Does Everyone Exert Themselves Equally?

Do some people exert themselves more than others do?  Of course, the answer is yes.  One way to look at “laziness” is to think of it as a willful lack of reasonable self-exertion in a situation in which a) self-exertion is morally required and b) the individual has the capacity to self-exert.

Interestingly, some people are of the opinion that laziness, per se, does not exist.  Usually someone who holds this view will suggest that, what we perceive to be laziness, is always just a symptom of a physical or mental illness.

If, indeed, laziness does not exist, then how do we account for the  differences in self-exertion that we seem to observe, both in ourselves and in other people?  This article discusses the question of the validity of the perceptions that we normally draw about differences in exertion levels in ourselves and in others.  The purpose of this line of reasoning is to challenge the heart of the claim that “laziness does not exist.”

A boss is a  professional judge of exertion

In the business world, employers use both objective and subjective measures to review employee performance.  An “objective measure” is something that can be easily and visibly judged.  Here are some examples of objective measures: getting to work on time, completing a manufacturing quota or calling 50 customers every day.  A subjective measure has more to do with the manager’s perception of an employee’s overall character.  For example: friendliness, cooperativeness and alertness are all subjective measures.

One of the most important subjective measures is “willingness to work” or “willingness to self-exert on the job.”  If someone scores highly in the self-exertion category they will probably get a good review and a raise.  Alternatively, if there are low marks on self-exertion, then the supervisor will have a talk with the employee to remind him to stay focused and productive.  Unless the employee increases his exertion to (at least) the minimum acceptable level, he is likely headed for a pink-slip.

A sports coach supervises his players

In the sports world, coaches perform a supervisory role similar to that of a boss in a business environment.  The coach’s “product” is winning.  If the coach wins, then he “produces.”  If he doesn’t produce, then he gets canned.  In order for the coach to win, he needs to have players who are talented, team-workers and who are willing to give 110% on the  field.  The term “110%” is a metaphor meaning that each player is expected to be fully focused on the game – and fully self-exerting to help the team to win.

As the game progresses, the coach assesses each player.  Is he cooperating with his teammates?  Is he putting his full energy and focus into the game?  If the coach senses that a player is “dogging it,” then he will (understandably) start yelling at the player to tell him to increase his focus and exertion.

Many people will not move – unless there is a manager

Obviously, both business managers and sports coaches are aware that the people that they supervise may have varying levels of self-exertion.  In the professional world, there is no question as to whether or not workers (or players) sometimes fall behind in their self-exertion.  It happens all of the time.  In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons that managers and coaches are needed in the first place!    Workers who are not being watched tend to slack off.  There are a few, exceptional people who will always stay on task whether or not they are being supervised – but they are exceptional.  The most general rule of manager-employee relations has always been:  When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Why do some people believe that laziness does not exist?

So why is it that some people hold to the idea that laziness does not exist?  Perhaps, in some cases,  they might view their dis-belief in laziness as a way of trying to protect disabled people from criticism or bullying.  Everyone wants to stop a bully – especially when a handicapped child is the victim – but, is this blanket approach really a good way to try to prevent bullying?  Might we, instead, be inadvertently aggravating the situation by lowering the bar for everyone?  In other words, by refusing to acknowledge that personal determination is a factor in school and work, could we end up discouraging kids (disabled or not) who, otherwise, might have been inclined to try harder?

Managers recognize that different people (handicapped or not) have different work-load capacities – whether the work is physical or cognitive.   Hence, a good supervisor’s perception of a worker’s level of self-exertion already takes into account the maximum capabilities of the person being supervised.  Similarly, in the sports arena, a coach assesses each player’s level of exertion based on the coach’s best estimate of the player’s full ability.  A little league coach knows that his players will not be able to run as fast as professional, adult players can.  But the little league players can still exert themselves 110%.   It is the exertion that the coach is looking for – whether the players are children or adults, disabled or non-disabled.

Do managers bully the disabled – or confront the lazy?

So what is the dynamic that we are talking about in the day-to-day case of a worker who will not move unless the boss growls at him?   In other words, are we talking about bullying a disabled person – or are we talking about confronting a lazy person?  Obviously we are talking about laziness.  In this case, the worker is morally responsible to self-exert because he has agreed to work for his employer in exchange for money.  A lazy worker is able to self-exert, but he is just choosing not to.  Hence, there is the need for the constant monitoring from his supervisor.

“Perceived exertion” – a legally protected condition?

There will always be people who, for various reasons, will hold to the opinion that laziness does not exist.  If people who have this kind of mindset become public policy makers, then is there a danger that their approach toward the matter of individual responsibility could have unintended and counter-productive consequences in society at large?

For example, let’s imagine what the world would be like if “perceived exertion” were ever to become a “legally protected” status – like race, color, religion, sex, etc.   In other words, imagine if bosses were not (legally) allowed to judge their workers based on the boss’s perception of the worker’s exertion level?   This might sound like it would be an outrageous change to law and public policy – but it would actually be a fairly rational step for those who believe that everyone already does, indeed, exert themselves equally.

How would this pan out in the field of professional sports?  Let’s listen in to an imaginary dialog between a basketball coach and his five players as the game is just about to begin:

Coach:  Okay!  This is the big game!  Now get out there and give it all you’ve got!

Players #1, #2, #3 and #4: [shouting enthusiastically]:  YEAH!  Alright!  WIN!  WIN!

Player #5:  … okay, I guess that I’ll give it a try …

Coach:  [looks over at #5 and scowls] Grrrr …

[The game goes on and the team is loosing.  The coach looks out at the court and sees that Players #1, #2, #3 and #4 are all chasing after the ball and sweating profusely.  But Player #5 is not sweating at all – in fact, he appears to be almost disinterested in the game.]

Coach:  [yelling] #5 get your butt in GEAR!  Start MOVING!

Player #5:  … well, it looks like we are already loosing, so why bother? … and why are you picking on me, anyway?  …  I don’t hear you yelling at the other players to run faster …

Coach:  That’s because its my PERCEPTION that they already ARE running fast!  YOU are the problem!  Now get moving and make some baskets or else I’m going to –

Player #5:  [#5 turns and faces the coach, and puts both of his hands on his hips] You’re “going to” what?!  Are you threatening me?  I really do not appreciate your failure to recognize my good qualities!  [The ball wizzes right by Player #5’s head.]  Instead you always complain about the areas in which I need more help!  [#5 points his finger at the coach and shakes it disapprovingly] Why don’t you ever praise me for my high skill level – and my strong willingness to share the ball with my team-mates?!  [The ball wizzes right by Player #5’s head, again.]  Why do you always have to be looking at the one area (personal exertion) in which I just need extra assistance?

Coach:  (Exasperated)  Player #5 – You are kicked off the team!  … Player #6 – get in there and take over for #5!  Now MOVE IT!

[Player #5 slowly walks off the court with a sour expression on his face.  The ball wizzes by his head for the third time.  As he walks off the court, he is met by three different attorneys.  Each attorney reaches out to give Player #5 his business card.]

Lawyer #1:  I saw everything that happened!  You were discriminated against – I specifically heard him mention that his perception of your exertion level was the reason that he kicked you off the team!  I think that we have a very good case, here.

Lawyer #2:  You must be feeling very traumatized over what that coach just did to you!  I’m sure that any jury would agree!  Lets set up an appointment right now!

Lawyer #3:  I am soooo sorry for what just happened to you!  That idiot coach obviously hasn’t heard about the new laws.   My firm has recently won a large cash settlement for another client in a similar situation.  Here – take my card!

So what do you think?  Does everyone always self-exert equally?  If we have public policy makers who do not believe that laziness is a real phenomenon then, might they end up, inadvertently, creating laws that do more harm than good? 

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36 Responses to Does Everyone Exert Themselves Equally?

  1. perception vs reality says:

    Good article. Laziness obviously does exist. It’s kind of ridiculous that u need to go to some much trouble to “prove” that it exists. Shows that ppl try to avoid obvious truths. Can b kind of touchy abt talking about disabled ppl. Agreed non-disabled ppl can b lazy. What about disabled ppl? Can they b lazy too?

    • Door Number 3 says:

      Good question.

    • Door Number 3 says:

      Does disability vaccinate a person from potential laziness?

    • Door Number 3 says:

      Think of the difference between children and adults. Adults have all of the cognitive and physical capabilities of childre but children do not have all of the capabilities of adults. In thatsense children r like disabled adults. Clearly kids can b lazy (within the context of their limited capabilities.) Bythe same token it is possible for disabled adults to b lazy within the limitations of their capabilities.

  2. perception vs reality says:

    I wish that back when I was in high school that they had a mandatory class about laziness that u had to take every day as one of the 8 periods. It might sound like it would be a big waste of time but over the school year I am sure that I wasted well more than 1/8th of my time! I think there were many days that I went home and didn’t do any homework or study. Certainly that was true of my college years :-p

    • perception vs reality says:

      How To Get A Free College Education

      Get a list of all of the books that are prescribed to be read for a full four years of college for a specific field of study that you are interested in. Find a free library that will provide you with those books (or similar books.) Read, study and do the exercises.

      U can get a free college education At the pubic library … but only one person in 500 takes advantage of the opportunity … so kind of hard to feel sorry for folks who say they r behind in life bcz never finished “formal” schooling in college … At the same time though profs and college system does provide the all important vision … and a type of referee or score keeper to keep u on track … butis that what ppl need so desperately that u have to shell out $100K?

    • perception vs reality says:

      From my experience in college I would say that huge chunks of time get wasted in the formalities of going to class … prob a four year degree could b finished in two years if a person was just reasonably self disciplined …?

  3. perception vs reality says:

    Here is another idea: can self-pity cause a person to reduce their level of exertion? Yes. Can alot of self-pity cause a person to reduce their self-exertion by alot? Yes. Is Self pity a ratable disability? No. Hence this is an example of a non-disabled person who (bcz of their bad choices) ends up being lazy.

  4. MVNJ says:

    That is very well written! I was really excited that you didn’t specifically pick out mental illness and you made it more of a general disability concept that you were addressing. You broadened your scope to address the more general idea of a disabled person. About the idea of unequal exertion between people – there are many different ways to describe the fact that there is unequal exertion – and it happens in many different fields. For example: only the best musicians get their songs on the radio – even thought there are a lot of people who play musical instruments who would like to be a professional.

    Why is there a grading system when you go to school – instead of just a pass or fail? If everyone were exerting themselves equally in the world, then wouldn’t it just be a pass fail system?

    I think everybody knows what happens when the boss leaves – things loosen up and people start talking. The boss’s presence definitely produces a higher level of productivity. Most people relax when the boss goes away. The example of the coach and the players was also a valid one. That is the reason that, in little league, there is often a league-wide rule that says that every player has to play a minimum number of games – and the reason for that rule is that, otherwise, the coach would only let the strongly self-exerting players in – and the kids that are just there to fool around or have a good time would never get to play. And then the parents (of the low self-exerting low-focused kids) would get upset because they would see that their kids don’t get to play.

    The whole purpose of the article is to point out the differences in exertion between different human beings – it is obviously apparent when you look out at the world. For example, Doctors don’t just become doctors because they decide that they want to be doctors – they also have to work really hard to get through medical school.

    The story at the end was funny in a way – it was a parody. That probably happens to a lot of coaches – the coach yells at the kids who don’t try hard – and then the parent of the “lazy” kid comes back to the coach and complains to the coach that the coach should not have yelled at the kid!

    There are probably poor people who complain about their situation. What a lot of low income people don’t understand is that a lot of them live better than kings used to live before technology.

    You covered two vast scopes – coaches and managers. Another area in which this occurs is in the field of teachers and students. A teacher would try to calmly explain that the student is failing the class – whereas a coach would get upset and throw his headset on the floor.

  5. Door Number 3 says:

    The reasonable exertion things that I have missed out on in life 1. 20 career-based technical books (at one a year for 20 years). 2. Excellent physical fitness. 3. Being fluent in two foreign languages. These are just examples … 🙁

  6. Anonymous says:

    Yo I m lazy. But I don’t let myself Goto bed until I brush and floss but it is hard to do. I told myself “u will win ten million $$ if u can brush and floss and be done in 7 mins.”. That seemed to help me to get going on doing it. I wonder if that is a healthy game to play?

  7. Anonymous says:

    The Many Facets Of Exertion

    How about an article discussing how ppl willingly exert themselves strenuously in fun things – like sex sports weight-lifting but are unwilling or unable to exert themselves to look for work or study to improve their job skills …

  8. Ideas says:

    Do Pep Talks Affect Behavior Outcomes?

    For ppl who do not believe that laziness is real then we could ask them if they believe that discouragement is real. D happens when someone’s perception or belief about the worthwhileness of continued effort changes in a negative way. Are ther ways that we can attack another person with discouragement causing messages and actions? Certainly. And what about an individual themselves? Can a person take conscious steps to discourage themselves? Yes. So the same goes for encouragement. Do humans have a responsibility to the community to keep oneself in an encouraged state? Yes. Giving into choose discouragement sounds like a type of selfpity. What about pep-rallies? Do they really affect behavior? Yes – in the same way that upbeat music encourages and there us alternatively discouraging music.

    The take-home message is that self-encouragement is real and it really does improve performance. That is why companies use encouraging messaging to rally workers. So for a lazy person the usable message is: seek out forms of self encouragement in order to beat back your laziness! …. Which takes us right back to the Medicine page …

  9. Ideas says:

    Is Encouragement A Zero-Sum Game?

    Plz write an article about a fate- type belief that encouragement must (by karma) b followed by equal discouragement. In othr words many ppl have the belief that attempts to self-encourage are doomed to b unwound by equal or greater discouragement. That kind of belief could come into play when someone has had a string of discouraging failures which would seem to make the zerosum perception valid – so why go to all of that trouble to just to end up being disappointed again? The problem is twofold – first is the failure to reach a tipping point during a previous project (to realize a positive success) and second the failure to remember and celebrate and draw energy from the memories of those earlir successes. Reminds me of the honeybadger story guy. 🙂

  10. Ideas says:

    Do ppl sometimes loose a job bcz of laziness?

  11. Edgar says:

    Article idea: What Is The Purpose Of A Manager? To raise the point that many ppl will not work unless they have a manager to hound them.

  12. Instinctual Drives says:

    Can Fear Cause Inactivity?

    Fight or flight or freeze are three instinctual responses that animals display when they sense danger. In this way, perhaps it is fair to view inactivity in humans as a programed response to fear. Obviously, though, we can see that it does not make sense as a longterm strategy. Also, could our fear in some sense conspire with our sloth – since they both have the same goal – inactivity. If a person senses that this dynamic is happening in his own mind then what corrective steps can be taken? Are there any tools that can help me to stop worrying and start living?

    • Instinctual Drives says:

      Are there any tools that can help me to stop worrying and start living? Are there any tools that can help me to stop worrying and start living? Are there any tools that can help me to stop worrying and start living?

  13. Instinctual Drives says:

    Does Everyone Have The Same Amount Of Self-Discipline?

    If no, then are there specific techniques that can be applied to increase the self discipline in those who have less of it? Or are we all just stuck with the degree of self-discipline that we have been born with – like we are stuck with our height and hair color and last name?

    • Ideas says:

      Does everyone have the same capacity for aggravation tolerance? How about “willingness to endure suffering in order to achieve a worthwhile outcome?”. Does everyone have same tolerance level there? A lot of this comes back to “things that are difficult to measure.”

  14. Instinctual Drives says:

    How Much Is Enough?

    Article to Ask how many hours of career-focused exertion is enough per day – st if I do that and I m still unable to b self supporting then I m a worthy client of charity?

    Man must work from sun to sun but …

    40 hour workweek – a product of unions
    What would grandpa have considered sufficient when he came over from the old country? How does socialism factor in? Suppose I was born into a wealthy family.

    Ultimately everyone has to answer the question for themselves. That establishes a standard.

    • Instinctual Drives says:

      About asking for help – what if u can do the thing on yr own? Then does it still make sense to ask for help?

  15. Nine says:

    What does concentration mean? Do u like to concentrate? What does it mean to concentrate “harder”? Is that like studying? Does everyone concentrate equally “hard”? Does it take effort to concentrate?

  16. Nine says:

    Is the mind a muscle? Is your muscle in good shape / bad shape / medium shape? Are u satisfied with the current shape of your mind? If u ask most people they will tell u that hey want (and intend) to be in better *physical* shape – but do most folks perform the legwork to get into better shape?

  17. Habit Rabbit says:

    All inner experiences occur in gradations – high medium or low. There is a lot more actual granularity at work than just H M L – but at least there is that much. We have no reliable way to compare one persons inner experience (or the intensity of it) with another persons inner experience. And so the tendency is to just discount these inner reports – at least until it rises to the level of illness – really a psychiatric condition …

  18. Reader says:

    About my own laziness – the treatments that u describe have worked for me. In fact they worked so fantastically well that the threat of poverty has all but disappeared – so that now the original problem has reemerged – but in a new, and in some ways less tractable, form. It is less tractable because poverty is so far away …

  19. Reader says:

    A house key is an example of using an adapter to perform narrowly focused self-exertion to perform a task – to move the tumblers in the lock so u can open a door. In connection with ALOHL

  20. Instinctual Drives says:

    Opportunity Vs The Perception Of Opportunity

    There is opportunity and then there is the Perception Of Opportunity (POO). POO activates or inhibits a persons Willingness To Self-Exert (WTSE). So for an otherwise healthy person, the two factors that lead into or out of poverty are opportunity and POO (which is always directly proportional to WTSE.). So, in any given environment, overall survive-ability is a function of those two factors. But at a certain threshold level of plain opportunity, POO takes over and plain opportunity becomes irrelevant.

    • Anonymous says:

      The crossover point is at the paradox of restricted opportunity. Example – the library overwhelms you with opportunities – so it is only the POO that is the bottleneck!

  21. PAL says:

    The Self-Pity Machine

    Let suppose that, in order to study the effects of self-pity to produce addictive endorphins, that science teams could offer people cash to engage in self-pity while their brains are being monitored non-invasively.

    Here’s the question: How much cash would you need to earn in order to be willing to do the “work?”. Remember – the “work” means that you just sit there in self-pity while your brain chemistry is being studied. The only downside is that you would have to live in self-pity which is known to be a damaging and addicting habit. For example, you would not be able to make a gratitude list while you are “at work.”

    So, beyond the cost of your time (which you expect to get paid for), what is the additional premium that you think that you should be paid in order to compensate you for the short/medium/long-term damage that the self-pity will cause in your life? (Lets assume that you will be sincere in following the instructions to feel sorry for yourself.)

    A similar question could be asked of other (assumed to be negative) behaviors like smoking, drinking, watching TV. What is the premium that a rational person would ask for in order to engage in those behaviors as part of the study?

    The Self-Harm Premium

    Start out with example of cigarettes, junk food, or just physically dangerous work. Then introduce TSHP – with the qualification that they (the people managing the study) could easily prove if you are really working or not. Ironically, though, the “work” might be so easy and enjoyable that you would actually be willing to do it for a Negative Premium. But the NP only applies for near-term horizons.

    This suggests that there is a pathology of excessive focus on near-term horizons.

    Graphic: A head in a monitoring machine like an EEC. And there are 3 thought bubbles over the head. One has “boo-hoo me”. (The person’s eyes are looking at it.) The other has “a reasonable, objective balance between the blessings and curses that I face”. That is X’ed out. The last one has “forcing myself to only look at the positive things”. That is X’ed out, too.

    Graphic: Newspaper ad: Make easy cash doing what you love! Bring-Me-Down Research Inc, is looking to hire 10 mind workers to indulge in self-pity while wearing a comfortable electro-encephalogram monitor. Full-time starting at $10/hour. Raise with benefits after first 3 months. Pleasant, air-conditioned setting. Call 1-800-XXX-XXXX. Equal Opportunity Employer. Serious inquiries only!

    • Anonymous says:

      Need to. Define self-pity as unnecessarily excess of grief so it includes being reasonable expectation that grief is going to occur at times but it distinguishes between grief at normal levels of green versus grief at abnormally high self-chosen levels.

    • PAL says:

      Does Everyone Willfully Experience Self-Pity At The Same Level?

    • Anonymous says:

      Graphic – average self-harm premium for multiple diff unhealthy behaviors – smoking drinking junk-food tv and then add in resentment, self-pity, loneliness, etc.

  22. PAL says:

    The Value of Regret?

    Are there helpful ways to experience regret? Is it always a waste? For people who are prone to mope in regret, perhaps there is a helpful way to perceive it? And some folks ought (?) to be focusing on regret, but don’t … with the result that they continue on in life making choices far below what would be reasonable for them to make …?

  23. We should also remember that not everyone aspires to succeed financially. People choose certain professions knowing that they will not make a lot of money. Does anybody really think that priests choose the cloth for the “big bucks” it promises and not the other-worldly “retirement plan”? Not everyone wants to be an investment banker, a surgeon, or a corporate lawyer. Many forgo more lucrative careers to pursue interests that they find more gratifying.

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