Boiling the Frog

There is a saying about boiling a frog, which seems to have gained popularity in the US over the last five years. The theory is that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump right out. But, if you put the frog in a pot of room temperature water and then increase the heat gradually, as it gets used to each new level, it won’t notice, and will rest comfortably in the pot when it reaches boiling, effectively accepting its own death.

Before we proceed, let me say that I am not in favor of boiling live animals. (Or even dead ones, but that’s another story.)

This saying has been applied lately to bad behavior in politics. It could just as easily be applied toward climate change. In general, people apply it to any gradual change that has bad consequences.

But you could also apply it to bring positive change in the world.

Consider New Year’s Resolutions – a tradition that many Americans partake in. On this arbitrary date, you decide that you will change some behavior of yours for the good. Perhaps you are going to eat better, or drink less, or exercise every day, or hold your temper or find a new job or a new home or stop yelling at your kids, or whatever. Many people jump right into the pot of boiling resolution — and then jump right out again. And feel like a failure.

Another way to approach change is to boil your frog slowly. Perhaps you want to exercise more – for many of us, this might translate to joining a gym that you’ll never go to (especially right now) or setting yourself the goal of jogging every day.

Instead, what if you started at room temperature? It may mean acknowledging how little you do walk in your daily life. Do you take the bus to the subway station that is 3 blocks away? Do you take the elevator down instead of the stairs? Do you find yourself puttering about instead of leaving on time, so you are forced to take a car to work, instead of walking? Awareness is the first step.

Once you have awakened your mind to change, you could turn up the heat a little. After surgery a few years ago, it was a huge victory just to walk to the elevator on my floor and back. And I met other people recovering from surgery doing the same thing. One trip to the elevator and back on day one. Then two trips. Then three laps. Eventually I made it to a walk to the end of the block and back, and then around the block. Then two blocks. Then maybe it’s 20 minutes three times a week. Before you know it, you’re trying for 10,000 steps a day, and more on weekends.

And the pot is boiling nicely around you.

This approach is kinder and gentler. Because when you inevitably have an off day, you can be gentle with yourself: I turned the heat up too quickly, I need to start a little lower and work my way back up.

It’s a little easier.

And, as we’ve seen over the last 5 years, it works.

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