What Looks Like Laziness is Often Exhaustion

We’ve all been in these situations where we think it’s just impossible to change the behavior of people. Using a new corporate system, introducing new processes or just making people work differently are just some of the examples that come to mind. In many cases the people who try to lead the change and fail shout that it’s impossible to change people who are lazy and stubborn. But we need to realize that what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

Self-control in the form of self-supervision is an exhaustible resource. Think of the way your mind works when you are giving negative feedback to an employee, assembling a new bookshelf, or learning a new dance. You are careful and deliberate with your words or movements. It feels like there is a supervisor on duty.

Contrast that with all the situations in which your behavior doesn’t feel “supervised”. For instance, the realization while you’re driving that you can’t remember the last few miles of road. The easy, unthinking way you take a shower, or how you make your morning coffee. Much of our daily behavior, in fact, is more automatic than supervised, and that’s a good thing because the supervised behavior is the hard stuff. It’s draining energy.

Research shows that we burn up self-control in a wide variety of situations: managing the impression we’re making on others; coping with fears; controlling our spending; and many, many others.
Here’s why this matters for change: When people try to change things, they’re usually tampering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the conscious mind. The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will require people’s self-control.

When people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the mental muscles needed to make a big change.

So when you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that’s just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

At bluecrux we try to incorporate this crucial realization in everything we do. Instead of blaming “lazy” team members, we challenge ourselves to give clear direction, provide people with easy-to-understand critical moves towards the destination, and shrink the change to avoid people running out of self-control. It requires self-control of ourselves as well, because it’s not an easy task – but we believe it’s the only way to make change lasting. In our MOUNTK methodology we help your change agents to think and act like this as well.
For further reading on the self-control topic, and on change in general, we suggest the excellent book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath.