December 31, 2020


Eat That Frog! For Students: 22 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Excel in School. By Brian Tracy with Anna Leinberger. Berrett-Kohler. $16.95.

     One of the greatest Warner Brothers cartoons did not feature a bunny (Bugs), duck (Daffy) or pig (Porky), but a frog (unnamed). One Froggy Evening (1955) is a parable about greed and a cautionary tale – and entirely wordless except for words from the frog itself. At a building site, a man finds a frog inside the cornerstone of a century-old building that is being demolished, and the frog starts to sing and dance with outstanding skill – leading the man to immediate dreams of immense riches. But it turns out that the frog only performs for him – whenever the man tries to get a talent agent or any sort of audience to observe the wonderful frog, the amphibian just sits there looking, well, froggy. After a series of misadventures and a stint in a psychiatric hospital for continuing to try to convince people of the frog’s wonderfulness, the man boxes up the creature and puts the box in the cornerstone of a new building. A hundred years later, as that building is being demolished, another man discovers the marvelous frog, and…well, that is the end, but not the end at all.

     So Eat That Frog! not only has an attention-getting title but also comes from a cartoonish teaching place of a sort: just look at the cover of the student version of the book, which shows a frog wearing a graduation cap and which is labeled as being “required eating.” OK, the notion of eating a harmless frog – the existence of frog’s legs on some restaurant menus notwithstanding – is really something of a turnoff, its “ick” factor higher than the “huh?” factor it uses to try to get readers’ attention. But Brian Tracy’s concept In his original book, of which the new student version is a spinoff created with Anna Leinberger, is actually simple enough. The idea is that if you had to eat a live frog the first thing in the morning, “you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.” (It is also the worst thing that is going to happen to the frog, but the book does not go there.) So this book could easily have been called “Worst Things First,” or something equally catchy, without victimizing the Rana genus or giving unpleasant ideas about comestibles to people who might do just fine with a bit of psychiatric care.

     The explanation of the title is that apparently something bizarre was called for to draw attention to what is foundationally a very simple concept, and scarcely an original one. The entire book, like the adult book from which it is derived, can be summed up in two words: Take control. This means asserting your power over the must-do things in your life by doing the hardest or most challenging one first. Evaluate everything based on difficulty; that is, using the frog metaphor, “if you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest [sic] one first. …[S]tart with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first.” And “if you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long,” which translates to a “just do it” mentality: “Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single-mindedly until those tasks are complete.”

     Notice that apart from the frog references, there is nothing new, unusual, or particularly distinctive about any of this advice or any of these formulations. Tracy does have an annoying habit of making grammatical errors in his rush to communicate, not only writing “ugliest” when he means “uglier” but also, for instance, omitting the preposition when trying to position himself as someone who understands student struggles: “In fact, I didn’t even graduate [from] high school!” Still, the underlying ideas here are good, straightforward ones, and Tracy and Leinberger do a good job of refocusing them for student purposes (students even get an extra “way to stop procrastinating”: the book for adults has only 21, not 22).

     Eat That Frog! tells students to visualize what they want to be; develop self-confidence and self-esteem by overcoming fear; “take complete responsibility for yourself at all times”; set goals and write them down because the more you think about them, the faster you will attain them; and so forth. There is nothing wrong with any of this, and plenty that is right. And the specific implementation recommendations for the philosophical framework are well-put – for example, when it comes to goals, write them down in the present tense, state them only in positive form, and create them in the first person with the word “I” followed by a verb. Each chapter ends with a summation that incorporates specific things for readers to do – a format that, again, is nothing new, but one that serves self-help books well and works nicely for Eat That Frog! A chapter on planning, for example, says to “begin today to plan every day, week, month, and term in advance” (an overwhelming prospect), then makes the idea approachable by saying to start by making “a list of everything you have to do in the next twenty-four hours.” A chapter on breaking big tasks down into small pieces uses food (not frogs-as-food) metaphors, suggesting a “salami slice” approach to laying out tasks in multiple steps and then doing just one slice at a time – plus a “Swiss cheese” concept, in which “you resolve to work for a specific time period” on something you need to do. Readers may find salami-and-Swiss more palatable than live frogs; the idea, in any case, is to take matters that seem big to the point of being overwhelming and cut (or slice) them down to size so they become manageable bit by bit.

     There is nothing wrong with simplifying the complexity of life – a lot of self-help books do just that – and certainly nothing wrong with finding a clever, offbeat way to get people to pay attention to ideas that authors believe will help them. The specifics of what students will find in Eat That Frog! are scarcely unusual: concentrate your efforts on the 20% of activities that will likely account for 80% of your results; take at least one action to move a task forward even if you are not yet sure of what all the actions need to be; “be your own cheerleader” and “focus on the solution rather than the problem”; stop interruptions and distractions, which means managing technology appropriately and making it a servant rather than a master; deliberately put off low-value tasks so you can do high-value ones; and so on. These are essentially the same recommendations found in the non-student version of Eat That Frog! And that is fine, since these unexceptionable suggestions can be helpful to people of many ages, at many stages of life. Readers will find nothing especially new or revelatory in this book, but should be helped by it if they sit down with it, pay attention, chew the recommendations thoughtfully, and consume the elements that are of value. And this is not a long book or a difficult one to read, so it can be a fine, useful way to pass a froggy evening or two.

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