Accepting Your Inner Slacker

The best productivity advice I ever received was to accept my inner slacker. I believe most people overestimate how much willpower and motivation they will have when setting goals. Their inner slacker gets the best of them, and they fail to meet the perfect standards they set for themselves.

But, if you accept your inherent laziness, it’s easier to put into practice strategies that actually work.

Willpower Doesn’t Work

For example, I’ve accepted that, if I don’t have interesting books available, I will watch television or browse the internet aimlessly instead of reading. I might be able to force myself to study boring material if there is an important exam, but if the reading is for self-education I’ll pass up reading for television every time.

My first approach to solving this problem was to use willpower to encourage myself to read instead of slack. This approach failed miserably because I didn’t accept my inner slacker. It wasn’t that my inner slacker disliked reading, it was just that choosing between an unexciting book and mindless television, the latter was the path of least resistance.

Accepting my inherent laziness made the problem much easier to solve. Instead of trying to force myself to read boring books, I would choose only to read interesting books, and have them available at all times. If a book didn’t interest me, I didn’t bother trying to finish it. This strategy allowed me to finish as many as seventy books in a year.

What Would a Slacker Do?

Many people, I believe, struggle with resolutions and goals because they forget their inner slacker. They set grand plans, hoping that their willpower will carry them to the finishing line. I think it’s better to consult your inner slacker before going ahead and designing a plan that is the easiest to stick with.

For most goals, I worry less about the plan than I do about actually implementing the plan. What exercise routine I pick is less important to me than my strategy for actually sticking to the exercise plan. If I come up with a new business project, I focus more on completing the details of the project than the project itself.

Once you accept your inherent laziness, moving forward on goals is far easier. You completely skip the step of chastising yourself for laziness and the added step of promising to be better in the future. Instead, you work to find strategies that complement your slacker tendencies and allow you to get work finished without relying on willpower or motivation.

Create the Path of Least Resistance

In 95% of cases, I follow the line of least resistance. If you consider the other 5% of shining examples of willpower as a statistic anomaly, then my behavior is pretty consistently lazy.

People remember their lives in a self-serving way. So we are more likely to remember the one or two moments of particular endurance and discipline than the moments of lazy routine. We remember the time we exercised five days in a row, not the weeks we took off in-between. As a result, many people view their lives through the 5% of willpower cases and not the 95% of habitual laziness.

If you accept the 95% as the norm, however, you can change your strategy. Instead of relying on your scarce willpower for every occasion, you can make the goal itself the line of least resistance.

Here are just a few ways you can create that line of least resistance:

  • Make it routine. Breaking routine requires willpower, so change the routine itself.
  • Remove temptations. Unplug internet, unsubscribe from television, purge cupboards of unhealthy foods. If you’re too lazy to resist temptation, just delete it from your life.
  • Start slowly. If you want to study more, work harder or change your life, do it one block at a time. A slacker can deal with one adjustment, but not twenty.

Befriending Your Inner Slacker

The best way to behave starts by accepting who you are, not just an idealized version of yourself. You aren’t your inner slacker. You have moments of willpower, discipline and motivation which break the line of least resistance. But everyone has their inner slacker, and unless you partner with them, that inherent laziness will always sabotage your goals.

  • Niko

    I agree to this, especially to your book reading example. This year I have been trying to learn German which I studied at school years ago. Lately it has been hard and I have had to force myself to do that. This week I decided to give it a break. Why should I do something that I do not enjoy and do not have to?

    Two reasons the learning had become a chore. First, I had not enough of motivation. I have not truly needed the language even if it would be nice or possibly beneficial to be able to master it. But no obvious prize there!

    Secondly, I used my old schoolbooks and it had become tedious. Always the same, boring.

    So now I am going to take some time off from that, then first figure out new and more interesting ways to learn the language and find motivating reasons to put the effort in. And if I don’t find them, I quit doing the task.

  • Steve

    Scott, your blog looks fantastic! I love this post, because it overlooks a very subtle but powerful principle of change. That is, we have to be honest about ourselves about the inner road blocks we have to change. When we can be honest about those, but also remind ourselves of the benefits of moving ahead, we are in a much better place to move forward.

  • Adelaide DJ

    i think it’s important to have a stragety that is able to predict what factors are going to prevent you from achieving your goals and put counter measures in place, reward & punishment, e.g. i just started running recently but it’s only because i have others to go running with and we keep each other accountable, if it was just me going by myself it wouldn’t be enough, the strategy is to have an accountability buddy twitter(at)locspoc

  • Nacie Carson

    This post was really interesting – thanks so much for sharing!

  • Ron

    Interesting way of looking at it Scott.

    “…many people view their lives through the 5% of willpower cases and not the 95% of habitual laziness.”

    That statement alone is a cold morning shower of reality for me personally. My favorite suggestion is killing the temptation all together. I’m the kind of guy that, if it’s there, I’ll eat it. Hence I prefer not to even bother purchasing anything unhealthy in the first place.

  • Markus

    Hey scott,

    I tried to access the archieves on your site, but the page doesn’t load. I’m not sure why.

    Regards Markus

  • Daryl Furuyama

    Good points. Ignoring the parts of your personality that you do not like allows them to manifest. It’s best to acknowledge them and make a plan to deal with their effect.