The story of the boiled frog and some thoughts on burnout
During a recent visit in Italy for some rest to prevent my own burnout, a good friend gave me a little book of short stories on ‘life’s enhancing metaphors’. I found the metaphor of the boiled frog particularly fitting when it comes to giving us a vivid picture of how burnout wears people down:
Imagine a pot filled with cold water. A frog is quietly swimming in it. The fire is lit under that pot. Water starts warming up. Soon it becomes lukewarm. The frog finds this rather pleasant and keeps swimming. The temperature keeps rising. Water is now warm. It’s a little more than what the frog enjoys; it becomes a bit tired, but it doesn’t panic. Water is now really warm. The frog finds that unpleasant, but it has also become weak, by now, so the frog stands the heat as it can and does nothing.
The temperature will thus keep rising up to the moment the frog will simply end up being cooked and die, without ever extracting itself from the pot.
Plunged in a pot half-way through boiling temperature, the frog would immediately give a powerful and salutary push with its legs and find itself out of it.
The beauty of stories
When I tell this story, many relate to it: “It’s me!” I hear from slightly burned-out professionals. We know what it feels to be a boiled frog because we have been there at some point in our life. Is it necessary to repeat the pattern over and over, or can we do something about it?
The importance of awareness
Are we at risk of becoming boiled frogs? Are we aware of what is happening to us, within us? Are we able to pause, take care of ourselves and jump out of the pot before we are cooked?
Building resilience, preventing burnout
To prevent burnout and build resilience we need to pay attention, develop awareness and recognise when the temperature is rising, by becoming familiar with the signs of heat (stress) given by our body, emotions, and thoughts.
Are you in a pot of boiling water? Is it a good idea to stick around? Would it be better to jump out immediately?
 The word meditation in Tibetan is “gom” and it means “to become familiar”. In mindfulness meditation we become familiar with our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the body in order to get to know ourselves. This is the best way to prevent burnout.
The story of the frog is from Olivier Clerc, Invaluable Lessons from a Frog: Seven Life-Enhancing Metaphors