Swallowing the toad

I’ve been catching up on some internetto that I neglected while I was on vacation, and while I was really busy before I went on vacation. So I was listening to an October podcast on 43 folders, where Merlin Mann interviews David Allen about procrastination.

It’s a great little interview, although I didn’t get any new ideas out of it (probably because I’ve read practically everything Merlin has every published on the internet… while avoiding work of course). But I did get really fascinated by the phrases and metaphors David used to describe the kind of personal epiphany where you stop being afraid of secret parts of yourself, and just get on with your life. He first describes the topic starting at 2:18.

The thing that is closest to your soul is the thing you’re gonna avoid the most. The thing that will tap into… the part of you that has not yet come to the fore but wants to be expressed but you’re so afraid of it— you will absolutely find every single thing in your life to avoid doing that.

And that one… there is no trick about that one. You just need to be aware of that.

(Aside: business people are so much more into self help than aging single women. I’m waiting for a Bridget Jones type franchise about a bumbling marketing manager with a heart of gold.)

This being-aware-of-your-fear thing is kind of an ongoing theme in our house. I’m really big on solving personal distress by looking for the scariest or most embarrassing course of action, since it is probably the thing I want to do the most. Lately, Galen has been into a similar thing— in his gentler way— of trying not to be afraid by accident. These both sound just like what David mentions.

I don’t have a name for these assorted processes, but I like to collect the metaphors people use to describe them. I say things like “it popped” or “pop the cork” a lot, or things like “cut to the chase”— aggressive shortcuts. Alternately, I talk about hunting and finding and getting to the bottom of things, about being thorough or honest. And then I have my hard-ass forms of encouragement like “grow up,” “suck it up” and “skip to the good part.”

The David uses some familiar words—

  • jump right to the real bottom line
  • show up
  • uncork
  • step up to the plate

It’s funny to me that a mental experience can spark common physical metaphors in different people. I’m a little weirded out by how kinetic— almost violent— most of these are. Pop, jump, cut.

So, simple contrast might be the main reason I like my favourite version so much. I found this description on a random mailing list archive: swallowing the toad. Evocative, yet gentle! It’s more like “take your medicine” than “smash your fear,” and I appreciate a peaceful option.

The post attributed the phrase to Jung, but I haven’t been able to find other references to this anywhere. Maybe it’s a blissful mistranslation? In any case, cheers to finding more toads.