Have you heard the theory about the couch potato gene? It's exactly what you think. If you’re lazy, like me, it’s not your fault. You're the victim of a rogue gene that has long since lost its value.
Today, we look down upon lazy people, but some studies suggest it once yielded evolutionary advantages. Before the inventions of housing, farming, and medicine, people who conserved resources survived times of scarcity and banked sufficient energy reserves to outrun predators.
Times have changed since we scavaged for food and lived in fear of saber tooth tigers. Laziness hinders our ability to thrive in the modern world, except for one notable exception. And that one exception holds the key to overcoming our couch potato urges.
Eight years ago, as a struggling copywriter barely surviving, my mentor shared feedback that not only improved my copy skills but also led to an awakening — the true cause and solution to laziness.
Here was the statement:
Once you’ve convinced someone to buy, inertia is still a formidable roadblock until you create urgency.
Laziness is inertia. To overcome it, you need to create urgency — the nail-biting angst stemming from the pursuit of a desire without adequate time to achieve it.
That lesson led to a personal breakthrough. If I could create enough urgency, it would overpower my couch potato gene. The logic looks like this:
If urgency > inertia, then action
If urgency < inertia, then laziness
True, you can’t quantify subjective terms like “urgency” and “inertia.” Still, it’s a helpful way to think about laziness. Regardless of the mathematical deficiencies, if a goal or task feels urgent enough, you’ll take action to achieve it.
Creating a pressing need to accomplish a goal sounds simple, but here’s the challenge. You can’t feign urgency. Your brain sniffs out bullshit. Laziness, that stubborn vestige of evolution, won’t back down without a fight. Here’s how to overpower it.
How to create urgency and overcome laziness
Follow these five steps to subdue your couch potato gene. Record your answers in a document you can refer to daily.
Find a purpose, but don’t agonize over it.
It’s hip to talk about finding your “why” — the idea that everyone’s blessed with some magical purpose, and if we could only discover it, we’d exhale fairy dust and poop out cupcakes.
Perhaps it’s true for some folks, but the importance is overrated. I’ve been writing every day for almost five years. I do it because I enjoy it, a rather pedestrian why.
If you’ve got some overarching mission behind what you do, then great. If you’re still searching, then stop. You don’t need some mind-bending purpose. I’m 49 years old, and I don’t have one. I have goals, sure, but I don’t waste time trying to find a compelling “why.”
Come up with a reason, any reason. Don’t let anyone judge whether it’s deep enough. There’s no right or wrong answer, only a right or wrong answer for you.
Identify and describe your foundational task.
If you’re a writer, you must write. If you’re a salesperson, you need to call on new prospects. Focus on your base task, the one that all subsequent actions and outcomes depend on. You can’t close a sale if you don’t make appointments, and you can’t make appointments if you don’t call on prospects.
In a simple sentence or two, write out exactly what you need to do each day. Write 1,000 words. Make 100 calls. If you’re not sure, write out your goals and work backward. Figure out what action, done consistently, will move you towards your objectives.
Imagine a vision of your future self.
Who is the person you want to become in five years? In as many words as you need, create a vision of the future you. Do you expect to become a world-class writer, salesperson, or gamer?
Describe what that would mean in as much detail as possible: your skills, your network, and your daily activities. Do you go into an office or work on the beach? Who are the type of people you associate with? How will your self-image evolve? What results will you have achieved? The more detail you include, the more real it feels, which helps create more urgency in the next step.
Get yourself sick.
This task will seem bizarre at first, but it’s a vital element in manufacturing urgency.
Several years ago, a copywriting coach had me write an ad for a health product that supposedly prevented heart disease. I came up with something generic:
How an abundant but little known supplement can keep you heart-healthy.
Blah, he said. I had framed it as preventing something bad from occurring instead of curing a sickness already causing harm. Few people take action to prevent health issues, but we’ll fight armies for a cure when we’re already sick.
Go back to the vision you created in the previous step and write about all the wonderful things you're missing out on by not already achieving your vision. Make it visceral enough that it makes you sick. Each day you neglect your work, you delay reaching that future state. Recognition of that delay registers as a negative consequence, which acts as a thermostat on urgency.
As the negative outcomes for laziness amplify, the urgency temperature rises. If it’s intense enough, it will make you sick.
Create nail-biting deadlines.
Each morning, I impose a deadline of 8:30 AM to finish 1,500 words. It’s tight some days, and I may miss it by fifteen or twenty minutes, but I always hit my number.
Without a deadline, there can be no urgency. Create challenging but reasonable deadlines. Make it so that distractions and non-urgent tasks will prevent your ability to complete your work in your allotted time. If you need to create arbitrary deadlines, find an accountability partner, and ding each other when you fail to hit your targets.
All you need to know
Laziness is that feeling of inertia, an invisible evolutionary force operating on autopilot, demanding you to conserve energy. An opposing force, urgency, can overcome it.
- Start with a reason or a why.
- Write out what you need to accomplish.
- Create a vision of your future self.
- Get yourself sick to create negative consequences for neglecting your work.
- Create challenging but doable deadlines.