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The ONE reason you're not as productive

There are many reasons why an individual does not take action to move closer to their goals.

All of them could be simplified into either laziness or perfectionism. 

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I won’t address incompetency as I’m more interested in those with ability choosing not to execute. However, even if an individual is aware of which category they fit into and decided to push through, they inevitably run into one problem - psychological pain.

Some critics would argue that the main reason is laziness, so let's examine this first. The term “lazy” originated from a German word “lasich,” meaning “languid (adj.),” or “idle”. Wharton Business School’s professor of Organizational Psychology, Adam Grant, defined languishing (verb.), as “the feeling of joyless and aimless… a sense of stagnation and emptiness…a void between depression and flourishing.” Similarly, the dictionary defines idle as “avoiding work (adj.)…without purpose or effect (adj.)…spend time doing nothing (verb.).”

These caricatures are primed to encourage toxic perspectives to which an individual will be judged when exhibiting these traits. They don’t explain the deeper issues and don’t address the root cause.

For example, why do you have feelings of joyless or emptiness sometimes? Why do you find yourself spending time doing nothing?

We all strive to be rational and upright humans, therefore we should not allow our cognitive biases to judge someone by their action or behaviour. I refuse to accept our inability to understand that each of us have different lives and are going through different issues and difficulties at any given time.

If we understand this, why is it so easy for us to label someone, even ourselves, as lazy? Why do we let our thoughts roll down the convenient track that we have subconsciously created many years ago?

If we want to understand ourselves and progress in our goals, we must stop simplifying and weaponising concepts into a single terminology that cannot explain its etiology.

This will stop us from labeling ourselves or someone else as “lazy” and forces us to be more considerate as to why a person behaves like this. Are they feeling joyless because of the passing of a family member that robs them of joy, are they feeling stagnate and empty because the work is no longer challenging, or are they spending time doing nothing because they have yet to figure out what their purpose is?

Would you reasonably classify and place blame on any of these behaviours as "unwilling to work" or "lazy"?

Social psychologist Devon Price PhD. argued that there is no such thing as laziness because by nature, every individual has a built in mechanism to thrive and flourish.

However, Price does recognize that people’s seemingly “lazy” behaviour tend to stem from other personal issues. When we ask these questions more precisely, it is easier for our brain to process the issue/s since we can identify the individual components. This will enable us to address the behaviours directly, compassionately and empathically instead of dispensing judgements from our ivory tower with a one-track mind.


Perfectionism is a personality trait that refuses to accept any standard other than perfect. These individuals crave for perfect results every time without the need for drafts or trials. Understandably, this could sabotage an individual’s ability to be productive but more importantly cripple an individual’s sense of wellbeing.

Some of the most sagely advice to stop being a perfectionist is to lower one’s expectations, place some sort of constraints such as time and just do the work and eventually there will be enough output to edit. At least this way, an individual has something to show for instead of a blank page, as in the case of writing.

The key element to address this issue would be the “refusal to accept.” The reason why it is so difficult to accept a lower standard is that it causes cognitive pain and mental anguish over subpar work as perceived by an individual. It is not the case that a person is trying to be a perfectionist, but more so they are trying to avoid the psychological pain that is caused by their cognitive dissonance or self-contradiction.

In this case it’s the discomfort or avoidance resulting from a conflict of believing all their work must be perfect and forcing themselves to do imperfect work while feeling the angst that it’s most likely not going to happen off the bat.


Imagine that you have the ability to meet a certain expectation but for whatever reason unknown to you, this does not happen. I say imagine because it is a perception the perfectionists have of their own abilities. There may be an element that is amiss in their skillset or relevant information that they are not aware of (different to incompetency), thus to them there is no reason for their suboptimal performance. However, we all know that we don’t know what we don’t know and so when we try to short circuit a wire without understanding the current flow, we end up with a burnt project.

So how do we deal with this psychological pain so that we can have more flashes of brilliance?

Well, how do people build muscles at the gym, how do we learn to swim or get better at a job?

The reality is, at a certain point, there is no short cut or easy path. We just have to embrace the discomfort and get on with it. However, to make it more cognitively palatable, Barbara Oakley PhD. mentioned in her book “Learning How To Learn” that research have shown this psychological pain only occur for a short period of time (about 20 minutes) so once we get going, the pain slowly disappears. This will release us from perfection’s grip and allowing us to keep plodding away in the flow. This will allow us to accumulate drafts or trials, which will be refined at a later stage into higher standard of works.

World renowned copywriter Joseph Sugarman often said that his first draft is normally terrible but it’s what he can do during the edits that produces the results and making him one of the best copywriters.

The ONLY decision a perfectionist will have to make is whether it is worth dealing with 20 minutes of receding cognitive pain for a handsome payout in productivity or avoid it altogether. The rest is about editing or refining the work at a later stage once the draft has been written or test run been accomplished.


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