By Rachel Welch
What does it take for a person to succeed? How hard do we have to hustle to meet our goals, and when (if ever) is it okay to be "lazy?"
The United States and many other high-productivity countries represent a semi-recent phenomenon known as "hustle culture." This refers to the generation that glamorizes overworking. Hustle culture shows individuals bragging about 18-hour workdays, getting barely any sleep, and continuing the "daily grind" well past the end of a typical workday (1). There are several common phrases that have emerged within "hustle culture.
Intended to inspire, motivate, and push people towards productivity, such phrases have become very familiar. We find these quotes on office walls and as screensavers on work laptops. They pose a reminder that in this society, we hustle to succeed; in this society, we burn ourselves out if that is what it takes.
We need determination to succeed in our endeavors. But, we also need rest. In addition to time spent running forward, we also need time to be still and refuel. "Hustle culture" promotes a way of life that can be productive, but one which can also be very unhealthy.
Why does our culture categorize rest as laziness? Why is it that we feel like we have to earn the chance to relax?
Perhaps you've spent a day resting, only to later feel guilty about not having been more productive. Our culture's hustle mentality programs us to push too hard. It tells us to feel guilty when we choose to stop and be still. Let us take a moment to consider that it is okay to be lazy. And, furthermore, it may actually be healthy to be lazy!
Chris Bailey from Time drew the comparison of a mind which is focused versus unfocused. Bailey suggests that our brains need time to be unfocused, such as during free time. This allows us to maintain functional problem-solving skills and creativity, which otherwise may take a hit (2). Additionally, giving the brain enough time to rest has been tied to lowering rates of depression and anxiety, thus improving the quality of individuals' relationships and overall mental health (3, 4).
They explain that our brains have an internal and an external attention system. The internal system is active during daydreaming and when letting the mind wander. This is the system that fosters creativity, new ideas, and unique problem-solving. The external system is active when we take in external stimuli. Browsing on our phones, for instance, would activate the external attention system. The challenge is, both systems cannot be active at the same time. And most people spend the majority of their day using external attention (5).
So, now we know that being lazy is okay, and actually healthy! But, what types of activities allow our brains to rest within their (preferred) internal attention system?
Take the time to just be still. If you're enjoying a morning tea or coffee, take a moment to be mindful of each sip. On your lunch break, try a short meditation where you just focus on your breathing. On your next day off, allow yourself to lay in bed for an extra five minutes. While you lay there, practice "grounding" by being aware of the small things. Grounding is an exercise that helps us to be present and focused on the current moment (6). To practice grounding in bed, notice the texture of your blankets, the support of your pillow, and the cheer of the light coming through the window. These are a few examples of small, yet meaningful ways to increase mindfulness and give our brains a chance to rest and be present.
Sometimes in our overworked society, a nap is the perfect solution. Hustle culture tells us to work all night instead of sleep when that is the worst thing we can do for our mental performance. Our brains need time to be lazy and sleep, in order to refresh and restore in a number of ways. A lack of sleep has the potential to lead to a decrease in cognitive function, a lack of focus, and an increased likelihood of making mistakes at work (7). Sleep helps us in those times when we choose to be productive. Plus, sleep is a satisfying, comfortable, and peaceful way to rest and be lazy.
Hustle culture may be loud and prominent, but that does not mean that we have to join in. Finding a balance of productivity and peace through prioritizing rest will yield a healthier life. Our brains deserve rest, and that means realizing that it is okay and even beneficial to be "lazy." By allowing our minds to spend time in their internal systems, by making mindful moments, and by getting enough sleep, we can make being "lazy" a healthy and normal part of our routine. Our brains and our bodies will thank us for it.
1. Griffith, E. (2019, January 26). Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/26/business/against-hustle-culture-rise-and-grind-tgim.html
2. Why Being Lazy Is Actually Good For You. (n.d.). Retrieved from Time website: https://time.com/5379422/why-being-lazy-is-actually-good-for-you/
3. How to Reduce Depression’s Impact on Relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2021, from Health By Principle website: https://www.healthbyprinciple.com/blogs/news/how-to-reduce-depression-s-impact-on-relationships
4. Want to Treat Depression? Get People to Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-rest/201311/want-treat-depression-get-people-sleep
5. Metz, E. (n.d.). Why idle moments are crucial for creativity. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from www.bbc.com website: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170414-why-idle-moments-are-crucial-for-creativity
6. 10+ Best Grounding Techniques and Exercises to Strengthen Your Mindfulness Practice Today. (2020, July 1). Retrieved from PositivePsychology.com website: https://positivepsychology.com/grounding-techniques/
7. How Sleep Can Help You Be More Productive. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sleep.org website: https://www.sleep.org/sleep-and-productivity-at-work/