The Vice and Virtue of Laziness

I spend much of my time trying not to be lazy.

I’m writing this blog post when I could be asleep. I study statistics material for my A.I. even when I don’t feel like it. I go to work every day. None of this is anything special. We’re all familiar with this daily battle against laziness.

So we often see it as the enemy. It’s even listed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth.

But laziness can be a good thing, too. If necessity is the mother of invention, laziness is surely the father. How many machines have been created, how much software written, because somebody got tired of working and wanted an easier way?

The perfectly disciplined swordsman loses to the lazy warrior who invents a gun.

On a personal level, this means that self-discipline is…complicated. If I don’t feel like practicing Spanish on Duolingo, it generally means I should suck it up and do it anyway. But if I find myself getting lazy about Spanish practice all the time, perhaps that’s a signal I should be doing something else. After all, laziness evolved for a reason: to keep us from expending energy on tasks that don’t feel valuable.

(Not that I’m quitting Duolingo, by the way. It’s still fun. That was just a hypothetical.)

Laziness isn’t the only thing to manifest this vice/virtue duality. As I’ve said before, even vagueness can be a good thing.

The key, as in so many areas of life, is balance.

When you’re feeling lazy, how do you know whether to fight it or embrace it?


5 responses to “The Vice and Virtue of Laziness

  1. My laziness seems to come from a number of causes:
    (1) I have something I would rather do, such as read more of a great book;
    (2) I do not want to start the task;
    (3) I do not want to do the task at all.

    I am lazy or dedicated depending on which of these it is, and what the consequences are of not doing it now: I know that if I start writing I will probably write a reasonable chunk without effort so I fight against not writing because it is starting not doing that makes me put it off; conversely I never enjoy scrubbing the bath so will happily put it off a few days because a few extra days does not make it much harder to clean.

  2. I find that creativity requires periods of downtime and periods of fierce activity. While I’m all about the discipline of writing (1K words a day, three blog posts a week, etc.) I also understand that my body and my mind need periods of inactivity in order to perform leaps of intuition or make new connections. Laziness is often simply my body telling me my mind needs a break. Sloth may be one of the seven deadly sins, but The Bible also talks about the need for rest, hence the sabbath. It may not be feasible in today’s society to take an entire day of rest, and creative laziness tends to resist scheduling, but downtime is not always a bad thing.

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