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Which Wolf Are You Feeding?

There’s a beautiful Native American story of a grandfather talking to his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

What are the wolves fed by? Your attention. Energy you give to certain thoughts.

If you imagine your brain is a box filled with thousands of thoughts, then the spotlight of your attention is how you give energy to certain thoughts.

Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb said that neurons that fire together wire together. The more you think negative thoughts, the more negative the world appears around you. This spurs more negative thinking. Negativity becomes the path of least resistance.

Think of the 10,000 hour rule to master a skill. If you repeatedly practice shooting the basketball in a hoop, eventually it becomes an ingrained action. That’s your strong neural pathways at work.

Now imagine if you spent 10,000 hours worrying, being anxious, and fearful. You’d be an expert at…anxiety? Congratulations!

We all have our internal battles. But I find in coaching that usually one wolf is fed more than the other. And the person doesn’t even realize the imbalance.

Let’s face it, you’re probably feeding the scary wolf. This side of you carries the trauma of similar past experiences that went wrong. It’s the part that is convinced things will go wrong again. It is usually the fear, guilt, or shame in you.

Unlike the legend, I don’t want to call this wolf “evil” because I know it’s trying to help you. I’ll call it the “protective wolf.” It longs to serve you. This wolf has truth to it. It’s when we over inflate the Protective Wolf that we have little space for the other wolf clamoring for our attention.

I’ll call the other wolf the “abundant wolf.” This wolf sees the opportunity, and it can paint the picture of the best case scenarios happening. It carries openness to possibility and learning. Feeding the abundant wolf puts you in an ideal state for growth. It doesn’t fear failure but welcomes it for either the upside or lessons it brings.

Using this parable of the two wolves, I’m sharing my tips for how to shift gears and re-wire your brain for higher-quality thinking when you have a problem. It helps this exercise to pick a scenario you’re currently trying to figure out in your life.

Tips for Feeding the Right Wolf

  1. Do an inventory of your feeding log: Looking back at the last week, what kind of thoughts and feelings have you spent the most time on regarding this situation? You can put them in two columns, one for each wolf. Note these down, with special attention to the ruminations that keep you up at night the most. That’s likely the Protective Wolf at work.
  2. Address the malnourished wolf: If you’re imbalanced towards one, then it’s time to figure out what the other one needs. What thoughts would nourish the other wolf? This could be useful either direction: if you’re too positive about a situation like a new job or partner, it could help to balance out that high with some questions that the Protective Wolf has for the situation.
  3. Tally your feedings: Set up two Post-Its, one for each wolf. Each time you catch yourself feeding one wolf, draw a line on the appropriate note to keep count. Not only does this create awareness about your feedings, it also helps you re-calibrate in the moment towards the wolf that needs feeding.

Things to Consider

  • The goal isn’t necessarily to have balance between the two. It also isn’t to starve the Protective Wolf and fatten the Abundant Wolf. You have to set your target for the kind of thoughts and emotions that would help you through your situation with the most wisdom, clarity, and ease.
  • We often dislike the Protective Wolf because it carries hard feelings like fear, which we perceive as weak. But this wolf needs to be considered. It doesn’t have to lead the decision, but it carries wisdom. So get through the icky feelings around it, and start asking what it wants to share. You may event want to gasp* try loving this wolf for the ways it tries to serve you.

Here’s the good news: our brains are highly adaptable. It simply takes effort and patience. If you’re anxious like me, the first time you throw that Abundant Wolf a steak, it’s going to feel unnatural and take effort. But each subsequent time, feeding that wolf will get easier until it’s second nature to invite abundance into your life.

And who doesn’t want a cute, well-nourished, happy wolf drooling at their door? (well, I do!)

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