5 kinds of laziness

Dalai Lama

I recently read a quote by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on 3 types of laziness. I could have accepted that these are fixed, or I can resist the laziness of passive thinking, and challenge with a fourth and a fifth. So to all you idlers out there….


The “classic” view of laziness, the wish to procrastinate. In Ireland we use the word “dosser” to describe someone who is uselessly lazy. It derives from the French word for “back” ( le dos) referring to the inordinate amount of time such people spend lying down. Leaving the dishes in the sink and the laundry on the floor. Ordering take-away instead of cooking a proper meal. Letting the lawn go to seed for want of a trim. Wearing a creased shirt instead of rooting out the ironing board. Indolence is the most obvious and visible aspect of laziness. Many think that this is where laziness begins and ends.



Why Don’t You – Yes But” occupies a special place in game analysis, because it was the original stimulus for the concept of games, as revealed by Eric Berne in his groundbreaking book on transactional analysis (TA) “Games People Play”. It was the first game dissected out of its social context, andit is one of the best understood. It is also the game most commonly played at parties and groups of all kinds, including psychotherapy groups. The following example will serve to illustrate its main characteristics:
White: “I tried putting up shelves, but I’m not handy, and I can’t get anything right.”
Black: “Why don’t you take a course in carpentry?”
White: “Yes, but that’s expensive.”
Blue: “Why don’t we buy you a course for your birthday?”
White: “Yes, but I really don’t have the time, what with work pressures.”
Red: “Why don’t you have your shelves done by a carpenter?
White: “Yes, but that would cost too much.”
Brown” “Why don’t you just buy one of those flat packs at it and see how it goes?”
White: “Yes, but the whole thing might fall down.”
Such an exchange in typically followed by a silence. It is eventually broken by Green, who may say something like, “Well, with small kids around I guess you have to be careful.”

White wins the game. The group have tried, and failed, to drag him out of the funk of self-doubt which is preventing him from moving forward. How many people live their lives thinking “what if”? What if I wrote a novel, formed a band, studied harder, went for a better job etc only to play the game of “Why don’t you – yes but” and defeat themselves. Dream big – then Do big. If you don’t reach for your dreams and do something about them, you are just lazy! Lazy with self-doubt.


Tall Poppy Syndrome is one manifestation of negativity. Negative and small minded people cannot appreciate those who have genuine merit, and seek to undermine their personality and achivements. In the workplace if you hear colleagues grumble about a high riser, saying things like “who does she think she is” or “he thinks he is so special” then don’t be lazy and join in with them, or stay silent on the sideline. Challenge negative thinking openly.

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This quote is especially true of those who are grading you, be it in school, college or work. If you want great reviews in the workplace make sure you work for great bosses. Mediocre bosses will never have the confidence to give you a high score.

Another negative manifestation is the person I call the “sniper in the trench”. You have a workshop to improve things in the business. One person remains on the sideline while you brainstorm for ideas, and craft them into a strategy. Then, when all the work is concluding they fire their bullet to kill the idea. It is often along the lines of “we tried that before and it didn’t work”. The way to deal with this class of lazy thinking is to identify it as stale. “That was then, this is now” or “this is our best idea until you come up with a better one.”  Then put the negative person right on the spot. “It’s great to have someone on the team who has seen this fail before, because you can identify the causes of failure for us, and we can address them up front!”

The oppositie of negativity is positive reinforcement. Telling others what they did well, or congratulating them on a job well done. The power of positive reinforcement as an agent of productive change simply cannot be underestimated.

Passive thinking

Another form of laziness is the failure to question the norms and mores in your environment. Passive thinking is the acceptance that “this is how things are, and how they always have been, so just accept it.” One manifestation of this is doing “what you are told” by an authority figure, when you know it is wrong. Famously revealed in the Milgram experiment, but also seen in some of the Westinghouse Bank Wiring Room experiements and in the Stanford Prison experiment. Passive thinking is what gives us holocausts, genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, pogroms, religious wars, sexism, and a plethora of other horrific behaviours.

As a market researcher I am all too aware of the lazy thinking of managers who seek self-justifying results for their deeply held opinions or their past decisions. In simple terms people frequently only hear what they want to hear. The most important part of my job is to ensure they hear ALL of what is being said, and not just the parts that favour their strategy.

A modern example of passive thinking is “Google” research. As a lecturer I have often set traps for my students, by introducing variables into projects where I know that a lazy Google search will lead the students in the wrong direction. The trap is easily avoided where a student uses reference checks or follows multiple searches. One example might be the origin of the word “NYLON”. There is a pervasive urban myth that it is derived from the words “New York & LONdon”. In fact it is a corruption of the term “No-Run”, a term which could not be trademarked and protected.

Snopes.com is at the forefront of combating passive internet searches by identifying fake urban myths. However, they have recently created some urban myths themselves, such as the US state which banned decimals and fractions from school exams. The creation of these myths was done by Snopes to highlight the danger of relying on any single source.


I abhor the rudeness of people who will not respond because “they are too busy”. They are not too busy, they are too lazy. Good manners are the lubricant of society. It has been my experience that the best of leaders and managers will always find the time to respond, regardless of how busy they are.
There are many people in the world who use martyrdom as an excuse for laziness. To my mind it sits comfortably with rudeness.

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated: and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man’s soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuff-box empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life
from “An Apology for Idlers” R.L. Stephenson


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