In defence of sloths

Kelly McShane
3 min readSep 10, 2021

I have spent the past year in a sloth-like state. S l o w m o v i n g a n d t h i n k i n g.

Initially, I couldn’t assume any sloth-like qualities. My mind was in over-drive, my thoughts were racing, and I was in a near-constant state of frenetic activity. Alas, this ended abruptly with a crash (read collapse) and I dawned my sloth cloak. This was followed by that itchy and uncomfortable feeling, and near-refusal to remain clothed in the brown fur of sluggishness. Why, you ask? Well, did you know that in many languages sloth translates as “lazy” and they are often described as “stupid?”

With good help and guidance, I was able to overcome my dismissive attitude towards sloths. I got off the treadmill of frenetic activity and I leaned in to this new state that was thrust upon me. I sat down (really, laid down) for hours and days. And as I did, the sloth cloak seemed to embody me in ways I hadn’t expected.

Sleepy Sloth

Sloths focus their time on food, and dedicate most of their day to resting and sleeping. Okay, fine, they sleep 10 to 20 hours a day, something I was not quite able to achieve. However, my focus on quality sleep meant that I did indeed align my priorities to those of the sloths: a dedicated focus on sleep and rest. Sloths move slow and sleep a lot not because they are lazy. They do so for survival! Yes, that’s right. You might be living your life as “survival of the fittest,” but I introduce to you to living life as “survival of the most rested, restored, and rejuvenated.”

Sloths find an incredible balance between energy expenditure and energy intake. Consider that for a moment. Do we spend more of our lives seeking to balance our inputs and outputs? Do we plan our work and other commitments based on the quality of our meals, sleep, and exercise? Instead, for many of us, we use the “left-over” time (clearly insufficient) to maintain and restore our health, only after having focused on our commitments.

My year of being a sloth really showed me how to live my life within my energy means.

At the start, I accepted that I might only have energy to engage in two hours of activity a day. As time passed I contemplated how to increase my inputs: What conditions do I need to put in place to increase my sleep, food and exercise? Only when that reserve of energy (i.e., my savings) was built up sufficiently did I take on more additional activities, commitments and actions (i.e., spend). In essence, instead of making decisions on my time based on commitments, I made decisions on my time based on my energy. This is akin to the balance that sloths maintain between their energy intake and expenditure. This new decision process enabled me to recover, connect, grow and be in awe of sloths.

If there is ever a time in your life where you crash or collapse, embrace the chance to be a sloth and dawn that brown fur of sluggishness with gusto (or rather, rallentando). Doing so will support a recovery that seeks to match your energy expenditure with your energy intake. This has the potential to shift your entire energy means, so that you do not find yourself “in debt” at the end of each day and month.

Live within your energy means and find the inner sloth in you!

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Kelly McShane

Organizational Psychologist + Consultant; Passionate about Change + Wellbeing in People + Systems