Lazy, executive dysfunction, and mental resistance
mental health

Mental Health Monday: Why You Aren’t Lazy When You Feel “Stuck”

You know that feeling where you have something you want to do or need to do, but when you think about actually doing the thing, you just feel…stuck?

Yeah, that more or less describes my whole life, and for a long time I assumed it just meant I was lazy, but it turns out there’s so much more to it.

What Is Executive Dysfunction?

One reason we tend to get stuck is something called “executive dysfunction,” which happens when our brain gets stuck on one of the steps to making the thing happen. Executive dysfunction can interrupt all kinds of activities, no matter how mundane.

For instance, maybe you need to take a shower, but when you started thinking about what you would wear after, you couldn’t decide or started thinking about how badly laundry needs done, or started worrying about your weight or body image, and all the sudden you just can’t shower. You want to. It would be easy. But you’re stuck.

Executive dysfunction is the worst, and odds are high that you’re experiencing it even more than normal right now with the quarantine. Executive dysfunction is a symptom of ADHD, depression, and many other disorders, but it also goes hand in hand with trauma, and we are living in a very traumatizing time. The disruption in routine, the not knowing when this will end and how many lives will be lost in the process- it is all incredibly scary.

Meanwhile, you’re just sitting there, trying to take a shower. It sounds simple, but the pressures of daily life right now are uniquely terrible, and executive dysfunction may be really disrupting your life right now.

What Is Mental Resistance?

There is also a similar but slightly different phenomenon that may be keeping you from doing things right now, called “mental resistance.” Unlike executive dysfunction, which can happen with any activity, mental resistance is most common with activities you don’t necessarily do very often.

If you’re trying to use this time stuck at home to learn a new skill or finally implement that yoga routine you’ve been trying to get into for years, you might still be struggling, despite all the extra time at home. And it’s all because of mental resistance.

Mental resistance is the stuck feeling that tries to keep us safe in our normal patterns, preventing us from deviating from routine, even if it’s to do something positive, like meditate or draw. Anything deviating from routine is seen as a threat because it’s different. Our brain tries to protect us from this different activity by keeping us stuck in our normal routines instead. To learn more about mental resistance and what you can do about it, check out my most recent post on HealthyPlace: Overcoming Mental Resistance in Quarantine.

What Is Laziness?

If you are experiencing these things right now, I want you to know that you aren’t lazy. Laziness is different. Being lazy is when you know you need to do something, but you just don’t feel like it right now. You aren’t stuck, you aren’t anxious or zoning out, you aren’t confined to your routine, you’re just not doing that thing right now because…you don’t wanna.

You might be thinking “Okay, but if laziness doesn’t involve anxiety, then I’m never lazy, and that can’t be true.”

Or can it??

The truth is, in a capitalistic society, constant productivity from the working class is absolutely essential. But obviously it isn’t realistic to be constantly producing. People get sick, they get tired, they deal with societal trauma like a global freaking pandemic. But under capitalism, it’s impossible to say it’s okay for some people to take breaks, to not be productive for a bit. So instead, our society trains us to believe that any time we aren’t creating, we are being “lazy.” Instead of dealing with executive dysfunction and mental resistance caused by burnout and trauma (which are also often linked to capitalism), we tell people they are being lazy in order to shame them. To make an example out of them for the other workers. See, this one is Bad. You don’t want to be Bad, right? Good, now keep working.

Think about it: what do you gain by calling yourself lazy when you’re not being productive? Does it help you feel better? Does it help you get back to work? Does it do anything at all for you? Probably not. I know it doesn’t make a lick of difference for me. All it does is make me feel worse and start generalizing about how I must be bad as a person.

Removing “Lazy” From Your Lexicon of Shame

Letting go of the word “lazy” feels wrong. It feels like you’re giving yourself a pass to do nothing and be a burden to society. But that is just capitalistic shame talking. When you stop thinking of yourself as lazy, you can get to the root of the actual problem.

Are you taking time for yourself? That’s not only okay, it is necessary. Are you stuck and anxious because of executive dysfunction? Now you know and you can start using tricks and tools to get around it. Are you trying and failing to start a new routine because of mental resistance? Now you understand what’s going on and you can start breaking down that resistance and you are one step closer to achieving your goal.

So give it a shot. Next time you call yourself lazy, take a step back and ask yourself what’s really going on. What is the reason behind your “laziness”? If you just don’t feel like doing something right now, maybe that is laziness. But in my experience, the majority of the time, laziness is actually self-care, executive dysfunction, or mental resistance.

5 thoughts on “Mental Health Monday: Why You Aren’t Lazy When You Feel “Stuck””

  1. Lovely article, thanks for sharing! Do you mind if I share on my blog’s FB and Twitter pages?

    With Executive Dysfunction, I feel like I’m always swimming upstream when it comes to daily tasks. Sometimes, it takes me half the day to work up the nerve to do a couple dishes. Getting in the shower is a real task that takes 20 minutes of procrastination (with me sitting outside the shower while the water’s running) and 5 minutes of actual showering. It’s pretty miserable.

    That’s why appreciate this well worded look at what Executive Dysfunction is vs. laziness. It’s hard for me to explain why I do some of the things I do and knowing that there’s someone out there who gets it is really nice!



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, swimming upstream is exactly the feeling. I struggle with executive dysfunction a lot too, and I remember when I first heard the term and understood what it was, it changed everything for me. I’d be happy for you to share this to your FB and twitter, I’d love for others to be able to see that they aren’t lazy, and that added layer of shame isn’t helping them any. Thank you so much for your kind comment ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Knowing about Executive Dysfunction has made me a lot less tough on myself. It certainly makes a difference! Thanks again for sharing 😄

        Liked by 1 person

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