How to Overcome Sloth
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Sloth is an old-fashioned sort of term that most people, aside from practicing Catholics, don’t normally use during conversation.
People are more likely to research how to overcome procrastination than how to overcome sloth. However, sloth, procrastination and laziness are essentially the same.
One definition of laziness is “disinclined”. Disinclined means “unwilling, averse, reluctant, lacking strong motivation.” A procrastinator is disinclined to do what must be done and someone who is slothful is also reluctant to do what must be done. So you see, they are essentially the same, although there might be nuances.
Why Look at Sloth Instead of Procrastination
According to Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., general sloth, called pigritia in Latin,is a “voluntary and culpable repugnance to work, to effort, and consequently a tendency to idleness, or at least to negligence, to pusillanimity,(2) which is opposed to generosity or magnanimity.” The Three Ages of the Interior Life.
Sloth, is the spiritual sin that is behind procrastination and laziness and it is a sin we must avoid. We’ll take a look below at why we should avoid this sin as much as we can.
Because we are both body and soul, we have to consider the spiritual aspect of our failings. Enter Sloth.
Sloth is an Evil Disposition of the Will
According to Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.:
The Three Ages of the Interior Life,
“Sloth is not the languor or torpor in action which comes from poor health; it is an evil disposition of the will and of the sensible appetites, by which one fears and refuses effort, wishes to avoid all trouble, and seeks a dolce farniente.”
Acedia or Spiritual Sloth
Pigritia is just normal sloth, but Acedia is spiritual sloth.
“When idleness affects the accomplishment of the religious duties necessary to sanctification, it is called acedia.(3) It is an evil sadness: opposed to spiritual joy, which is the fruit of generosity in the love of God. Acedia is a disgust for spiritual things, a disgust which leads one to perform them negligently, to shorten them, or to omit them under vain pretexts. It is the cause of tepidity.”The Three Ages of the Interior Life.
It’s interesting that sloth seems to be attached to sadness or melancholia. Have you ever gone to a friend’s house and the house looked like a pig-sty? If this is the normal state of the friend’s house, there is a chance of depression.
Before anyone chimes in with how unfortunate it is to connect sloth to depression, here is my disclaimer. If you believe you are clinically depressed, please see a mental health professional.
This sadness eventually leads to a disgust for the things of God. Case in point: You really want to pray the rosary, but you never get around to it. As each day goes by without you praying the rosary, you eventually begin to get disgusted with the rosary itself. The disgust is actually a displacement for how you feel about yourself and the fact that you did not have the will to overcome the sloth.
This sadness, which is radically opposed to that of contrition, depresses the soul and weighs it down because it does not react as it should. Then it reaches a voluntary disgust for spiritual things, because they demand too much effort and self-discipline.”
The Three Ages of the Interior Life.
Why We Must Overcome Sloth
Sloth is a sin we must battle with our whole heart and soul. Believe it or not, sloth can lead to a variety of unfortunate results.
St Gregory says:
From this evil sadness, says St. Gregory (loc. cit.), are born malice – and no longer only weakness – rancor toward one’s neighbor, pusillanimity in the face of duty to be accomplished, discouragement, spiritual torpor even to the forgetting of the precepts, and finally, dissipation of spirit and the seeking after forbidden things. This seeking after unlawful things manifests itself by the externalization of life, by curiosity, loquacity, uneasiness, instability, and fruitless agitation.(13) Thus a person arrives at spiritual blindness and the progressive weakening of the will.”
The Three Ages of the Interior Life.
Tips on Overcoming Sloth
Pigritia is what most people mean when they speak of procrastination and laziness. How we attack pigritia depends on the reason for the sloth.
There are three main reasons why people procrastinate:
1) Dislike of the Task Itself
If you find yourself procrastinating on a project which involves many tasks, you are more likely to do the tasks you enjoy the most and keep on putting off the tasks you hate.
That is exactly the wrong thing to do. You must do the hardest and most loathsome tasks first. Try giving yourself a reward for completing the task.
2) You Feel Overwhelmed
Feeling overwhelmed can paralyze you into not doing anything at all. It is almost as if you fall into despair. One way you can deal with the overwhelm is by breaking a large task into small, manageable pieces.
We all know the famous question: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: one bite at a time.
For example, let’s say you have to clean your whole house because you’ve been a little slack and your mother-in-law is coming over in a week. Split up the gargantuan task of cleaning a month’s work of grime, by focusing on different rooms each day. You might do the bedroom on Monday, and the kitchen on Tuesday. You might save dusting for Wednesday. Breaking the larger tasks into more manageable pieces can help you feel confident that you will complete a task and therefore decrease the chances that you will procrastinate.
3) You are Disorganized
If you tend to procrastinate because you are someone who is disorganized then adding a calendar schedule might very well make all the difference.
There are many tools and apps you can use to create a schedule and if you’re a paper and pen person, a notebook might be more helpful.
- Use a “to-do” list.
- Sort your tasks into projects with deadlines
- When you have a project that is due with an open-ended date, you’re probably not going to get it done. Give yourself a deadline.
- Have an accountability partner
- o Let people know about your deadlines and give them permission to hold you accountable when you don’t complete a task you promised to.
- Read about St John’s Bosco’s thoughts on idleness.
Spiritual sloth is the more dangerous sloth as it affects the soul, and anything that affects the soul has precedence. Here are some ways you can overcome spiritual sloth
Bring it Up to Your Confessor
Speak of your struggles with sloth with your spiritual director, if you have one, or if you don’t have one, a confessor you confess to regularly and who knows you well, should be able to give you advice about your sloth. He should be able to give you ideas particular to your type of sloth based on the root of the issues.
Mortification, Mortification, Mortification
Offer up mortifications for your sin of sloth, the conversion of sinners or for the souls in purgatory. Denying yourself can go a long way in digging out deep-seated sloth.
Pray the Morning Offering Every Day
The morning offering starts your day right! I like this one:
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works,
joys and sufferings
of this day for all the intentions
of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and in particular
for the intentions of the Holy Father. Amen
There is also a nice morning offering by St. Therese de Lisieux.
Structure Your Week Around Spiritual Themes
If you have a hard time with getting to your prayers or spiritual reading, structure your week around spiritual themes.
For example, Saturday is devoted to our Lady. Pray the Angelus or the Rosary or any specia litanies to our Lady and her sorrows. Sunday is devoted to the Trinity. You might like to read about the Trinity or pray special litanies or recite the Creed.
For a list of possible themes, check out this list from fisheaters.com.
Divide Your Day According to Hours
If you pray the Divine Office (Liturgy of the hours), that is a perfect way to make sure you pay your attention to your spiritual life throughout the day. You might try praying Lauds, vespers or Compline. Although it’s rare, some parishes have public Compline which you can attend.
Set a time for the family rosary. This will ensure that you never miss a rosary because even when you’re feeling tired, you know that you will be letting your family down, so you are more likely to be consistent.
Some people have a great devotion to praying the Angelus at 12 and 6 and the Divine Mercy at 3 PM. Shoose one of those devotions or any number of devotions and stick to it.
Fighting sloth does not mean you have to do everything. Your house doesn’t need to be spotless. You don’t have to do devotions from 6 AM to 12 AM. Start small and be consistent. You will find it easier to add more devotions if you desire.
May God richly bless and encourage everyone who is striving to overcome sloth.
This article was originally posted in 2019.
- Quotes from the Seven Last Words of Christ (Bonaventure/Arnold) - March 23, 2023
- The Devastating Consequences of Venial Sin - February 12, 2023
The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:
- The Monastic Diurnal: The Day Hours of the Monastic Breviary in Latin and English
- Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery With the Saints
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WoW! This hit home for me. It scared me. I really struggle and can see how I’ve graduated to acedia! Please pray for me. I do not have a spiritual director.
You got it!
I was shocked to have been called out as having spiritual lukewarmness or sloth. Our Lord wanted me to hear this and I did and I am very ashamed. I have given myself, and others, a number of excuses from here to Sunday, but it is true. And, now that I understand what has happened to me, I ask for prayers, God’s forgiveness and His grace to overcome the poor state of my will. I am ashamed of what is the sad truth of my spiritual life. Thank you Jesus.
Don’t linger in that shame. Repent and make a firm determination to do better. God bless and prayers for you!
Wow, hit home! Great article. Thank you.
Happy to help!
Thank you Lord for speaking to me
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I needed this…and especially on a day when I have asked God to help me in this area. I feel like He has spoken to me, through you! Blessings!
Glory to God! Really happy this article helped you!
Outstanding perceptions and recommendations. Have been hiding out from the assessment of myself that I can no longer deny. Thanks, Holy Spirit.
Happy the article was helpful!
God bless you!
Thanks and may God continue to prosper your work…
From this I have found out that my weakness is also a sin… God help me
God knows your heart and will reward you for your efforts. God bless!
Thank you. May God bless you.
This was really helpful! I’ve been under Dr’s care for depression 40+ yrs. I live alone with almost no accountability. Not only am I sick of confessing sloth over & over, I’ve become disgusted with my own excuses!! So I’m 1) going to confession more often (every 2 wks); 2) back at Al-Anon 3) have a new sponsor I have to call daily 3) in 2 Catholic virtual healing/prayer groups, 1 of which is women only 4) getting up much earlier. That last one is all God. 💕 Please pray for me. God bless your work!!