The Three Frogs Fallacy

Have you heard this riddle before?  Three frogs are sitting on a log and only one decides to jump.  How many frogs are left?

If you’re like most people in recovery, you may have been conditioned to say this is a trick question and the answer is three, because the frog only decided to jump, he didn’t actually do it.

This serves to illustrate how overused and watered down the word “decide” has become.

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of decide is:

  1. To make a final choice or judgment
  2. To bring to a definitive end

Is that how you typically use the word?

Often we misuse the word “decide”.  Consider the following hypothetical exchange:

“I’ve decided to get into shape this year.”

“Really?  So you’ve started working out?”

“Well, not exactly…”

“Oh.  You’re still researching gyms then.”

“Not that either.”

“Well, do you have any gym clothes?”


“Got any gym shoes?”


“Do you even know someone named Jim?”

What the person in the example above is really describing is a preference or a wish, but not a decision.  The difference is that a wish or preference does not require commitment, a decision does.

If you leave the scene of a decision without first taking at least one action toward making it happen, then you haven’t really made a decision you’ve simply stated a preference. ~ Anthony Robbins

Support for this can be found within the word itself.  Notice the last four letters  C-I-D-E

This is a derivation of the Latin root caedere which means “to kill”.  Here are some other words that contain C-I-D-E:

  • Suicide
  • Homocide
  • Genocide
  • Pesticide
  • Insecticide

All those words have something in common.  In each case, the word represents something being killed.  The same is true of the word “decide”.  It literally means to kill all other options.

Bearing this in mind, consider this hypothetical exchange:

“I’ve made a decision to visit Hawaii.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Yes, I bought the tickets and I’ve scheduled the time off work.”

“So?  Anything can happen between now and then.”

“Fine, it’s the night before the fight.  My bags are packed and in the car.  My alarm is set.  Certainly now I’ve made a decision.”

“No you still haven’t.  Anything can happen between now and then.”

“Okay.  It’s the morning of my flight.  I’ve driven to the airport, parked the car, checked my bags, been searched by security, boarded the plane, taken my seat, and fastened my seat belt.  Certainly, now I’ve made a decision.”


You see, it isn’t until the wheels of the plane have left the runway, that the decision has actually been made.  This is the point at which you aren’t getting off the plane until it lands in Hawaii.

That’s how a decision actually works.

Referring to the decision called for in step 3, the Big Book has this to say: “This was only a beginning, though if honestly and humbly made, and effect, sometimes a very great one, was felt at once.” (p. 63)

The effect mentioned here is that of feeling hope, willingness, and optimism (often for the first time).  Many people in recovery have confused this feeling with the psychic change necessary to bring about recovery, but it isn’t.

POINT TO PONDER: An effect and a change are not the same thing.

One sentence later the Big Book has this to say: “Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us.” (p. 64)

A simple breakdown of this sentence follows.

Though our decision (step 3) was a vital (life-giving) and crucial (absolutely necessary) step, it could have little permanent effect (the feeling of hope, willingness, and optimism will expire) unless at once (immediately) followed by a strenuous (rigorous) effort to face (step 4), and be rid of (steps 5 through 9), the things in ourselves (character defects) which had been blocking us (from God).” (p. 64)

FUN FACT: Early members of Alcoholics Anonymous got off their knees from saying the 3rd step and immediately began the process of moral inventory.

If the frogs in the riddle represent people in recovery, sitting on the log represents being “on the fence” about whether or not to work the steps, and making a decision to jump represents the 3rd step decision, it is easy to see the answer to the riddle really is two.

After all, the person who has truly made the decision will have started writing and, thereby, will no longer on the fence.

Seems to be only one question left: Have you made a resolution or a decision?

Ever feel concerned about your recovery?

I’ve developed a printable checklist to help you stay mindful of your efforts.  

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