Top Tips For Avoiding Boiling Frog Syndrome

By Karen Amos

As we enter this uncertain future, there are plenty of opportunities to change things for the better.  We’ve opportunity to try new ways of working and build new habits.  Equally though, there are threats that we’ll slip back into old ways, despite the rhetoric and good intentions. After all, change requires effort and after a tough day at work and all the demands of modern life, I don’t know about you, but sometimes that extra bit of effort is just too much to ask.  (And a nice sit down with a good book is much more appealing…)

This reminds me of the Boiling Frog Syndrome…

This is a somewhat gruesome metaphor where a frog is slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. ¹ (I did warn you!)

There are several interpretations of this story, but the one that jumped out at me (See what I did there!) is the need to be aware of negative threats that arise gradually, leaving us unaware of the danger until the situation is critical and in many cases, terminal.

This led me to reflect on how this applied in real-life and here are a few thoughts and tips to avoid overcooking our frogs…

Personal Wellbeing…

It’s a strange one isn’t it?  We mostly know what is good and not so good for us regarding our wellbeing – whether that’s mental, physical or otherwise – but it’s always an effort to maintain it.  Good habits slip and before we know it, we’re stressed out, anxious or fighting the flab and trying to regain lost energy.

Stress and our mental health can be a very slippery slope.  We accept one more task, another responsibility, lose another hour’s sleep and without recognising why, we find ourselves in tears, yelling at the kids, or slumped at the laptop wondering how to get through the day.

I’m sure many of you will recognise yourself in at least one of these examples.  I train others on this stuff for a living, but it’s still a constant battle to stay on track.  The problem is that the downward spiral is gradual and mostly painless – until you reach the bottom.

Here are some helpful tips and coaching questions to keep your frog healthy…

  1. Have a plan

Seems a bit obvious right?  But without a plan, you won’t know whether things are going astray until something critical happens to remind you.  With a clear plan, you can measure your progress alongside expected outcomes and take corrective action quickly.

This could be a business plan, a marketing plan, or even your own ‘get-and-stay-fit’ plan.

  1. Get a sounding board

Whether that’s a coach, mentor, or just a trusted friend or colleague, we all need someone who has our back and who we can check in with, but more importantly someone who will give us some honest feedback and advice.  Not only do we need these people, but we need to ensure we plan in non-negotiable time for this checking in, as remember that we don’t recognise the need as the water gets gradually hotter.  I always ensure I’ve people around me with whom I can have that, ‘Is it me…?’ conversation – in the knowledge that they may well say, ‘Yes, actually Karen… this time it is just you!’

  1. Build in regular wellbeing check-ins:

Boiling frog syndrome is allowed to occur because we simply don’t recognise our personal ‘Red Flags’ until it’s too late.  We’re completely enmeshed in stress and often by then, it’s having a huge detrimental impact on our work, life and wellbeing.

One simple way to avoid this slippery slope is to schedule in regular check-ins with ourselves.  This could be as simple as scoring your stress levels on a scale of 1-10.  Whilst it’s a completely subjective and individual approach, it gives you the opportunity to recognise when you need to start taking some remedial action before it’s too late.  We discuss this much more in our Positive and Productive programme.

So to avoid boiling your frog, ask yourself these useful coaching questions on a regular basis:

    • What are my pressure points right now?
    • Is this level of pressure tolerable – if so, for how long before I need to take action?
    • Would I think my current situation was acceptable for my friend/colleague/family member?
    • What action would I be advising them to take?
    • What are my warning signs that something needs to change?
    • Is there anything I could STOP doing right now that would actually improve my situation?
    • What could I replace this activity with, that would improve my personal wellbeing and that of my business/organisation/education setting?

Remember, we need to ensure we check the ‘water temperature’ regularly.  Build this into your diary, perhaps at the start or end of every week – that way you won’t be lulled into inaction by the nice warm water…

¹ Boiling frog – Wikipedia

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Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.