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robertogreco : kimberlylonghofer   1

Laziness Does Not Exist – Devon Price – Medium
"I’ve been a psychology professor since 2012. In the past six years, I’ve witnessed students of all ages procrastinate on papers, skip presentation days, miss assignments, and let due dates fly by. I’ve seen promising prospective grad students fail to get applications in on time; I’ve watched PhD candidates take months or years revising a single dissertation draft; I once had a student who enrolled in the same class of mine two semesters in a row, and never turned in anything either time.

I don’t think laziness was ever at fault.

Ever.

In fact, I don’t believe that laziness exists.



I’m a social psychologist, so I’m interested primarily in the situational and contextual factors that drive human behavior. When you’re seeking to predict or explain a person’s actions, looking at the social norms, and the person’s context, is usually a pretty safe bet. Situational constraints typically predict behavior far better than personality, intelligence, or other individual-level traits.

So when I see a student failing to complete assignments, missing deadlines, or not delivering results in other aspects of their life, I’m moved to ask: what are the situational factors holding this student back? What needs are currently not being met? And, when it comes to behavioral “laziness”, I’m especially moved to ask: what are the barriers to action that I can’t see?

There are always barriers. Recognizing those barriers— and viewing them as legitimate — is often the first step to breaking “lazy” behavior patterns.



It’s really helpful to respond to a person’s ineffective behavior with curiosity rather than judgment. I learned this from a friend of mine, the writer and activist Kimberly Longhofer (who publishes under Mik Everett). Kim is passionate about the acceptance and accommodation of disabled people and homeless people. Their writing about both subjects is some of the most illuminating, bias-busting work I’ve ever encountered. Part of that is because Kim is brilliant, but it’s also because at various points in their life, Kim has been both disabled and homeless.

Kim is the person who taught me that judging a homeless person for wanting to buy alcohol or cigarettes is utter folly. When you’re homeless, the nights are cold, the world is unfriendly, and everything is painfully uncomfortable. Whether you’re sleeping under a bridge, in a tent, or at a shelter, it’s hard to rest easy. You are likely to have injuries or chronic conditions that bother you persistently, and little access to medical care to deal with it. You probably don’t have much healthy food.

In that chronically uncomfortable, over-stimulating context, needing a drink or some cigarettes makes fucking sense. As Kim explained to me, if you’re laying out in the freezing cold, drinking some alcohol may be the only way to warm up and get to sleep. If you’re under-nourished, a few smokes may be the only thing that kills the hunger pangs. And if you’re dealing with all this while also fighting an addiction, then yes, sometimes you just need to score whatever will make the withdrawal symptoms go away, so you can survive.


[image of cover of "Self-Published Kindling: The Memoirs of a Homeless Bookstore Owner," by Mik Everett with caption "Kim’s incredible book about their experiences being homeless while running a bookstore."]

Few people who haven’t been homeless think this way. They want to moralize the decisions of poor people, perhaps to comfort themselves about the injustices of the world. For many, it’s easier to think homeless people are, in part, responsible for their suffering than it is to acknowledge the situational factors.

And when you don’t fully understand a person’s context — what it feels like to be them every day, all the small annoyances and major traumas that define their life — it’s easy to impose abstract, rigid expectations on a person’s behavior. All homeless people should put down the bottle and get to work. Never mind that most of them have mental health symptoms and physical ailments, and are fighting constantly to be recognized as human. Never mind that they are unable to get a good night’s rest or a nourishing meal for weeks or months on end. Never mind that even in my comfortable, easy life, I can’t go a few days without craving a drink or making an irresponsible purchase. They have to do better.

But they’re already doing the best they can. I’ve known homeless people who worked full-time jobs, and who devoted themselves to the care of other people in their communities. A lot of homeless people have to navigate bureaucracies constantly, interfacing with social workers, case workers, police officers, shelter staff, Medicaid staff, and a slew of charities both well-meaning and condescending. It’s a lot of fucking work to be homeless. And when a homeless or poor person runs out of steam and makes a “bad decision”, there’s a damn good reason for it.

If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context. It’s that simple. I’m so grateful to Kim and their writing for making me aware of this fact. No psychology class, at any level, taught me that. But now that it is a lens that I have, I find myself applying it to all kinds of behaviors that are mistaken for signs of moral failure — and I’ve yet to find one that can’t be explained and empathized with.



Let’s look at a sign of academic “laziness” that I believe is anything but: procrastination.

People love to blame procrastinators for their behavior. Putting off work sure looks lazy, to an untrained eye. Even the people who are actively doing the procrastinating can mistake their behavior for laziness. You’re supposed to be doing something, and you’re not doing it — that’s a moral failure right? That means you’re weak-willed, unmotivated, and lazy, doesn’t it?

For decades, psychological research has been able to explain procrastination as a functioning problem, not a consequence of laziness. When a person fails to begin a project that they care about, it’s typically due to either a) anxiety about their attempts not being “good enough” or b) confusion about what the first steps of the task are. Not laziness. In fact, procrastination is more likely when the task is meaningful and the individual cares about doing it well.

When you’re paralyzed with fear of failure, or you don’t even know how to begin a massive, complicated undertaking, it’s damn hard to get shit done. It has nothing to do with desire, motivation, or moral upstandingness. Procastinators can will themselves to work for hours; they can sit in front of a blank word document, doing nothing else, and torture themselves; they can pile on the guilt again and again — none of it makes initiating the task any easier. In fact, their desire to get the damn thing done may worsen their stress and make starting the task harder.

The solution, instead, is to look for what is holding the procrastinator back. If anxiety is the major barrier, the procrastinator actually needs to walk away from the computer/book/word document and engage in a relaxing activity. Being branded “lazy” by other people is likely to lead to the exact opposite behavior.

Often, though, the barrier is that procrastinators have executive functioning challenges — they struggle to divide a large responsibility into a series of discrete, specific, and ordered tasks. Here’s an example of executive functioning in action: I completed my dissertation (from proposal to data collection to final defense) in a little over a year. I was able to write my dissertation pretty easily and quickly because I knew that I had to a) compile research on the topic, b) outline the paper, c) schedule regular writing periods, and d) chip away at the paper, section by section, day by day, according to a schedule I had pre-determined.

Nobody had to teach me to slice up tasks like that. And nobody had to force me to adhere to my schedule. Accomplishing tasks like this is consistent with how my analytical, hyper-focused, Autistic little brain works. Most people don’t have that ease. They need an external structure to keep them writing — regular writing group meetings with friends, for example — and deadlines set by someone else. When faced with a major, massive project, most people want advice for how to divide it into smaller tasks, and a timeline for completion. In order to track progress, most people require organizational tools, such as a to-do list, calendar, datebook, or syllabus.

Needing or benefiting from such things doesn’t make a person lazy. It just means they have needs. The more we embrace that, the more we can help people thrive.



I had a student who was skipping class. Sometimes I’d see her lingering near the building, right before class was about to start, looking tired. Class would start, and she wouldn’t show up. When she was present in class, she was a bit withdrawn; she sat in the back of the room, eyes down, energy low. She contributed during small group work, but never talked during larger class discussions.

A lot of my colleagues would look at this student and think she was lazy, disorganized, or apathetic. I know this because I’ve heard how they talk about under-performing students. There’s often rage and resentment in their words and tone — why won’t this student take my class seriously? Why won’t they make me feel important, interesting, smart?

But my class had a unit on mental health stigma. It’s a passion of mine, because I’m a neuroatypical psychologist. I know how unfair my field is to people like me. The class & I talked about the unfair judgments people levy against those with mental illness; how depression is interpreted as laziness, how mood swings are framed as manipulative, how people with “severe” mental illnesses are … [more]
devonprice  2018  laziness  procrastination  psychology  mikeverett  kimberlylonghofer  teaching  howweteach  howwelearn  learning  mentalhealth  executivefunctioning  neurodiversity  discrimination  stress  anxiety  trauma  colleges  universities  academia  unschooling  deschooling  depression  mentalillness 
december 2018 by robertogreco

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