We think of laziness as inherently bad, and assume that, if we want to develop better habits, we have to conquer it. But there’s a reason that way of thinking usually ends in frustration: our minds are designed to take the easy route, to go through the day ‘on automatic’ when we can. It’s evolution’s way of making sure we have the spare ‘brain space’ to deal with unexpected challenges.
A better plan is to harness your laziness; to arrange your life so that the ‘best’ choice, the habit you want to cultivate, is also the easiest. That way, you’ll be aligning with your natural urges, not fighting them.
How to make it happen
Redesign your environment
Changes to your surroundings needn’t be radical to have an impact. Keep the TV remote in a distant drawer, and the exertion of getting up to get it might induce you to pick up your – nearby – book instead. Keep unhealthy snacks on a high shelf so they are less accessible. Use an app such as StayFocusd, which bans you from social media. You can switch it off – but that takes effort, so you could find yourself doing something more productive instead.
There are many ways to harness laziness when it comes to money. Leave credit cards at home when you go shopping; put funds from your current account into savings at the start of the month; note each time you want an impulse buy – if you still desire the item two days later, buy it.
Chain your habits
Connect a new, good habit to one that comes naturally, say, to meditate after morning coffee. Soon, you’ll be exploiting your brain’s tendency to go onto autopilot – for a healthier life.
Oliver Burkeman is author of The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Canongate, £8.99)