Top Tips For Avoiding Boiling Frog Syndrome

By Karen Amos

I was listening to a radio documentary this week about James Le Mesurier, the founder of the White Helmets volunteer organisation operating in Syria.  Describing their deteriorating circumstances, Le Mesurier’s wife described their situation as that of the boiling frog.

This is a 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

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 couple of thoughts…

 #1 In business/organisations:

It’s easy to be caught up in the day to day workings of a business or organisation.  I’m sure you know the feeling – so much to do and so little time to do it in.  All that task-oriented stuff takes our eye off the ball and before we know it, our sales funnel is upside down, or cash-flow is critical.  Or perhaps a competitor gains a major edge on us by adopting newer, more innovative ways of working.

As the saying goes – ‘We need to spend more time working ON the business than IN the business.’

#2 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 where we are, 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.  The downward spiral is gradual and mostly painless – until you reach the bottom.

Here are some helpful tips and coaching questions to help prevent your frog being boiled…

  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, we don’t recognise the need as the water gets gradually hotter.

  1. Build in ‘Stopping Criteria’

Stopping criteria is a term used in algorithm development amongst other things, to pre-determine a point at which the running of the algorithm/further iterations will cease.  A client of mine applied this to excellent effect in general organisational planning.  We’re all used to setting ‘success criteria’, but don’t often set a point at which we will cease the activity due to it  becoming unproductive or ineffective.

It’s possible to apply stopping criteria to almost everything and is particularly useful when trying out new business approaches, to avoid time and energy wasted.

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?

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

If you’d like support for you or your team to reduce stress and build resilience and effectiveness at work, get in touch for an informal, no-obligation chat. 

We offer one-to-one and team coaching and in-house training programmes.

Call us on 07714 855757, or email [email protected]Or visit our NEW training pages HERE 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure business owners and managers 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.