There’s a Cherokee story about two wolves, and it serves as an excellent parable. It goes something like this:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “my son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson though about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one that you feed.”
I heard this story a long time ago and it’s always stuck with me. The last line of the story often floats to the surface of my mind, and I’ve seen it popping up in more and more places recently.
With this story appearing more and more in the last few months — I’ve seen the whole thing printed on restaurant menus, I’ve found podcasts named after that last line, I’ve seen recognizable pieces of the whole in art and on t-shirts and random places online — I took it as a sign that I needed to pay closer attention to the message than I have in the past.
I get the message; it makes sense. But I don’t necessarily take the wisdom of the story to heart. I know the perspective I focus on is the one that wins. And yet, despite that, I let the evil or bad wolf win because that’s what I’m feeding with my thoughts, my energy, and my outlook.
The bad wolf never looks the same when it appears. Sometimes it’s when I’m feeling like my work doesn’t matter or isn’t valid. Other times it’s not professional but personal, like when I feel insecure or think I’m not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough.
Your bad wolf is probably a shapeshifter, too, depending on the day or your mood or what happened last week. But ultimately it’s a manifestation of a few, fundamentally evil things that creep around our heads and and try to drag us down.
The negative will always outweigh the positive if your viewpoint is already fixed on one side of the scale. What wins out in life is the stuff we cultivate — what we feed. It’s that simple.
That might be a more useful and concrete way to think about all this if you don’t like parables about Indians and wolves. Think of life as a set of scales. One side weighs the bad stuff and the other side weighs the good stuff. Now think about just how much good stuff has to fill one side of the scale if your rear end is already parked on the side that measures what’s bad.
You’ve tipped the scales in favor of the bad stuff, so more bad stuff follows. As they say, shit does tend to roll downhill — or in this case, into the side of the scale you’re already pressing down.
It’s amazing then, when you think about it, how much we can control. We have so much influence over outcomes and results because we have the power to stop feeding the bad wolf and start providing all that time and energy to the good wolf so it can thrive instead.
No, you can’t just think your way to a perfect life that’s always good and peachy. You can’t Jedi mind trick the universe into giving you everything you want all the time. But you can make a conscious effort to shift your perspective and change your thoughts.
From there, it’s one more conscious effort to shift your actions, too.
Start small. Take just a moment and act within it — be proactive and reach out for the good wolf instead of reactively turning your attention to the bad one. Take responsibility for your power and choose how you think and behave in that small moment.
Look in the mirror today and tell yourself, “I look awesome!”
Grab your pen and notebook, write something (anything!), then publish it on Medium so others can enjoy it.
Make plans with a friend and grab coffee, and enjoy the conversation and the company of another wonderful human being.
Go for a walk and marvel at the fact that you’re out and about and you can experience this day and realize how grand life is.
Give someone else a compliment (and then mentally give yourself one, too).
Do something that inspires you. Do something that makes you feel relaxed and content. Do something that makes you feel challenged and just a bit scared, in a thrilling sort of way. Do something new and that you’ll likely fail at the first time. Do something that feels traditional and safe and comforting.
And while you do all these marvelous things, practice keeping your mindset and perspective focused on things that are positive, productive, and beneficial to you and others. This is how you feed the good wolf. And this is how the good stuff wins.
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