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Paradox1's avatar

Why is it so difficult to do work when we are not prodded?

Asked by Paradox1 (1179points) January 18th, 2011

I don’t know too much about psychology. I guess this question has more to do with human nature and perhaps even evolution. Why is it difficult by nature to do the things we know we should do, to do work? Was there (ever) some benefit to sitting on our butts? It seems to me that we should be predisposed to get things done, to be doing all the time. I understand the argument that if it were easy, everyone would do it. So shouldn’t this motivate us more and become a self-sustaining competitive cycle whereby we try to outdo each other and get as much “work” done as possible. By work I mean anything that would be beneficial to us but that is not enjoyable to do – cleaning, studying, job searching, etc.

I wish that I would behave by doing what needed to be done as soon as the thought entered my mind. I am only a fraction of my potential otherwise. Do some people have this type of control over themselves? Are they masochists? Am I the only one that spends more time thinking about doing rather than actually doing?
– Unfulfilled Potential

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13 Answers

alisonchains's avatar

If you look at Meyers-Briggs personality types, that last letter of the four (P or J) has a lot to do with whether a person likes to explore ideas (i.e. think about them, wait until the last minute to avoid locking out options) versus getting stuff done (feeling more comfortable when a decision is made). It whittles down to your personal (perhaps inborn) preference for flexibility or structure.

Also, in terms of evolution, if you look at the work by Marshall Sahlins, you’ll see that for most of human history, people had a leisurely pace in life (even if it was a short life). The image of hunters & gatherers constantly sweating in the struggle for survival is a myth. So in this vein…you could argue that we are adapted to be lazy.

Thammuz's avatar

You’re approaching this problem from the wrong POV.

“Work” does not exist from an evolutionary perspective because, alas, natural selection is far too slow a process to have adapted to human society yet. Especially considering how the survival rate of our species has grown considerably since at least the last 500 years. We haven’t managed to weed out sociopaths yet, and they’re kind of a bigger problem than couch potatoes

So what we are is a group of animals that are used to surviving day by day, as opposed to long term preparation and shit like that, and living in small groups of hunter-gatherers, forced to live by advantageous and yet extraneous rules.

You probably noticed that your question never mentions “why don’t we get off our butts to eat when we’re hungry” which is precisely the point. Work just has not become one of our primary needs yet (and thank fuck for that, might i add) and, therefore, we see it as secondary when compared to eating, drinking, fucking and, most importantly, resting.

Furthermore no living being that i know of benefits from being at 100% capacity all the time. In fact you’ll notice that the more an animal consumes energy when it does something the longer it fucks around before and afterwards. Energy is, afterall, something the body has in limited quantities, and you need all of it to survive when you’re not even sure wether or not you’re going to find food tomorrow.

YARNLADY's avatar

I can only surmise, based on the work I have trouble forcing myself to do. It is because there are some things I just don’t like to do. There is a lot of work I love to do and would spend hours with no prodding at all.

My husband is a great example of that. He spends hours at work, herding computers, and then comes home and spends the rest of his day and night doing the same thing. He loves his work, but the overhead lights in the living room and the kitchen have been partially repaired for several weeks, and there is no sign they will be finished any time soon.

thorninmud's avatar

People who have less internal resistance to work tend to see their work as an important part of their identity. Someone who really thinks of herself as a cook is less likely to rebel at the thought of going to work at the restaurant than someone who sees herself as an actress who just needs to work at the restaurant until she gets her dream job.

A whole lot of us seem to be in jobs that we see as not being really relevant to our “real” identity, as we imagine it.

Someone who feels that his yard announces what kind of person he is to his neighbors will gladly put in long hours making it look nice (my dad was like that), but someone else may feel that the yard has nothing to say about him, and so he’d rather spend that time working at his tennis game, which he thinks will enhance his identity as a formidable opponent.

starsofeight's avatar

You don’t need experts to tell you what to do; you’ll either do something or you won’t. I’d sooner turn my yard into a parking lot than mow it, but there is no procrastination when it comes to earning a living.

I figure, I’m gonna be doing something during the day, so why not just do that something that earns money?

We are who we are; we are the way we are, and there is some point, in all that mess, why we are. Maybe your thoughts could be productive, even creative. Try poetry or philosophy.

Just remember – while you are considering if you even want to be in the game, someone is already there, getting ahead.

Gathering kudos or gathering moss – it’s a matter of choice. :)

Earthgirl's avatar

thammuz Great answer…and you really made me laugh. Well put!

gondwanalon's avatar

Try to understand the principle of cause and effect.

Productive hard work = feeling good

Lazy and unproductive = feeling bad

I’ve always found that it is actually easier to work hard and be productive than it is to contend with all of the negativity associated with being lazy.

CaptainHarley's avatar

We sometimes don’t want to work because the “work” we do is dull, repetitive and boring. When society gets to the point where only those who want to work will, we will see not only a change in the willingness of people to work, but in how we define both “work” and “play,” with the two concepts merging into one another.

faye's avatar

I can work in my garden and flower beds for hours, but housework? There has to be visitors for me to get off my butt and wash a floor.

nebule's avatar

some great answers already… I would also say it has to come down to immediate motivations and I totally agree with @Thammuz it’s not really much to do with genetics…I think the factors that would go into the connections for ‘work’ to become ingrained in our genes are so many that it might not even happen… besides…survival of the fittest is always inextricably tied up with the environment…and if born into a rich family there is no need for you do any work as such…but anyway it’s gets far too complicated to even begin thinking about really…

My point is, that in this very moment, what is motivating me to go and do aerobics rather than eat a chocolate bar for breakfast? An accumulation of many different neural connections in the form of memories, desires, emotions, goals etc. along with current physical feelings, health, lethargy etc. All these things go into forming a general point of subjective view, which brings us into the moment where we choose… but if I could figure out whether or not we really do have free will and if I could tell you whether or not you would be motivated to do your work today and why (based on a certain number of factors-probably millions of them)...I would surely be a genius…although I proffer that it’s all merely a very clever illusion indeed

Paradox1's avatar

Thank you, and pretty name.

nebule's avatar

@Paradox1 aah thank you x

mattbrowne's avatar

Prodding is only needed when your job is not your calling.

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