How to master the art of sloth.

The life-changing practice of embracing your inner slug.

If you’d rather listen than read, tune into Sound Insight, episode 10.

How to master the art of sloth at CathyJacob.com

Sloth has a bad rap.

Even the dictionary defines it in negative terms – a reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness or, alternatively, a slow-moving tropical American mammal that hangs upside down from the branches of trees.

If that wasn’t enough to deter you, there is the Bible. In Proverbs 6:6, Solomon says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.”

As someone who has lived the lifestyle of both the ant and the sluggard, there is much to be said for hanging upside down from the branches of trees. Or, my version, hanging splayed on the sofa with a carton of Haagen-Dazs and a remote.

Sloth: Sin or Virtue?

Early Christians put sloth on the list of Seven deadly sins, right up there with gluttony and lust. But a growing body of research suggests that sloth in moderation has a vital place in a well-balanced lifestyle. Of course, researchers call it by other, more palatable, names like rest and recovery.

These studies claim that intense effort followed by periods of intentional sloth reduce your stress, improve your health, and improve your performance.

If you’d like to harness the restorative powers of sloth, here are some tips to get you started.

Understand what is and what is not, sloth.

Sloth is a discipline unto itself that requires careful cultivation. Here are some examples to help you discern the difference between practicing sloth and simply having fun.

  • Rock climbing, zip-lining, skiing, running, cycling – not sloth, too much heart-rate elevation.
  • Slow walks in nature – sloth grey-area. If it feels effortless, it could be an acceptable part of a sloth regimen. (See lumbering, below.)
  • Trekking in Nepal. Not sloth! (Trust me, I have tried it. Epic sloth fail!)
  • Binge-watching Netflix. Primo sloth!
  • Scrolling social media – NOT sloth. (Social media promotes too much social anxiety, insecurity, and outrage to qualify as sloth.)
  • Reading a book – quality sloth. (If the reading has no educational or illuminating value beyond entertainment, even better).
  • Travelling to exotic locations, touring and sight-seeing – fun, but not sloth.
  • Lying on a beach where a stranger brings you drinks with fruit and umbrellas in them – quality sloth.

Rule of thumb. If it takes effort, it’s not sloth.

Schedule and prepare for your sloth.

Guilt-free, spontaneous sloth is rare. It requires a catastrophe of some sort – a national telecom network failure or a major weather event. You can’t afford to wait for these opportunities to practice sloth.

The only other way to get guilt-free sloth is to schedule it.

I know what you’re thinking. Do you need to schedule time to do nothing redeeming?

Trust me. You do.

I recommend you begin by scheduling a few minutes of sloth spaced throughout your day. This builds your sloth muscle and doesn’t threaten your productivity. Over time you can build up to as much as a half day of sloth per week. Some religious traditions observe a weekly Sabbath which could be considered a form of sloth practice. Whatever your goal, success depends on preparation.

Put in place ‘sloth-optimal’ conditions to save you from your inner tyrant.

There is nothing more tempting for a doer than to suck up quality sloth time to clean out the bedroom closet. If you do not have the self control to let the dishes sit in the sink, the laundry to languish in the laundry basket or the kitty litter to go untended, take care of these things in advance of sloth.

Sloth demands discipline.

True aficionados fill a basket or cooler with savory and sweet delights, like storm chips, popcorn, or cookies, and place it within easy reach of their favorite chair.

Sloth is doing what you love for no redeeming purpose other than you love it. The ultimate “Me Time.”

Build a sloth wardrobe.

Thanks to COVID 19 and months of lockdown, you likely already have a passable sloth wardrobe.

The number one criterion for sloth wear is comfort. That favorite pair of jammies, the old t-shirt with holes in it, the fuzzy socks or slippers, and, of course, that greatest of all sloth accessories, a favorite blankie that smells… like you.

Learn the life-saving practice of lumbering.

Regular movement is an important aspect of sloth. Lumbering is sloth in motion.

Bears lumber. They also hibernate – ultimate sloth. New practitioners should lumber at least once an hour. Simply stand and shuffle to the coffee machine, or to the fridge, or to the bathroom. If your legs are numb or your neck is stiff, you may want to throw in a little gentle stretching. Easy though. No need to build up a sweat or elevate your heartrate.

Take a sloth holiday.

In our home, we observe a sacred annual sloth holiday. “The International Day of Perp,” named for the verb, “To Perp.”

  • The act of non-action.
  • The act of sitting or lying about with no purpose.
  • The practice of sloth.

We observe The International Day of Perp on December 26th. If you celebrate Christmas or other December holidays, December 26th has all the right ingredients for a sloth holiday.

The fridge is stocked with leftovers, everybody is low energy after weeks of celebration, business and government establishments are closed.

When our kids were teenagers, they added the “conquer your day” challenge to the mix. This was an invention of my youngest son, who I am proud to say is a true ‘Sloth Jedi.’

To conquer your day, you must return to your unmade bed at the end of the day wearing the same outfit that you slept in the night before. You must not shower, wash your hair, shave, or brush your teeth. Conquering your day is much more challenging than you might imagine. For me, the specter of someone dropping in unexpectantly usually sends me grumbling into the shower.

Conquering the day is a form of ‘extreme sloth’ and if practiced sparingly feels a little like a cleanse or detox from long hours of work.

Beware of the dark side of sloth.

Before you don your flannel jammies, pour a beer, and settle down to re-watch Season One of Game of Thrones, you need to pause. Like all good things, Sloth has a dark side.

A by-product of the endless sequence of COVID-19 lockdowns is that sloth experienced a resurgence in popularity. If we learned anything from two years of yoga pants and stringy hair, it was that sloth, like fine wine needs to be sipped, not guzzled.

It’s a slippery slope from sloth to coma.

Embrace the paradox of sloth.

If you’re ready to embrace the sloth lifestyle, here’s a bit of bad news.

Sloth is an essential part of healthy “Interval Living.” Borrowed from High Intensity Interval Training, interval living is based on the premise that the integration of exertion and rest in everything we do is the ideal way to live.

Research into productivity, longevity, exercise, and diet reveals that physical exertion followed by rest; mental focus followed by rest; even periods of eating followed by fasting produce improved performance and health outcomes over long hours of work, steady state exercise or long hours of rest alone.

Sloth works best when it follows periods of intense physical and / or mental exertion.

Like anything worth doing, sloth takes dedication and practice. The irony is that to achieve the miraculous benefits of sloth, you need to put in some effort.

You can be a force for change by shunning the guilt of sloth and proudly sharing here. How do you do sloth?

Looking for more? Subscribe to The Slow Sip, my free monthly newsletter packed with articles, podcast episodes, practices and practical recommendations to help you transform your relationship to work and life.

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    Cathy Jacob

    I'm Cathy Jacob. I am a writer, coach and co-founder of Fire Inside Leadership. After two decades of coaching leaders on how to inspire while navigating the challenges of demanding careers and lives, I’ve created this site to share the best of what I’ve learned from my courageous clients and leaders in the fields of psychology, leadership, philosophy and neuroscience on what it takes to live an inspired life.

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