Just eat the frog, already

Mark Twain once said:

“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, that will probably be the worst thing you do all day.”

On the one hand, that sounds like something from a Quentin Tarantino movie, but it’s actually a great way to think about the power of perspective.

I wonder, how many hours of my life have I wasted procrastinating? It probably adds up to many days or even weeks. Rather than direct all of that energy towards creating things or enjoying the moment, I squandered it on avoiding something which was usually inevitable any way.

My young children are already masters of rationalization; they weave elaborate excuses for why they shouldn’t have to clean up their toys or go to school or eat their fruits or vegetables. They spend far more time arguing about doing simple things than it would take them to just do the simple thing, much less finding ways to enjoy it.

Sadly, even as an older, “wiser” adult, I still do this myself. Recently, I put off changing the string trimmer on my weed eater. Why would any able-bodied adult actively resist performing such a simple task? Fifteen years ago, I worked in landscaping as a college student and recalled the process of changing the string as being cumbersome and irritating. Eventually, I realized that I was spending more time delaying it than it would take me to just eat the frog already, so I broke down and resigned myself to fixing it, no matter how long it took. It turns out that modern string trimmers are redesigned to be much easier to reload (at least, our Echo brand model is). It took me a grand total of seven minutes to watch a video on YouTube and reload the string.

Of course, a disheveled lawn isn’t a big deal, but I mention it because really, how hard is it to watch a three-minute video on YouTube? I didn’t even have to lug it to Home Depot or to a handy friend’s house. Yet I put this off for several weeks.

When Mark Twain spoke about eating frogs, he probably wasn’t referring to something so insignificant. He was probably talking about Really Big Deals; procrastination can be a Really Big Deal. Of course, no one really wants to have a colonoscopy or a difficult conversation with a loved one, but the consequences of avoiding them can be profoundly life-altering.

Procrastination isn’t always obvious or intentional, either. We can justify our hemming and hawing as “getting our ducks in a row”, when in reality, we already have the information we need to move forward. We’ll admit that we should do this thing “someday”, but when we fail to make specific plans for accomplishing that thing, it doesn’t get done.

At heart, all procrastination is a form of self-talk that we must become more mindful of. It’s a story we tell ourselves about a particular discomfort (usually fear) and it’s up to you to recognize three things:

  1. That story is usually only partially accurate, if it’s accurate at all. Usually, the thing you’re avoiding turns out to be not such a big deal once you commit to doing it. I find that most of my fears or assumptions (“I can’t”, “this will never get better”, etc.) turn out to be unfounded.
  2. Even if that story is accurate, you’re still investing all of this mental energy in avoiding it and you’re putting off both beneficial and unpleasant outcomes. Avoidance is actually hard work; as David Allen observed in Getting Things Done, open loops linger at the edges of our brain, sapping our focus and our ability to be fully present in the moment. In my example above, I was only delaying a better looking yard, but suppose it was owning up to a painful mistake; how does delaying the inevitable really help us to achieve closure or move forward?
  3. Often, there “ain’t nothing to it, but to do it.” Rather than look for ways to make it more palatable, sometimes it really is best to just eat our lima beans and be done with it. Showing up really is half the battle. Always remember; very few things are fatal or final. Even the most painful experiences will fade.

Take two minutes to reflect: what important, or even not-so-important, tasks have you been putting off? What would it mean to you to cross those off your list?

I encourage you to just eat the frog, already. Each and every day, commit to powering through your frogs, or at least the important ones. Get it over with and move on to better things.

Or, as Nike so famously put it:

Just do it.

Chris Aram

I'm one-half of Webster Park Digital. I'm a devoted family man, avid reader, coffee snob, fajita-eater and professional PlayStation4 dabbler.