Welcome to my blog, a place to explore and learn about the experience of running a psychiatric practice. I post about things that I find useful to know or think about. So, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Friday, August 5, 2016


I'm very curious about the idea of laziness. "Lazy" is one of those words we throw around as though everyone understands what it means and agrees on its definition. Kind of like, "Love". But I don't think anyone honestly knows what lazy means. I'm not sure it even has a meaning. I think what is really meant by, "He's so lazy," is, "I don't understand why he's not doing the things I think he should be motivated to do, or that I would be doing in his position."

I'm hard pressed to think of an instance in which the word lazy is used in a non-pejorative way. At least in reference to a person or an animal. Rivers and summer days are exempt from this criticism.

I searched Pep-Web to see if the concept is addressed in the analytic literature, and there were a lot of hits for "laziness" (343) and "lazy" (806), but none in a title, and while I didn't go through every one, the ones I did look at all seemed to be either quoting someone speaking about himself or someone else, or describing someone, and all with the assumption that no elaboration was needed as to what was meant by "laziness" or "lazy".

I'll share a multilayered thought I just had. I generally make an effort to write correctly, which means that there's a comma before quotes, and the first word of a quote is capitalized, and the ending punctuation is within the quotes, even though that's weird. Or, "That's weird." Not, "that's weird". But it's not always clear to me what to do when I'm referring to an individual term. Do I place a comma before, "Lazy?" Do I always need to put quotes around, "Lazy?" Do I capitalize , "Lazy," if I use it over and over again? Do I place the punctuation within the quotes if it's just a word I'm defining, like, "Lazy"?

I assume I should do the same thing with "lazy" that I do with longer quotes, but I don't always do so. And my thought was, I'm just too lazy to bother.

Then I thought about Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes, where he doesn't bother to use quotes, but he manages to write in such a way that you're never confused about who's saying what. Presumably, he's mimicking Joyce. So who cares whether I get the punctuation right or not? The whole purpose of punctuation is to make yourself understood, and if readers know what I mean, what difference does it make?

I'm impressed by how easily I fell into using the catchall term, "Lazy," to explain why I don't always punctuate correctly. But I'll get back to this.

I Googled, "What is Laziness?" and after the definition: the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness, I linked to an article by Neel Burton, MD, in Psychology Today, The Causes of Laziness.

It's not a bad article, but the explanations are a bit simplistic: We haven't evolved enough past our ancestral need to conserve energy and to assume life will be short so why plan for the future; We prefer immediate gratification to long-term goals; We can't see the purpose of our work; We're afraid of success; We're afraid of failure so we don't try.

Now back to my previous point. I don't think anyone knows much about why she does what she does. Even less about why someone else does what he does. You can get at some unconscious content in analysis, but there will always be mysterious actions and thoughts.

What I do notice is that when I have to make a decision about how to punctuate, it causes a slight twinge of anxiety. Am I doing this right? Is my meaning clear if I don't do it right? Why do I care? Do I care?

Clearly, I do.

I'm reminded of Otto Fenichel's paper, On the Psychology of Boredom. Fenichel describes a particular kind of boredom, a sort of ennui, in which the bored person can never settle into any particular activity. Fenichel's understanding of this is that it reflects a warded off, unacceptable wish. So the bored person wants something, but is unable to allow himself to know what it is he wants, because he's conflicted about it, and it makes him anxious. So instead, he searches for something to satisfy the wish, but of course, nothing does, because he doesn't consciously know what he's wishing for.

Laziness is not directly related to boredom, though obviously it can be, in some instances. The common thread here is anxiety generated by unconscious content-likely conflict. And it's hard to assess motivation when there's all sorts of unconscious fermentation going on.

My final association:  I read a story when I was a kid, and I still don't quite understand it. It was a Chinese fable about a lazy boy who never did anything his mother asked. He never helped out at home. He never did any kind of work. He was just a lazy good-for-nothing. Then one day, there was some kind of threat to his family, and the boy got up and deftly handled the situation, and saved the day.

The End.