The Boiling Frog Syndrome

Human Beings and Frogs are two creatures in nature who have a tremendous power to tolerate and adjust.

This was a study conducted sometime in the early 1900’s. However, there is a lot of debate regarding the authenticity of this study. Nonetheless, the theory is quite interesting and quite pertinent to human beings.

Put a live frog into a pot of boiling water, and the frog will immediately spring out of the pot. But if you put the same frog into a pot of water at room temperature, the frog will stay in the water. And then if you start to slowly and gradually heat the water, something very interesting starts to happen.

As the temperature of the water rises, the frog adjusts its body temperature accordingly. The frog keeps on adjusting with the increase in temperature. Just when the water is about to reach boiling point, the frog starts to realise that the water is way too hot and that it needs to get out. The frog is not able to adjust anymore.

At that point the frog decides to jump out. The frog tries to jump out, but is unable to do so, because it has lost all its strength and energy in adjusting with the water temperature. Unfortunately, the frog dies.

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What killed the frog? You could say that it was the boiling water.

But the truth is, what killed the frog was its own inability to decide when it had to jump out.

We face many situations everyday where we need to ‘adjust’ with people and with situations. It could happen in our relationships, or at our workplace, or maybe even in our neighbourhood. Adjusting is good. But we all could do well to learn when we could ‘adjust’, and when we just have to plainly face the truth and take action.

This story is often used as a metaphor when we talk about our inability to recognise significant changes that have happened slowly, or to events that have become commonplace. When we go through a gradual or subtle exploitation (physically, emotionally, financially), we tend to ‘adjust’ until its too late to ‘jump’. The key is to know when you need to ‘jump’. Learn to jump when you still have the strength. That’s what would differentiate us from the frog!

[Read more on our tendency to “Tolerate, Adjust and Compromise” to have an understanding of this pattern in some of us.]

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