Fighting Sloth and Acedia

By his own admission, Josh Raymond can’t multitask. He finds it extremely difficult to fend off distractions when he’s trying to get work done, especially if those distractions are television or music. Television draws us in with its bright colors and lights, a moving picture that hasn’t ceased to amaze the human eye since its invention. Screens help our brain release dopamine, so we have a hard time looking away. But the worst distraction for Josh is music. He’s played instruments since he was a kid, loved music his whole life, and even went on to study music theory in college. Those two distractions are dangerous when Josh is trying to get work done.

And that’s a shame because very often, our work consists of significant, time-sensitive projects. We want to do a good job and get it done in a timely manner. So, fighting off distractions is a constant battle. But what about when we welcome those distractions in? When we’re facing a daunting, overwhelming task, our mind can sometimes subconsciously welcome distractions in to keep us from thinking about the work ahead. And that’s how we fall into sloth and acedia (apathetic).

Josh welcomed Father Jim Goins on to The Inner Life to talk about what these vices are, how we can proactively fight them, and what are the keys to leading productive lives without the fear of becoming lazy and apathetic.

Father Jim began by establishing what the seven deadly sins are, the category to which sloth belongs. Venial sins are often the result of minor character defects and are akin to termite damage in your soul: it’s slow, and it doesn’t become a serious problem unless you let it get out of control and fail to address it. The seven deadly sins, also known as cardinal sins, are the coagulated body of the most serious vices that lead to serious, mortal sin. While committing venial sins is like termite damage, committing cardinal sins is like burning your soul to the ground.

“[The deadly sins] are almost, if you will, the dark mirror image of the virtues. So when there’s a virtue missing in our life, it invites the emergence of one of these capital, deadly sins.”

In order to avoid sloth, we have to know what sloth is. In layman’s terms, it’s commonly referred to as laziness, but that doesn’t quite encompass the whole vice. St. Thomas Aquinas referred to sloth as “sluggishness of the mind”. It’s an “almost maddening” incapacity to find joy or express engagement in fulfilling activities. Father Jim pointed out that it’s basically a sin of omission because we’re not doing what we ought to: finding joy in the service of God and others. Instead of embracing the things that matter, we embrace the distractions of life that have no meaning.

The stereotypical image of modern slothfulness or acedia is someone aimlessly scrolling on the internet, whether it be on their phone or their computer. Shamefully, almost everyone in America is guilty of that. We rely on the internet for everything: work, social life, and entertainment. So, it’s no wonder that we constantly find reasons to put ourselves in front of it and stay there. And it’s only a matter of time before we start to aimlessly scroll.

There’s a reason Jean-Charles Nault called acedia and sloth the “noonday devil”. It’s a vice that strikes at the most opportune time for productivity, work, vigilance, and efficiency. Noon is synonymous with midday, a safe bet for a time at which most people will be at work; on the job. But there’s nothing the noonday devil would love more than for hard workers to give in to restlessness, apathy, and inattention to their tasks.

There are two components to the main tactic we should use to fend off sloth: cultivating self-discipline and implementing tactics that reinforce that self-discipline. The first component comes down to a mental game against yourself. You have to find tangible reasons for why you don’t want to give in to this major sin, and every time you’re tempted to, remind yourself of those reasons. “I want to excel at my career. I want to provide for my family. I want to carry this out joyfully. I want to escape this rut and my depression. I want to be proud of myself.”

And the second component comes down to the guardrails that you set up to keep yourself on track. Put your alarm across the room so you can’t hit the snooze button. Create a strict diet and workout plan that penalizes laziness. Set up accountability protocol with coworkers, friends, and family members. Daily, ask God for the strength to stick to your plan.

Challenge yourself to be the best version of yourself, and with enough grace, you will be.

Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.