There’s no such thing as laziness. Only resistance, disinterest, and fatigue.
Think about it. The only time people use the word ‘lazy’ is when they’re trying to make you do what they want, or the ‘right thing’ – but it doesn’t mean you’re lazy, just because you won’t do what you’re told.
So what’s really going on? Why aren’t you exercising like you believe you should? Why aren’t you motivated?
Maybe you’re resistant to doing what you’re told.
Maybe obedience and compliance aren’t what they’re made out to be, and you really aren’t interested in being an active participant in your own subjugation. Maybe you’re too damned fatigued and can’t muster the energy to guilt-trip yourself anymore.
In a world where we learn at a young age we can’t take everything at face value and that the agendas of other people might not really be what’s best for us – in this world, resistance serves a purpose. It is not bad to question, to critique, to use your own better judgement, but somehow in the world of fitness we are told to just do what we’re told and good things will happen – and for some reason when it comes to fitness, we buy it. We are told disobedience is a bad thing – and maybe it is, in broader cultural terms, maybe if too many people are disobedient society as we know it will collapse, and maybe that’ll be a bad thing in the long term, and maybe not – but not doing what you’re told is the act of self-preservation and respect, when you’re up against people who will exploit your fears for profit.
And don’t think they’re in it because they care. Some people undoubtedly are, an individual may be, but we’re talking about an industry here. The reason it’s about weight-loss and some weird sort of beauty and not health – it only masquerades as health – is because they’re looking to make a buck off your insecurities.
If it really was about health, the language would be different. They wouldn’t tell you exercise is good because it makes you thin, they’d tell you exercise is good for you because exercise is good for you. That’s the truth. It’s the activity itself that does you good. Not this other thing that might happen down the track, this other thing we pin all our hopes on.
I could go on about attention spans these days, impatience and the promise of a quick fix and all that, but it’s a dull argument and again only amounts to blame-statements. It’s not helpful to think in those terms. Blame doesn’t call people to action. It only makes people feel bad about not acting.
Exercise is not entertaining though. It might be, but it might not be, and some of the best things you can do – at heart, they’re pretty mundane. I’ve been punching and kicking the air, walking, and lifting weights for years. There’s a point at which repeating the same actions ceases to be novel and entertaining, but the way you become good at a thing is through repetition. The way to make it not-boring is to invest in the activity for its own sake, and to research. You can do that online, or whatever, or you can research through training. Research your own body. Pay attention to it, be in it, and see what you learn about yourself. See if what you have been told actually matches with reality or not. There is no should – there is only what you observe.
If every time you go to the gym, it’s a constant reminder of how far you are from your goals, how much you despise your own body, you’re not going to like it. Not only will you be disinterested, that lack of energy will turn into resentment and resistance fairly quickly.
But if you can try to exercise simply for the sake of exercise, for the sake of feeling good, then the issue of disinterest slowly starts to fade. What’s important to keep you interested, to keep you enjoying your training, is not that you’re always mixing it up, keeping yourself guessing, confusing your body – no, if you do that you never give yourself a chance to develop skills and become good at anything – what actually keeps exercise interesting is if you can train for the actual benefit exercise brings – which is basically a feeling of wellbeing. Not necessarily ‘health’ in an immediate sense, but of feeling well in your body.
You need to bring yourself to training with an open mind if you’re going to like it. Abandon conception. If you try to force it, or you call yourself lazy, you’ll create resistance. If you sit back, resentful, and demand to be entertained, you will be disappointed. Bring yourself to it. But don’t believe you need to do as you’re told, don’t believe you need to work at any particular intensity or activity – and be sure to stop when it’s still fun. When you feel good.
This is of vital importance. If you always exhaust yourself, if you push it all the time, this leads to fatigue. Fatigue is not laziness. Fatigue is what happens when you believe you need to kill it every time at the gym. Fatigue also happens when you’re training really lightly, but you’re not eating enough or sleeping enough, or you’re too stressed.
Fatigue is subtle, and challenging. You might not have gone to the gym in a fortnight, but you still might be too fatigued to train properly. You might have other stuff going on in your life, that is real, that does require your energy, and training might simply deplete your precious energy that might be better used for something else.
But doesn’t training give you energy? Yes it does, but it gives you a different type of energy to what it takes. It stimulates you, but it does not necessarily – despite what the ads say – nourish you. What nourishes? Eating and sleeping. That’s about it – that and meditative activities. That’s where exercise can be nourishing, but meditative activities are seldom gruelling – at least for beginners. Vigorous exercise costs energy, and it stimulates you to feel good. But if you burn yourself out, going for a six kilometre jog and expecting to feel good at the end isn’t wise.
To use a weightlifting analogy – when you’ve done six reps of a given lift, and it’s heavy and you can’t do a seventh rep, is that laziness? Of course not. It’s fatigue. The reason you can’t do a seventh is because the muscles are fatigued, and they can’t complete it. Willing a fatigued muscle to not be fatigued simply will not work. You must rest and recover before you can do it again. In life terms, that will – from time to time – require weeks or months of recovery.
Maybe these concepts – disinterest, resistance, and fatigue – are all aspects of the same issue. If you are fatigued it will lead to disinterest. If you train when disinterested, it will lead to resistance. All these are ways of your body telling you that you need rest, and it’s when we need rest that we are most likely to accuse ourselves of laziness. You can’t motivate yourself? There’s a reason. Laziness is not a thing. Fatigue is a thing – even if you think you should be able to perform, thinking so doesn’t make it so. But laziness? I don’t buy it. Did you ever try to stop someone from doing a thing they enjoyed? Something they love? It’s not easy. People aren’t lazy. They might be resistant, they might not care, but that’s actually a different issue.
Investigate. Don’t settle with the self-blaming, recriminating statements and accept them. It’s unskilful, and it won’t help you to develop into the person you want to be.
Relax. Take time off. Try again in a week or two. Eat a lot, sleep a lot, if you can avoid working too hard, do so – if you can’t, just take a longer period of rest away from the gym, and then when you’re ready to come back – just play. Train different movement patterns, different skills. Don’t worry if you’re not as strong as you used to be. Training different things means you won’t feel like a failure if you’re not able to hit the same numbers on your bench press or whatever. Training different movement patterns and skills will give you something new – and interesting – to work on.
And so, the cure for disinterest is finding small ways to challenge yourself that are fun, but aren’t too overwhelming or intimidating. Sticking with them, and progressing on to something else when it’s right for you. Give yourself a chance to learn, a chance to plateau, and then change.
You don’t need to be disciplined, not in the conventional sense. Discipline is not a prerequisite. It is a skill that develops over time, in response to training, but it is only useful if you are grounded by something else – if you can keep your sights set on what you truly want, on what serves you. Discipline is a tool that serves your freedom, it should not be used to police your own oppression.
Even the desire to change, the desire to be free from suffering, this is a sign of self-love, of valuing yourself. You care for yourself, so you want things to be better for you. This desire does not conflict with the values and importance of self-acceptance. Accept who you are and work with what you’ve got, what you’ve really got, all the wonderful things you are, as well as the aspects you don’t like, as you try to make life better for yourself – in whatever way you can.
You might think hating and judging yourself motivates you to train, and you might fear that if you let go of that, you’ll lose your motivation and stop going to the gym – and if that’s true, it’s really important for you to do just that. Stop judging yourself, and stop going to the gym, because seriously – is that any way to live? Work on your shit. Work on what you actually need to work on – and start training again when you’re ready for it. But not because you think you need to be made better – not because you feel lousy about yourself and you wish you were different.
Exercise, training, moving your body – this stuff should be joyful, it should be the natural human expression of freedom and emotion. And if you’re doing it because you’re wishing you weren’t you, or you weren’t the way you are – you’re not practicing movement for the sake of getting better at movement – you’re trying to atone for your sins. It’ll never work, and in the long term – if you’re in the habit of hating and judging yourself, in ten years you won’t be happy – you’ll just be ten years better at hating and judging yourself and constantly needing to qualify. It simply isn’t worth it. If you feel ashamed of your body, getting thin won’t change that. The only thing you can do is work on the shame.
Do what’s helpful. The other shit – all of it – it’s not easy, but if it’s not helping you, you can let it go.
It’s simple: move for the sake of moving. Be free from prejudice and expectation, and investigate. What’s good about exercise is hidden in the exercise.
February 25: Update: I didn’t talk about disability, injury, or illness, and I kinda wish I had. I framed this post in a certain broad framework. There are other things that will stop you going to the gym of course, and fatigue is quite different from illness, though it may also be related. I currently have a problem with my left arm/shoulder, and can’t do a lot of the weightlifting that I’m used to. I also have diabetes, which led me to certain resentments at a young age which took work to resolve. But it’s also clear to me that I benefit – in life and training – from not being disabled. I am growing more aware of ableism in its many, sometimes subtle incarnations and the way ableist assumptions can manifest, and I wish to contribute to a culture where these assumptions start to fade. For those of you who haven’t read it, I adore Spoon Theory. Also, this piece about discrimination and obnoxious memes is wonderful, just bear in mind: trigger warning.