When You Need to Eat the Frog

Recently, I sat in my therapist’s office complaining that I was struggling with so many things. I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. I wasn’t getting things done around the house. It was even becoming more difficult to run simple errands like picking up my meds or buying dog food. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Ever been there?

My therapist listened patiently and then calmly said, “You need to eat the frog.” Excuse me? I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. What did a frog have to do with my lack of energy and motivation? When I asked her what she meant, she went on to explain that no one wants to eat a frog (I agree!). It’s repulsive to think about, and who in their right mind would feel like doing it? That was exactly her point. When we don’t think or feel we can accomplish even the simplest activity, often the best choice is to tackle the hardest thing first. Jump the highest hurdle at the beginning of the race. Eat the frog first and the rest of the meal becomes a treat.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: How can I do the hardest thing first when I can’t do anything at all? I believe the answer has a lot to do with letting go of ruminating thoughts. I’ve certainly been guilty of them. Laying in bed, listening to my emotions tell me I don’t feel like getting up or doing anything other than escaping into a good book or looking at Facebook. I don’t think we realize how powerful our emotions are at influencing our thoughts and actions.

Perhaps an analogy will help. I easily become overwhelmed when my house is cluttered. More often than not I do nothing at all because my ruminations fixate on where to start, where to put everything, how much energy it will take, and the anxiety that will accompany those decisions. If I were to take the “eat the frog” approach, I would set aside my feelings and instead use my mind to decide where to begin. Since our kitchen counter is the catch-all spot in our home, I usually tackle that area first.

When you “eat the frog”—mentally deciding which task to accomplish first (which is usually the most challenging one)—there are several benefits. First, when you take your feelings out of the equation you are better able to tap into your rational thinking process. I’m not discounting the importance of your emotions but there are certainly times when we need to give our mind permission to override our feelings even when we feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.

Secondly, by pushing yourself to do the hardest thing first, I think you’ll find that it gives you the momentum to move on to other accomplishments. You gain confidence knowing you’ve done the hardest task of the day right off the bat and everything else becomes that much more doable. I’ve found that if I shower and get dressed soon after I get out of bed I’m much more productive, my mind is more alert, and l feel more positive about myself than if I just get out of bed and read for a couple hours. Doing the latter makes it so much harder to exercise and do other self-cares later in the day.

Another benefit is discovering that what you felt would be impossible becomes satisfying once you actually do it. I think many of us would agree that exercise falls into this category. It must be a law of human nature that whenever we start something new, whether it’s exercise or learning a new skill, it takes a lot of energy to get started. I very seldom feel like walking but find that I enjoy it once I push myself out the door. As I walk down the street I’m struck by how silly it now seems that I made such a fuss about simply stepping out the door! If you consider your first (and hardest) step as “eating the frog,” I believe the rewards that follow will be worth the effort you make.

These principles can apply to anyone in any area of life. Certainly those of us with a mental health diagnosis have particular challenges that make doing the hardest thing, or maybe even the next thing, more difficult. I hope you will remember the benefits of “eating the frog,” particularly during those times when you feel you can’t do the simplest of tasks. Remember, too, that Christ’s power—the same mighty power that raised Him from the dead—can give you the strength to take that first step. All you need to do is ask. You don’t have to eat your frog alone.

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