You know very well this example: if you put a frog in hot, boiling water, te frog will jump out straight away. Survival instincts will kick in instantly. But if you put a frog in normal water, which you then heat very slowly, until the boiling point, eventually the frog dies, because, lured by the slow unfolding of the events, it won’t be able to jump out anymore.
This is used to illustrate life threatening circumstances, like being stuck in abusive relationships, or social rights restrictions, when the toxic threshold is reached in a very, very slow, allegedly innocent, way. And it’s a very good example.
But I find it utterly incomplete and biased. Here’s why.
Simply Put: Because It Also Works The Other Way Around
Let me explain.
The only reason the slowly water boiling trick works is because it inhibits frog’s resistance. There is a certain threshold that activates the survival instinct, and if the frog is put directly into that stage, resistance will kick in instantly. But if we’re able to get the frog beyond that level in a way that will avoid this resistance, then we “made” it. We’re past the trigger, which wasn’t activated, because the situation changed almost imperceptibly.
And the good news is it works like this in any other area of our lives, not only when we’re put in life threatening situations or when our social rights get slowly restricted. It’s an intrinsic behavior of every living being, an inertia that manifests constantly. It’s how we treat reality, how we fit in. We have a certain model about how we should function, and we desperately stick to it, like our life will depend on it. And, most of the time, our life do depend on it.
Based on this model, we created all these resistance switches, that get activated when we perceive a life threatening situation.
But, mind you, these “life threatening situations” are not always what we think they are. They may not always be life threatening, while our ego may still see them as such.
For instance, we may interpret as “life threatening” something that will drastically alter our lifestyle, but in the “good” way. Some change that will have long term positive effects Like, for instance, running a marathon. Or writing a book. Or creating an app. Or playing a musical instrument. Or meditating daily. If we never did any of these before, our resistance – which is completely agnostic, it’s just resistance – will kick in.
Try running a marathon cold turkey, without any training whatsoever. You have a decent chance to finish it (even if you think right now you don’t, believe me, you have, given the right motivation), but at the end of it you’ll be pretty much in the state of a boiled frog. It’s like your body will shut down.
On the other side, if you start to very slowly increase the distance and intensity of your runs, at some point it will be impossible for you NOT to finish the marathon. It will just happen. You’ll get past the finish line, with almost no resistance, no friction, no damage.
If you write just 100 words per day, for a year, you will end up with 36,500 words, which is a small book. Try writing 36,500 words in one go. It will never happen. Your inherent resistance will kick in.
If you never played the guitar and start playing something right now, it will sound awful. Believe me, I tried. But if you slowly increase the time and complexity of your practice, at some point it will be impossible for you NOT to play something harmoniously on that instrument. And it will happen almost without noticing it, just like a frog won’t feel the water becoming hotter and hotter.
It’s Not The Process Itself, It’s How You Use It
This slowly boiling water process harnesses the overwhelming power of small steps, a power able to melt monolithic, seemingly insurmountable obstacles – given we put in enough time and patience to trick our inherent inertia.
That’s why I think the “boiling frog” example is incomplete and biased. The same approach that leads the frog to its own demise can be harnessed to upgrade the frog to its better version, ever.
The culprit is not the process itself, which, like I said, it’s agnostic, but how we use it.
We may use it to boil ourselves out, slowly.
Or we may use it to blossom into versions of ourselves that we perceived as impossible, so different that our current persona will have to slowly die, and a new one will have to be born, beyond all that resistance and friction.