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Conquer Laziness Now

Updated on December 7, 2014

Readers of a certain age may remember an old Goodyear tire commercial with the tag line, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” The applications transcend auto repair, as Shaomin Li, professor of international business at Virginia’s Old Dominion University discovered on a business trip to Taiwan.

As he was being chauffeured from one venue to the next, Professor Li noticed that his host always backed into parking lot spaces, opting for often tricky and laborious maneuvering over the simpler method of pulling straight forward. Detecting a wider pattern of behavior, Professor Li conducted his own experiment. He discovered that 88% of Chinese drivers back in when they park, in contrast to 6% of American drivers.

“All of a sudden,” recounts Professor Li, “I said, gee -- isn't this delayed gratification?”


Type or stereotype?

We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on a single study, but this observation does not appear in a vacuum. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell investigates the popular stereotype that transplanted Asians excel academically and professionally in contrast to homegrown Americans.

Mr. Gladwell discovered that the stereotype is much more accurate among southern Chinese than among northern Chinese, and he identifies a single reason for the difference:

Rice paddies.

In Northern China, where agriculture is much more westernized, farmers rely more on mechanization and are more likely to practice ranching, which leaves animals largely on their own to graze. In contrast, the life of farmers in Southern China involves an occupation more labor intensive than most Americans can even imagine.

The Wisdom of Peasant Farmers

  • If farmers weren't busy, where would the grain to get through winter come from?
  • If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy.
  • Useless to ask about the crops; everything depends on hard work and fertilizer.
  • No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year will fail to make his family rich.

Work ethic

Rice farming involves rising before the sun almost every day of the year to oversee multiple pools of rice plants, adjusting water flow to keep each pool at the perfect level, and checking for leaks or breakage in the pool walls. The clay basins that form the pools have to be perfectly flat, as do the layers of mud that form the soil. Fertilizer has to be blended and measured perfectly, and weeds have to be pulled by hand constantly.

Before the process even begins, Chinese rice farmers choose from among hundreds of varieties, of which a dozen or more are chosen to minimize the risk of crop failure. Once chosen, the rice is planted in a seedbed from which it has to be transplanted a few weeks later, with each plant spaced exactly six inches apart from every other. Insect control is done by hand, from one plant to the next.

It is arduous, endless work. A westerner working a 40-hour week puts in about 2000 hours a year, little of which is physical and much of which includes surfing Facebook and schmoozing around the watercooler. Even western farmers face physical labor only in certain seasons, and even they have come to rely more and more on technology.

According to some estimates, however, a typical rice farmer works 3000 hours of hard labor in one year. But it’s a living. And it creates a culture of discipline that seeps into every aspect of life. Even the way people park their cars.


The rewards of waiting

Reporting on Professor Li’s study, NPR’s Shankar Vedantam suggests a connection to the famous “Stanford Marshmallow Test” from the 1960s, where preschoolers were asked to sit alone in a room in front of a single marshmallow with the promise of a second one if they waited to eat the first. About a dozen years later, researchers discovered that those who waited outscored those who gave in immediately by an average of 210 points on their SAT exams. Over the decades that followed, the ability to delay gratification seemed to account for measurably greater success in almost all areas of professional and personal life.

But there is one question the study does not: Is delayed gratification innate, in which case we are born programmed with either a huge genetic advantage or disadvantage? Or is it learned, in which case the test results tell us more about parenting skills than about human nature?


Lessons learned

Either way, the application of the test to international parking habits suggests two things. First, that a culture of discipline benefits every member of that culture. Whether it’s how we park or how we farm, our environment shapes us in ways that may have a profound impact on the course of our lives.

Second, even if we weren’t fortunate enough to have grown up in a disciplined home or society, by making conscious decisions about mundane actions we might be able to transform ourselves into completely different people

Consider not only the way we park but the way we get up in the morning, swinging out of bed versus burying our heads in under the pillow; the way we eat, dropping our head down to the plate and shoveling in whole mouthfuls versus sitting up straight and raising measured bites to our lips; the way we pass people on the street, with a smile, a nod, or a brief greeting versus a silent grimace while we refuse to make eye contact at all; the way we speak to people when we’re under pressure, snapping and snarling, or with conscious awareness that other human beings have a higher purpose than to be our whipping posts.

As it turns out, our nagging mothers and stern fathers were really looking out for our best interests after all.


Taking the first step

The paradox we face is that discipline requires discipline, and too many of us don’t have the discipline to take the first step. How many New Year’s resolutions come to nothing, and how many bricks of good intention pave the road to nowhere? As King Solomon says in Proverbs:

The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men of sound judgment.

But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And if we take the first step, we have at least a chance of taking another, and then another and another. And we can start right now, with something as simple as the way we park our cars.


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    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 3 years ago from Texas, USA

      This a very though-provoking article, Yonason Goldson. It is definitely food for thought. My contention is that technology, while of great benefit in many ways, has also made us as a culture more lazy than ever before. There is very little notion of delayed gratification when the expectation is to have instant results in just about every aspect of our lives. Couple that with our modern "need" to be constantly entertained and you end up with very little personal growth or accomplishment.

      As an artist I'm also concerned with what our lack of discipline has done to our creative selves. How can a person develop a creative voice when no practice, learning, or introspection takes place?

      Thanks for this wonderful "heads up" to people who aspire to be more...

    • Yonason Goldson profile image

      Yonason Goldson 3 years ago

      You make an astute point, Tanara: Traditional Chinese culture only appears contradictory to freedom. Without discipline and harmony, we become slaves to our impulses and our egos.

    • Tanara Lee profile image

      Tanara Lee 3 years ago

      This is an interesting and well-written article.

      Indeed, the culture of the Chinese focuses on discipline and harmony, while that of the Americans focuses more on freedom.

      Even though they seem to be contradictory, they have come to be very beautiful cultures that the rest of the world look up to.

      May this article inspire everyone to work harder, and also not to belittle the farmers and the noble work they do to keep food on our tables.

    • Yonason Goldson profile image

      Yonason Goldson 3 years ago

      Thanks to everyone who commented. Wouldn't it be nice to have a discipline pill?

      But that's the point, of course. May we all find the inspiration and motivation we need to push ourselves to the limits of our potential.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congratulations on HOTD!!

      Very interesting, indeed! Also very interesting to note that quite a few parking areas here in the USA bear signs reading, "Do not back in!" That would seem to make some kind of sense, actually, as there is more overhang of a vehicle behind the rear tires than over the front tires, (in most cases), and if the driver is unable to see the rear of their car (likely, due to design profiles), then they are at risk for backing into an adjacent wall, or another parked car. So, maybe it's culture; maybe it's practicality.

      On the other hand, I can relate to the "no discipline" thing. I see countless examples of laziness every day, including my own procrastination with sorting the endless piles of paper that manage to clutter my desk.

      As for being an 'early riser,' I am not, and never have been. We all have different biological clocks, and I'm a night owl by nature. I get much more done after dark than I do all day.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Learning to work hard in youth becomes ingrained in one too . My family taught me that..and I am blessed.

      This was interesting to read and to see how laziness can be a thing of the past. Congrats on HOTD.

      Angels are on the way ps

    • supercibor profile image

      Hector Herrera 3 years ago from Dominican Republic

      This hub is very inspiring and hould be read in every school in the world.

    • profile image

      myraggededge 3 years ago

      I would have liked you to tell me *how* to stop being lazy as per the title. In fact, I would have liked you to tell me how I could conquer someone elses (teenager) laziness - LOL!

      As regards parking, it depends if you need easy access to the trunk/boot for grocery shopping, dogs, carrying kids' stuff, etc. As a busy mother and guide dog puppy trainer, I tend to park boot outwards for that very reason. I can't think of any time that I would not.

    • Misfit Chick profile image

      Catherine Mostly 3 years ago from Seattle, WA - USA - The WORLD

      I'm sorry, but I'm MORE than a little disappointed with this Hub. I mean, SURE you made some pretty good and inspiring (I guess) parallel comparisons to China's rice farmers and giving us reasons to get our butts up earlier in the morning and work harder...

      But, I was really hoping for the magic formula on 'conquering laziness now'. Inspiration has never done much to help me with my laziness or profound procrastination habits other than to make me feel like more of a dork, ha!

      Nice, insightful Hub, well done! ;)

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 3 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on HOTD. These are interesting studies and very inspirational. I can see how people who are used to working hard will continue to work hard in other aspects of their life. It becomes a practice and a way of life.

      I know there are other cultures - Japan for example - where they back their cars into parking spaces. They did a study here in the US and found that it was a safer way to park. People tend to not be in parking spaces, so you can avoid hitting them when you back in to the space.

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 3 years ago

      Your Hub reinforces very well the quote "discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment". Congrats on Hub of the Day!

    • MHiggins profile image

      Michael Higgins 3 years ago from Michigan

      Congratulations on HOTD! Thanks for writing this great hub. It certainly made me look at things a little closer in my own life and the world. Voted up.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Congratulations for HOTD!

      Nice and well written and in a single hub you gave so many important lessons---to be disciplined, to be an early riser, to be organised, to work hard if you want great results and so on. A farmer's life teaches us so many things.

      I liked the way you used the green fields to give the example.

      Very well done and voted up!