Lazy? Or is it just a symptom of a body focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB)


As an online BFRB  coach, one of the most common complaints I hear is “I’m just too lazy.”

On my to do list for 3 months has been: “Write an article explaining why people with BFRBs are not lazy even though most think that they are”. Some might say this means I am lazy myself.  I don’t believe that.  I struggle sometimes to gather myself to do tasks, and I stress myself out by thinking about tasks more than doing them, but I believe it is due to the condition itself, not laziness.BFRBs are, in most but not all cases, a disorder of avoidance and of passive rather than active behaviour.  The mind is more active than the body; Emotions are stronger than logic.  We have to overcome a barrage of perceived obstacles to get things done, and face feelings of failure and inadequacy on occasions when little actually GETS done. Substantial research supports this. High anxiety is associated with slower reaction times (Coombes et al, 2009). 

The motivation to focus on a task comes from anticipation of positive performance; without which, focus reduces or may simply stop. (Sarter et al, 2006). There are two systems of attention, one goal-directed (conscious choice) and the other driven by (often subconscious) reactions to events. Anxiety impairs efficient functioning of the goal-directed system while increasing the subconscious system (Eysenck et al, 2007).

Picking, for example, significantly impairs study (Woods et al, 2006) resulting in false thoughts about being lazy and unmotivated;  these become beliefs and self-criticism gains ground. Without skilled assistance, this often becomes overwhelming.  These processes in the brain are not easy to research, but I am in a privileged position of having communicated with thousands of people with BFRBs for over 20 years, observing similarities.

  • Our lack of faith in our ability to do things well and speedily, prevents us getting started
  • Our attention is in past or future, but we can only start NOW.
  • I have a note for when I am procrastinating, which says “You would do this for someone you love in a heartbeat.”

    Starting the housework can be as much effort as wading through an Olympic sized pool full of treacle; this pool of treacle actually consists of subconscious self-doubting thoughts, bombarding the mind.  It is hard to counteract self-criticism when one is completely unaware of it, so part of my job as a coach is to help tricsters gain access to their critical inner dialogue.

    There is a saying that “The only limitations are those we put on ourselves” and these spiritual affirmations are only partially relevant because how do you remove a limitation which you unconsciously put on yourself?

    For example the thought “I can’t stop picking” is a limitation we put on ourselves. Of course we can stop picking because we don’t do so 24 hours a day.  Babies and very young children cure themselves of hairpulling etc, so why can’t adults?  

    • In my view, the answer is language.

    The children who cure themselves are usually below six years old.  Below six we need all our language skills for learning new things so worry about the future is less frequent and not organised into words.  By about seven a child is capable of thinking “what if I can’t stop pulling”, which with a skilled coach will change to “what if I do stop picking, what will the rewards be?

    Let’s take as an example, the thought that you’re not sure if you can be truly happy.  Many of us have this thought, while being unaware that it is simply a worry. It is usually accompanied by many other worries. With so many thoughts, it can be hard to share feelings with people because you are constantly judging, not just yourself, but the thoughts themselves. 

    Often while thinking that we’re lazy or unmotivated, we are struggling to motivate ourselves,while being bombarded with self-critical thoughts.  It is natural to struggle to get started on tasks, given the relentless thoughts  and self critical self image.  It is easy to really believe yourself to be lazy and unmotivated and when others, who do not understand tric, have said that about you in the past, it almost reinforces what you fear.    Perhaps it would be truer to say that you are afraid that you are lazy and unmotivated.  I’d be afraid to be those things too, because that would mean in a way that I couldn’t have the things that I want, such as  success.

    Such organisational challenges are common amongst us and they are frustrating and disheartening, so that picking, pulling or biting etc. is really a by-product of the condition, as our negative thoughts about ourselves are so hard to handle.

    Sometimes people have to experience pain in order to evolve into better people and despite your own criticism, you are doing your best. Now is the time to slowly begin to nurture yourself into a deeper understanding that it is the disorder which has messed with your motivation and not you being lazy.


    Coombes SA, Higgins T, Gamble KM, Cauraugh JH, Janelle CM ,(2009)  Journal of Anxiety Disorders 2009 December; 23(8): 1072
    Eysenck, Michael W.; Derakshan, Nazanin; Santos, Rita; Calvo, Manuel G. (2007)
    Anxiety and cognitive performance: Attentional control theorym Emotion, Vol 7(2), May 2007.
    Sarter M Gehring WJ, Kozak R, Brain Res Rev. 2006 Aug;51(2):145-60. Epub 2006 Mar 13.
    Woods, DW, Wetterneck CT & Flessner CA (2006). Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44.