If only you could lose weight by indulging in more french fries, or learn a tough new subject by glancing occasionally at an unopened book. But as we all know, in life there are no free lunches. If you want to accomplish important things, you need to be strict with yourself.

Or maybe not. Or at least not always.

That's the intriguing possibility raised in a new paper from a team of European researchers. Previous studies show that vegging out can actually be highly restorative for those who are mentally exhausted, but the research team wondered, are the types of people who are most in need of a night on the couch the least likely to allow themselves a healthy dose of sloth? Is guilt preventing the most type-A among us--those who really, really need to kick back more--from allowing themselves to be healthfully lazy now and again?

Leisure-phobes are more likely to burn out

To find out the researchers rounded up a group of 500 Swiss and German study subjects and presented them with a series of questions about how much they worked, how exhausted they felt, and how much guilt they experienced after indulging in some couch potato time. Sure enough, those closest to complete burnout were also the most likely to feel bad about kicking back and doing nothing.

This is far from a definitive study and there are several possible ways to interpret the data, as both the researchers themselves and the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog point out. The study authors suggest that the prime takeaway is that cutting yourself some slack about, well, slacking off is good for you (at least if you're tightly wound), or, as BPS puts it, "the people who could most benefit from the restorative effects of lounge-based downtime... are the least likely to do so."

It's also possible, however, that the guiltiest study participants were simply right in their estimation of the uselessness of doing nothing--for them, playing a videogame or indulging in a Simpsons marathon really might not help much with their stress levels, making them completely correct in telling themselves to stop wasting time.

For greater productivity, skip the guilt

More research is needed to rule out this second scenario, but the idea of being kind to yourself about occasional lapses in productivity or self-control--especially if you're the type to beat yourself up for every dip in productivity--has been endorsed by previous studies. For example, one of the best cures for procrastination, according to science, is to forgive yourself for procrastinating. Skip the guilt trip and you'll accomplish more in the long run, studies show.

So while we await definitive results on the pressing question of how guilty you should feel about putting your feet up now and again, perhaps type-A entrepreneurs should err on the side of self compassion. Next time you feel the urge to reach for the remote control, think twice before you stop yourself. Guiltlessly vegging out on the couch every now and again just might be the easiest route ever to greater productivity.

Do you feel guilty when you indulge in a lazy night in from of the TV?


Published on: Sep 19, 2014