April 11

Laziness is not what you think

So many people have told me that the reason they struggle to learn a new language is that they are lazy. I suspect that many readers will be nodding their heads, and be saying, “Yep, that’s me!”.  Laziness is a word we created to describe how we feel about doing something. One dictionary describes it as “…being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness…” I believe that laziness is in fact a reaction to what we are doing or thinking about doing. We may be lazy about learning a language or cleaning the house, but when a friend rings up and says, “Let’s go to the movies!” or some such thing, are we lazy then?

So don’t label yourself as lazy when you face some boring exercises. That just creates a disempowering belief about who you are and can undermine your progress not just in language learning. Instead notice your reaction and change what you do!

No one is lazy when we are thinking about how to catch up with some intriguing or beautiful person we just met at a party, or when we are pursuing a dream, or when we are playing a game that we love, and so on. This tells us that laziness is not telling us about who we are, but a lot about what we are involved in. That is why I believe there is no such thing as laziness as a character trait. Calling someone, including ourselves, lazy is not helpful at all. It is much better to see it as a sign that we are not attracted by what we are doing. You have two choices when you are are confronted by a feeling of “not wanting to do something”, or just wanting to do nothing. Assess what you are doing. Do you really want to do it, or was it just a flight of fancy that got you started?

  1. If you don’t really want to do it, then find something else that you feel attracted to.
    (In the context of cleaning your house, you may just need to reprioritise how important a clean house is to you, or imagine a person who you respect is about to come over, should you wish to change your reaction to it! 🙂 ) 
  2. If you still value the end result, namely, in the context of this blog, learning a language, then you need to change how you are going about learning.

When I was young, I remember quite distinctly that I loved learning French in year 7 & 8. I did all the homework and looked forward to the classes. In year 9 I went to a different school and was allocated to a class run by (in my opinion) a really dreadful French teacher. Within a few weeks I lost my interest and really could not get myself to pay attention in class in any meaningful way or do the homework with any quality. Needless to say my progress suffered. I am sure that the teacher considered me lazy. Was I? I don’t think that was the problem. The issue was that I had been turned off learning French.

As long as we understand that laziness is a sign for us to change (direction or strategy), it can be a very useful experience. Laziness needs to be distinguished from other feelings that may seem similar.

There is for example a difference between feeling flat and laziness. Feeling flat can happen for any number of reasons, sometimes it might be just tiredness, other times it may be a sign that we need to change what we are doing in our learning. Just have a look at a young child. They will involve themselves with something and be fully engrossed and then all of a sudden they look around for something else to do. They know they have had enough and do something else. Parents understand that kids will only go for so long with anything. So don’t label yourself lazy if you are feeling flat. That won’t help at all.

So back to the topic at hand, rather than give away learning when you are feeling flat and decide to go out with friends or some such thing, try a different tack. Watch a movie in the target language, instead of working on your speaking, for example.

Laziness is more an unwillingness to do any learning. Recognising what feelings you are having can make all the difference. Ignoring them and just deciding that it is all too hard, is not going to get you where you want to be.

If you persist in ignoring your feelings for too long, then it becomes harder to recognise them for what they are and take the necessary actions. For someone interested to tap into the enormous learning powers we have, our feelings need to be seen as guides, even as a teacher. Thus, becoming more attentive to them can help you get back in touch with the strengths we all have.

As adults, we can get stuck on behaviours even when the behaviours are no longer serving us.  Here we can include any of our behaviours in whatever area of our life. We can get stuck for any number of reasons, including if we:

  • believe that what we are doing is the way to do something.
  • think that these behaviours are in fact a reflection of who we really are.
    Our beliefs are a result of the particular circumstances of our experiences, not something that is is a reflection of who we are at our core.
  • don’t want to be different ( everyone else is doing it). 
  • don’t like discomfort – changing what we do may involve some of that

For many people, if what they are attracted to is attractive enough, they will willingly change their behaviours even if there is discomfort involved.  So one thing we can do to change our feelings towards something is we can make the end goal more attractive. However if the way to get to our goal is uninspiring, many will just eventually give up on their goal.  A powerful way to keep energised whilst we are on the path is to find ways of learning that are attractive and rewarding in their own right. 

So if you are experiencing laziness towards your language learning, don’t be despondent. Regard that as a sign that what you have been doing has not been serving you. Instead, have a good look around for ways of learning that are more engaging, rewarding fun AND engender confidence in yourself and in your ability to use the language. 



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  • So does that mean I’m not lazy, just uninspired? Still, it doesn’t sound good either, because finding inspiration for action is very difficult.

    • We tend to do those things that we “like” or are satisfying in some way. We have to push ourselves to do those things that aren’t. Simple as that.
      The same applies in learning… some ways are dreadfully boring and uninspiring. Some are the opposite.
      Is your experience different?

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