Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day. – Nicholas Chamfort
Swallow the toad. It was a bit of a mantra in our house when the kids were younger. Sometimes recited in a sing-song, sometimes with vigorous clapping, always with the goal of getting the kids through piano practice before school started.
(Yes, for five solid years, I was the crazy mom who made her kids practice music first thing in the morning every day, no holidays, no exceptions. Discipline is my super power.)
Swallow the toad, do the hardest thing first. The idea is that if you tackle the thing you hate most right away, your day goes better. Other challenges seem easier. You don’t have the weight of knowing that something you dread is coming up.
I figured that my five years of beating this drum might have left an impression on the kids, but as with so many things in parenting, what I thought I was doing and what I was actually doing turned out to be different. I thought I was teaching discipline, instilling the confidence that by tackling hard things first they would not only find progress but sometimes even great success.
Instead I was annoying the living shit out of them.
This became evident when we were all doing remote school during the long spring of COVID 2020. Both kids were struggling to get through their work. The more time passed, the more buried they got, the more impossible the project seemed to be. When I finally logged into my daughter’s school portal after a few weeks, I saw a string of unfinished projects and it was clear that I was going to need to help her get her feet back under her.
I sat in her room with her and we went through the projects one by one, making a list and estimating how long each project would take. When the list was complete, I chirped, “OK! let’s swallow the toad!”
My daughter looked stricken. “What does that even mean?” she asked.
“It means we’re going to identify the thing you hate the most and start there.” And then I died inside.
We got to work on the most horrible of the at-home school projects. Obviously, I’ve known for years that swallowing the toad works, but it was instructive nonetheless to watch my daughter experience this (again) in real time. The first project was a solid hour-long slog, but when it was done her mood improved considerably. The second project went about twice as fast. By the third project we were cracking jokes. And that evening – somewhat to my surprise because I hadn’t been especially nice about any of it – she thanked me for helping her.
When I wanted to finally get serious about fitness, I had a 5am, no excuses rule. Fitness is funny in that eventually you get to the point where not doing it feels bad, but you have to commit to a lot of days of feeling crappy during your workouts to get there. Swallowing the toad got me through the bit where it didn’t feel good, where sleeping another hour seemed infinitely better than whatever marginal gains I was experiencing at the gym. And by doing my hardest task first, the rest of the day felt lighter too.
What’s your toad? Regardless of whether your toad is connected with your priority goals or not, committing to swallowing the toad creates positive momentum and helps us get further along towards our goals.