The Seven Deadly Sins: Lessons Learned from the Three-Toed Sloth

“Do nothing in particular, and do it very well.”
-W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911), English dramatist and librettist.

Apathy, idleness, unexcitability … these are qualities that those of us with ADHD rarely embody.

The last time I lay around all day, watching TV and idly surfing Funny Or Die, I had strep throat, was sunk under a ten-day cycle of Amoxicillin, and literally couldn’t sit up. Sick days are the most slothful I partake in simply because on normal days, at peak energy, lazing around is not only boring, it’s painful. My body twitches, unable to handle the stillness.

My tolerance for extended flights and road trips has increased with age (after learning to pack a variety of books, music, Sudokus, and other such activities wherever I go). In fact, when I see sloths at the Bronx Zoo I’m drawn to their damp snouts and chocolate eyes nearly as much as Kristin Bell. Their lifestyle, on the other hand? Not so much.

Still, for those of us who are often on the go, it’s important to occasionally perch up in a tree, suck on a shoot (or a few insects), and chill out. In other words, there’s something to be learned from our two-toed friend the sloth.

Here are some facts from NationalGeographic.com and NationalGeographicKids.com about the sloth, supplemented by the lessons we ADHD’rs can learn from them:
1. Sloths sleep when and where they need to.
“Sloths even sleep in trees, and they sleep a lot—some 15 to 20 hours every day.”

Although 15-20 hours is a bit excessive, we ADHD’rs need our sleep and rest, perhaps more so than others. If you’re unable to settle down enough to fall asleep, you can try to rest. I am often found perched up in a tree with a book, be it in Central Park, on a camping trip, or in the woods of Maine where I attended college. Reading and writing are two activities that help to slowdown my body’s natural rhythm.
2. Sloths always smile.
“Three-toed sloths have facial coloring that makes them look like they’re always smiling.”

Despite being stalked by the jaguar and the harpy eagle and poached by humans and their ancestors (the giant ground sloth) being extinct, sloths are still smiling. Try to look at a sloth without smiling reflexively. It’s really darn hard. Their gummy grins remind us that life, whether slothful or hyperactive, should be faced with a positive attitude. If you’re having a bad day, ask yourself, “What could make me feel better?”
3. Sloths know when to relax and when to attack.
“If they are caught by a predator, sloths turn from sluggish to slugger, biting fiercely, hissing, slashing with their claws, and shrieking.”
In Maybe You Know My Teen, Mary Fowler describes the moodiness that accompanies ADHD, “[Teens with ADHD] bring incredibly uplifting, inspirational energy. But when they’re ‘in a state,’ watch out. You may see temper the likes of which you’ve never imagined. You see frustration, a short fused, and a lack of predictability” (pg. 95). Sometimes we need to exert the patience to distinguish when someone needs a good tongue lashing and when we’re in one of our honey badger moods.
4. Sloths take in their surroundings (and from multiple angles!).
“Three-toed sloths also have an advantage that few other mammals possess: They have extra neck vertebrae that allows them to turn their heads some 270 degrees.”

Some times, despite our limitation of not having that extra vertebrate, we too need to take a moment and survey our environment, ourselves, our interactions, and our activities. We are stubborn, impulsive creatures, we ADHD’rs. As much as our minds are receptive to novelty and randomness, we often react rather than absorb, speak rather than listen. Pick up a pen and a notebook, and observe what’s happening now.
5. Sloths know when to ask for help.
“The three-toed sloth emits a long, high-pitched call that echoes through the forests as ‘ahh-eeee.’ Because of this cry these sloths are sometimes called ais (pronounced ‘eyes’).”

Although everyone in earshot may startle if you drop open your mouth and scream at the top of your lungs, it’s important to recognize when you’re in trouble and need to ask for help. For those of us with ADHD, this request can be one of the hardest. We can be impatient with others, too proud and self-assertive, but like every other beast in the jungle sometimes we need a helping hand (or claw) to escape a jaguar.
Here are a few places to start:
Self-Help: Help for Adult ADD / ADHD
ADDitude Public Forums
Support Groups for Parents of ADHD Children
The National Resource Center on ADHD
To conclude, here’s a video that (for the first time ever) made me question my choice of professions:

For more of the Seven Deadly Sins series, see the full listing here:
The Seven Deadly Sins (& how they relate to ADHD)

Wrath & the Impulsive Temper

Envy vs. Self-Awareness

Gluttony & the ADHD Diet

Pride & the ADHD Personality

Lessons Learned from the Three-Toed Sloth