Sloth comes in many forms. It ranges from being lazy or idle to actively avoiding doing something. The core meaning of sloth is “the failure to act”. Time management articles teach the basic of idea of “when you are doing one thing; you are not doing something else”. Therefore, you have to decide which task is more important. However, when you want to appear as if you are actually working on the important task, you engage in busy work. You work around the chore, instead of just doing it. (This activity is known as “active sloth”.)
On her website, Maria Cilley, an online coach known as “The Fly Lady”, addresses why some people avoid doing housework. She links it to low-self worth. She explained that these people do not love themselves enough to merit a clean home. Therefore the mess in their homes is evidence of how little they value themselves.
The Fly Lady further addresses a corresponding problem of avoidance - perfectionism. Many people have been taught that if they do not do everything perfectly, then they are not good enough. For example, vacuuming a room may means moving the furniture instead of just vacuuming around it. Therefore, these people delay doing the chore. However, The Fly Lady counters their thinking with “housework done incorrectly still blesses the home.”
I see sloth as a secondary emotion covering the primary emotions of fear and hurt. Sloth gives people something to focus on while avoiding something else. To escape from their feelings, people indulge in pleasurable activities.
My experience with sloth involves fear. During my recovery from major depression, I encountered people who wanted to remain ill. One man in my group sabotaged his recovery so many times that his doctor fired him. Remaining sick is familiar and comforting, where as becoming well is frightening and scary. Moving from the land of the sick to the country of wellness takes true grit and faith in oneself.
If you remain sick, no one will ask you to be responsible. Instead of becoming an adult, you can stay a child. This ensures that you will be taken care of by others. After all, being well means that you cannot check out when things are tough. Therefore what lies behind the reluctance to recover from major illness is usually fear.
My recent brain injury has prompted me to reconsider what it means to be well. I struggle daily with my perceptions of my injury. Since the accident there is now three of me, therefore I have to negotiate each day with my various selves. One “me” is super responsible, and also a perfectionist. This part urges me to do everything regardless of my limitations. This self tends to drown out the voices of the others. I do want to be taken care of, and receive people’s sympathy. However, I need to be as independent as possible. Therefore, I need to test to see what is feasible for me to be doing.
In her essay on laziness, Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun, tells people to embrace their laziness. Stop and listen to what it is telling you. Once we do that, we can be compassionate towards ourselves. When we embrace laziness open heartedly, it can heal us.
Sloth helps us to move slowly towards what is hurting us. It can also prevent us from dealing with it. What we do when we are confronted with sloth is up to us. I choose to let sloth heal me.
Chodron, Pema, “Looking into Laziness”, Shambhala Sun, November 1998, http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2286,
Cilley, Maria, The Fly Lady: Your Personal Online Coach, 2011 http://www.flylady.net/,
---, “Time Management”, Mind Tools, 2011, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/main/newMN_HTE.htm,