciplined life. I also make sure that I complete at least x number of things on my to do list every day. otherwise hello bed, hello endless snacking, bye bye life! Reply

Marny Vista, CA/USA August 18, 2010

One day I decided to relax ... all day.

When my husband came home he could see on my face that I had been relaxing.

It was the first time I actually achieved that 'feeling' and thought I would do it again the next day. However, it didn't work and still hasn't since then. There is a huge difference between truly relaxing and procrastinating.

My husband reminded me that when I say "I did nothing all day" that I really had done something very important. I knew he was right.

I actually felt so close to G-d during that precious time. Reply

Anonymous cincinnati, ohio USA August 9, 2010

does everything depend on me?? that feels like pressure. I know I can do it. But if i can't accomplish it there will be some one else to pick up the slack. maybe I am taking things out of context. Moshiach is coming with me or without me. Reply

Aharon Dovid Portland, Oregon August 9, 2010

Goals are good. Now go beyond them and light up your inner fire; the fire deep within your authentic core. This is the place of your true self and here your mission is written. Now go visualize creating your future pathway in detail, always being true to yoursel, and drench it in emotion. Reply

Anonymous Boston, MA August 8, 2010

Sometimes what looks like laziness is really need to rest or to have time to reflect so one can be more productive. G-d has blessed each of us with different levels of energy and different needs for rest. I made a mistake this past year trying to be useful and productive all the time; I found myself accomplishing less. Now, I let myself spend more time reflecting and relaxing and find I am able to do more. Reply

john smith fort lauderdale, fl August 7, 2010

i was told a long time ago to write down on a piece of paper things that are needed and required in our daily lives that need to be done. it can be daily or weekly or monthly or yearly but for laziness concerns it's best to stay in the daily or weekly and not get too ahead of yourselves. periodically check the list until all things are accomplished on your list. although need and want are very different there are still things in our daily life that should be done. we honestly only need to eat, drink, breathe and sleep to exist on this planet. the rest is up to you. if these 4 things are all you want in life, i would add prayer as well. Reply

Anonymous Westmont, NJ August 6, 2010

Set a must do, should do and could do goal for each day (include torah study, helping around the house, contacting family/ friends just because, etc.. eg: must study 20min/day, should study 40min/ day, could study 1hr/ day; must help spouse/ parents, etc with one thing/ day, should help for 30 min/ day, could help for 1hr/ day; must say hello to one friend/ family perday, should.... etc)
Accomplishing something everyday is very important, and keeping such a goal allows you to grow outwards from there, further down the path decreasing and refining laziness more and more...
TV also drags people down.. also get involved with something in the community! (must help with one community project/ wk, should help with 2, could lead one and help with another) Reply