What’s Really Happening When You Think You Are Lazy

Today’s guest post is by Johannah Bogart.

I work with writers who get stuck while finishing their books. They explain it away by saying they are lazy. If they would just stop being lazy, according to them, they’d finish the book.

I don’t believe laziness exists. It is a label that shields us from our fears. With one client** I had, calling herself lazy was protecting her from having to face traumatic scenes from her marriage she knew she would be writing about.

With another, this mask of laziness was protecting her from facing another potential failure. She had already written a book that did not garner the reception she expected. Now, halfway through her second book, she thought her lack of motivation to finish meant she was lazy.

In a session, I asked her to sit quietly with herself and ask the question: “What does my laziness want for me that is positive?”
The client responded that her laziness wanted her to avoid being disappointed again. It wanted to protect her identity as being a good writer, which already felt partially taken from her.

When she realized that her laziness just wanted to protect her from pain, she could thank it for being there. Then, from a place of awareness, she could see that protecting herself from pain also meant protecting herself from her passion: writing.

Fear of Failure

When this client peeled back the label of being lazy, she was faced with a bigger truth—she was scared of failure. The past had shown her that she wasn’t the writer she thought she was. She was protecting herself from future disappointment.

“Lazy” is an appealing label because it makes us feel like we are being authentic without having to acknowledge the strength of our fears. I hear clients respond, “I’m just lazy,” not with exasperation but relief. Being lazy means you’re saying “I could, but I don’t feel like it.” If you admit you’re scared, you’re saying, “What if I actually can’t?”

But when writers move past the lazy label and encounter their fear of failure, they discover that their ideas, desire, and flow are still there. They have not lost their passion for writing, and their book is not actually bad. Their fear is evidence that they care. From that awareness, writers can acknowledge their fears without being swallowed by them.

If you find yourself identifying as “lazy” or avoiding your manuscript, try this exercise:

  1. Take a moment to breathe in deeply. Feel of your shoulders and stomach relax. Release tension in your jaw and forehead.
  2. Fully immerse your mind in the thoughts about laziness. Imagine a specific scenario playing out in which you think you should be writing and are baffled that you are not.
  3. Feel the place in your body where you experience labeling yourself as lazy. Breathe into this part of your body where that reaction is strongest. Ask that experience of laziness: what do you want for me that is positive?
  4. Write down the answer. Ask again. Write down more answers that come.
  5. Thank your laziness for trying to help you, however that may be protecting you from your fears, keeping you from overworking yourself, helping you avoid disappointment, etc.
  6. Now, as you acknowledge that this laziness has been working to help you, give yourself a new diagnosis. Are you scared of feeling like a failure? Are you sad that this book is going to end, and it’ll be out in the world? Are you worried you’re going to find out that you’re not the writer you’ve imagined you were in your head? Do you actually not have time to prioritize this book right now? Write that diagnosis out.
  7. You’re going to make a mantra for yourself. It will positively affirm you in a way that contradicts the old diagnoses.
    For example, if you’re scared of failing, your mantra might be: “My writing is a success.” If you’re worried you’re not really a writer, it could be: “I am already a writer. Nothing can take that from me.”

Other possible mantras:

  • My writing has value.
  • I write because it brings me joy.
  • No one else can decide whether or not I am a writer. That’s my job.
  • The world needs my voice.
  • I have plenty of time to finish this book.*
  • Writing is my business. What people think of my writing is their business.

*This one seems counterintuitive. If someone has plenty of time, won’t that encourage them to put off writing until tomorrow and end up becoming … lazy? Thinking we are almost out of time triggers anxiety. We become scared that we aren’t putting in enough time each day, that we won’t be able to make necessary edits, and before you know it, we decide we’ve already failed.

Having plenty of time does not create laziness—it creates enough space for creativity and flow to come in. Laziness comes from a place of fear; slowing down while writing a book comes from a place of trust (the antidote to fear).

Once you have landed on a mantra that works for you, copy it onto a sticky note next to your writing space. It’s okay if you don’t believe the mantra now; trust that you will. Begin each writing session by writing the mantra a couple of times. If you have been stuck in a bout of “laziness” for a while, write the mantra without actually writing afterward. Do this every day until you cannot resist the urge to write a little bit after you have written your mantra.

If that old feeling of laziness comes up, thank it for how hard it works to protect you from pain. Write down the fear that laziness is protecting you from and then follow it up with your mantra.

Start now by writing your mantra on a sticky note and putting it next to your writing station. The world needs your voice.
**All identifying features have been changed to protect clients.

Johannah Bogart is a private coach living in Mexico who helps creatives prepare to launch their art into the world. She has worked with writers in more than ten countries. Her clients finish their manuscripts, publish their books, and find peace in the midst of anxiety. She lives in Mexico. Visit Johannah at her website, or send her an email to let her know what this exercise does for you.

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  1. Thank you for this timely and encouraging post. When I get stuck on a project and set it aside for a day or two, I tell myself that I’m lazy and unimaginative. The truth is that I’m steeped in fear that what I write won’t be good enough.

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