The Grog and the Frog

It’s about 5am on New Years day and I’ve woken up with my stomach grumbling and in a weird sense of pain. I’m wearing my friend’s clothes and my breath smells like puke. I’m as hungover as I’ve ever been — what a start to the year. My friend’s bag sits next to my bed. I open it to find last night’s clothes covered in puke. The stench nearly makes me throw up again. I quickly close the bag and run down the stairs to chuck the entire bag into the bin.

You know you’re a real winner when you start the year with a shower at 5:15am , 3 eye bags on each eye, massive headache, no real memories of last night and no plans for the coming year. So I say to myself what everybody has said to themselves

Thomas, that’s it. That’s the last straw. This is the lowest you’re going to go. New Year, New You. We’re finally going to make some changes this year.

So what really improved in the next few years? Not that much. Looking back at that “defining” moment — Change has always been painful and taxing for me. Change demands shedding some of my old habits and creating space for new ones. It has always taken time and has never happened without my deliberate intention.

A long time ago, I heard a very apt parable for the description of me trying to improve my circumstances:

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.
Version of the story from Daniel Quinn’s The Story of B

I used to be that frog boiling to death and I was actually quite proud of it.

My house is not on fire, it’s just a little warm.

I kind of built my identity around picking and sticking to something — no matter how miserable, stressed, fat or poor it made me. Change was always something that was a meandering process for me and areas of my life deteriorated in quality at a quicker rate than I could improve my life.

Luckily for me, the decision to change has always been made in an instant for me. I don’t mean when I “try” something, when I “dabble” with this skill. I mean when I finally and really decide — when I remove all other options and make a specific commitment that I’m doing this no matter what. I honestly can’t pin point when I made a decision to make my health a priority, when I decided I was going to be an entrepreneur, when I decided to get things together. They were literally split second decisions. Sometimes I can’t even explain to people why I stopped drinking, I just made the decision in my head and just stuck with it. It became a part of my identity.

What I’ve found out recently with all these decisions that I’ve been making is that I can actually rely on my self-efficacy and my ability to figure problems out. It’s not a straight line to success though. I decide what I want and then the path gets all squiggly. As soon as I want something, a billion better options are sure to pop up. Every now and then I’m going to chase that new shiny object but I know I have all the skills and knowledge at my disposal to course correct. As soon as I make a decision, I know I’m on my way.

The larger problem is that I don’t always make that decision. I hesitate, I weigh up the pros and cons, I wait for the perfect moment etc. Life hasn’t been as kind as to wait for me to make my decision — the water keeps boiling. What I’ve done to try to fix this is to be more prepared to make decisions. My thinking is that if I spend more time preparing then I don’t have to spend as much time repairing.

This started with a simple list of priorities:

  1. Health and Wellbeing
  2. Family and Friends
  3. Business

I’ve decided to stick with these priorities lately — no chopping and changing- and I’ve been seeing much better progress and results in these areas. Decisions are being made against this criteria. If the habit wasn’t helping with these key areas then I went through the necessary changes to punt them. Habits that are beneficial are being introduced or further developed.

The changes and habits themselves will take my whole life to master and optimize but the decision to improve was made in several seconds. No more waiting for the water boil, no more waiting until I hit new lows. Quick decisions and then execute to the best of your ability.