The Character Movement

frog rule

The frog rule

By Andy Zimney

After waking up with a sore throat, my oldest daughter got a positive strep test back from the clinic the other day. We were sent home with a bottle of liquid penicillin and a 24-hour quarantine.

My daughter has a notoriously limited list of foods she finds acceptable — most of her favorites range in the white to slightly off-white color spectrum. So we weren’t surprised this morning when we found her staring at the tablespoon serving of medicine with a pained look on her face trying to will the whole situation away.

She’s capable of maintaining this posture for hours at a time.

I broke it down for her:

“You can gulp the medicine down now and get back to happily reading your books. Or, you can stall, put a half hour of worry and anxiety in your pocket and then take the medicine. Which option do you like better?”

She’s a smart kid: she choked down the meds.

Mark Twain is credited with the line, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Actually, Nicolas Chamfort deserves the true credit for the line, and in his version, it was a toad. Nonetheless, the notion behind the “frog rule” is to start your day with something terrible in the aim of moving toward something great.

Often the frog rule gets misconstrued as a masochistic ritual of self-torture. While I think there is some benefit to taking on some tasks simply to remind ourselves we can do hard things, I don’t think that’s where the core value of the frog rule lies.

All projects, even the ones that we know will make us better, come with distasteful parts. There’s often no getting around those bits — they need to happen. Swallowing one small frog each morning is a way to spread them out, to drink the whole bottle of medicine one tablespoon at a time.

Here’s a suggestion for implementing the frog rule:

Try taking a few index cards or sticky notes and write a “frog” on each one. The frog should help get you closer to some key goal you’ve got. It may be regarding a professional project you’re working on, some physical or psychological health goal or a relationship you are trying to improve. Chances are, you already know several key steps towards getting you to those goals and at least one or two of them don’t taste too good.

Don’t make this a mental list — write them down. Things often lose some of their emotional potency once they’re on paper.

Put them on individual pieces of paper. You’ve got to make them bite-sized. One frog you can handle. A crate-full of them living on one legal-sized sheet of paper is overwhelming and will get hidden under that stack of homework, lesson plans or parking tickets you don’t want to think about either.

Pick one frog each morning and “eat it”. Do it in the morning and then you can go through the rest of the day without the anxiety.

Any great endeavor is going to come with some frogs. You can eat them sooner or later, but you’ll have to eat them. Might as well get them done and enjoy the rest of your day.


Photo: Andy Zimney, his wife Sally Koering Zimney of This Moved Me, and their three children.

This week’s blog post is shared with permission from Leading off the Cuff. Andy Zimney, the company’s founder and lead principal, is a certified team performance coach, strategist, trainer, improviser, speaker and facilitator who works with purpose-driven teams and individuals so that they can be more creative, more productive and do more. Visit Andy’s website to learn more.

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