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“The idleness syndrome”: how it affects us and how we can turn it to our advantage

“Never leave for tomorrow what you can do today… leave it for the day after tomorrow!” I must confess this famous dictum seems to define me more and more accurately every day. I leave home with an “urgent” list of issues I am supposed to take care of when I get to the office. As soon as I reach the office, I take the paper out, flatten it and place it next to my computer’s keyboard, lest I forget about it! Then… I start to deal with anything but the issues on the to-do-list. Why is that? Have they become less “urgent” in the meantime? Sometimes they do (when something even more important comes up), but more often than not this is not the case. I wonder what this is, but one thing is certain: I no longer understand myself!

What would be the best word to describe this type of behaviour? Has anyone heard of an idleness or procrastination syndrome? Surely it is not laziness, as I usually “leave till tomorrow” things I do not really enjoy doing or tasks that can wait on the days when I have to cope with an overloaded schedule.

Psychoanalysts try to reassure me: they say it is something natural, a habitude I am not (very) responsible for or guilty of. Still, go ahead and try to tell that to a society that makes so much of the speed of reaction!

How psychoanalysts explain it

According to psychoanalysts, there are two very simple explanations for the “leave it for the day after tomorrow” behaviour:

“First there is the cultural explanation. Some of the Mediterranean countries, for instance, have a slower pace of life, having to do with the region’s climate”, psychoanalyst Saverio Tomasella explains. “What’s the rush?” anyone living in those countries will admonish you indolently if you happen to disturb their traditional siesta. “There is plenty of time for everything” seems to be a motto for this part of the world, where patience is indeed a virtue.

Psychotherapist and sophrologist Michèle Freud explains the second reason:

“Certain psychological elements also may lead to a sort of apathy. Teenagers, for example, are affected by hormonal changes which result in a disproportionate alternation between sleep and wakefulness. And this hormonal imbalance persists in some adults, too.”

All this is very well, except that I am neither a laid-back Mediterranean native, nor a confused teenager (or a weary grown-up) knocked out by the hormonal maelstrom. Yet I am not crazy about fast action either!

We were (mis)educated this way

First and foremost, reluctance to act affects our body, expressing itself as fatigue. “It is a form of atony”, Michèle Freud expands upon the matter, “as we have trouble moving (either physically or mentally, depending on the tasks we are have to do). Most likely, action is something we, as children, were not taught to attach much importance to. We were not encouraged to do so.”

  • There are four distinct situations which may lead to this type of behaviour:
  • The family are not very keen on action, get-up-and-go, involvement, and indulge in a “devil-may-care” or “tomorrow is another day” attitude;
  • The family is overprotective– they do everything in their children’s stead and fail to instil in them the taste for action and success;
  • The parents are hypercritical with their children, who end up believing that, as much as they tried, they would never be “good” enough;
  • The parents are not supportive enough and the children get the idea that “it is all too difficult” and get into the habit of avoiding action and involvement.

“To be able to set their goals and then enjoy the results of their own endeavours, children need constant support as well as self-reliance and freedom to act”, the psychotherapist concludes.

“I am afraid to act”

Among the causes of our habitual idleness there is also fear. Saverio Tomasella explains: “It may be the fear of failure, the fear of change, the fear that we will not live up to people’s expectations”. Just as well as it may be a form of deep anxiety we are not aware of and which has to do with painful experiences from the past. Including traumas “forgotten” a long time ago. Reluctance to the idea of learning to drive a car may be related, for instance, to a car accident we were involved in or just witnessed at a certain point in time, back in our childhood. We were too young to “remember”, but the event is stored in our unconscious mind. Consequently, idleness guarantees our inner security. Inhibition protects us.

“I am no longer able to act”

A psychological conflict can provide an excellent excuse for not taking action. Most of the time, the conflict arises from the opposition between desire and interdiction. When desire – the drive that sets an individual in motion – clashes with what has been imprinted in that individual’s mind as being incorrect or impossible, idleness becomes the only solution. Thus, a sort of indecision, of paralysis, the expression of what psychoanalysts call “the death drive”, sets in.

“If our desire is not acknowledged, accepted or valued, life pulsation dies out. We lose our spirit and our ability to move on” – Saverio Tomasella explains.

What can we do?

Firstly, we can value idleness. Society demands us to act. Its favorite catchphrase is “speed, maximum energy”. It is up to us, the “easy-going” people, to restore its appetite for the blissful reposes inviting self-discovery. Doing nothing at all may be extremely helpful when you seek to find yourself again. Not to mention that these optional stops are a godsend when it comes to regaining our lost creativity – as psychotherapist and sophrologist Michèle Freud assures us.

Secondly, we should get our body moving. The reluctance to move is mainly a body sensation. Therefore, let us deal with the “source”. But let’s do it gently! Rather than throwing ourselves headlong into exhausting and stressful workout sessions “at the gym”, we should set ourselves lower goals: to walk more, to ride the bicycle. Besides, it would not hurt to hum a tune: this will help us improve our mood faster. Physical activity, however modest, stimulates our body to release endorphins and boosts our energy. If we add to the equation a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep, it is safe to say that not only have we gotten off on the right foot, but also we have already taken a big step.

Last, but not least, we should look back into our past. “Try to go back in time”, Saverio Tomasella suggests. “Can you think of a time when your wishes were met with mockery or opposition? Do you feel that a particular event clipped your wings? Idleness is not a disease, but it may develop into a real problem if it ends up getting into all the aspects of our life: avoidance coping falls under the heading of phobic disorders. The tendency to keep putting things off or, even worse, to indulge oneself in doing nothing is sometimes an indication of an abnormal psychological state, ranging from melancholy to depression.”

To sum up, pay attention to yourself so you can understand what happens to you and, if need be, ask for professional help before complications arise!

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