To the casual observer, distractibility, laziness and procrastination can look a lot alike. From a more specific clinical point of view, they are three different phenomena which arise for different reasons and are addressed differently if people need help with one or the other of them.
Here is a quick reference to the differences between distractibility, laziness and procrastination.
In the most simplified terms, distractibility is a word that describes the trouble some people have sustaining attention. These are often the people we refer to as “day dreamers.” Their minds wander from thing to thing and they find it hard to stay focused on something – even when they really want to. Clinically, distractibility means something far more specific than simply willfully not paying attention.
Distractibility can be a function of a number of different things. When it is temporary or recurs intermittently, it may be a result of a person being preoccupied with other life events and needs than the place where they are sitting or standing is requiring or requesting them to focus on.
When distractibility seems to be a continuing way of being and persists to a degree that it interferes with a person’s life and ability to achieve their goals, it may be a symptom of one of the more common varieties of Attention Deficit Disorder. If that is the case, evaluation by an appropriately trained and licensed physician should be considered as certain medications have been found to be quite effective in building the ability to sustain attention and focus.
When we use the word laziness to characterize the way a person behaves or is perceived, we usually are suggesting that the person has both the ability and the resources to do what needs to be done but just chooses not to want to spend any of their available energy doing it. It is often misunderstood as a choice intended to work or expend as little effort as possible or to take the path of least resistance. IN fact, this may sometimes actually be the case.
Oftentimes, however, what we are quick to call laziness turns out to be, when more carefully looked at and considered, found to be a function of something considerably less volitional. Sometimes, people can appear “lazy” if they are so sure that their efforts will fail, that they do not bother trying. In that instance, what is perceived as a choice to be lazy is actually a symptom of low self esteem, fear of failure or perhaps even depression.
This particular phenomenon is often observed in school age children who have stopped trying in school because they do not believe it possible to succeed. The adults are prone, especially if the child appears bright, verbally adroit and capable, to regard their apparent lack of motivation as laziness. It may not be. It more accurately be a behavior that signals giving up and a sign to those trained and paying attention that some help is needed.
Finally, there is the behavior we call procrastination. Literally, a prolonged inability to make a decision, chronic procrastination, more often than not, reflects a fear of making a bad or “wrong” decision. People can have a hard time deciding even simple things. like what kind of bread to buy or what to eat for breakfast. Procrastination is not limited to clearly large and life changing decisions. One who is prone to procrastinate tends often to have trouble making most decisions about most things, whether large or small, most of the time.
As is the case with distractibility, procrastination can have the impact of interfering with a person’s day to day functioning. If and when it gets to that point, the consultation of a mental health professional would probably be a useful thing providing that the procrastinator can force himself or herself to make an appointment with one and keep it!
Distractibility, laziness and procrastination can be confused for each other are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, they are three importantly different things.