There is a Cherokee story about two wolves, and it serves as a great metaphor for life’s challenges. The story goes like this:
“One evening an old Cherokee wise was telling his grandson about the battle that is constantly going on inside of people. He said: “My son, there is a battle raging inside of us between two wolves. The one is good and the other is bad. Bad wolf represents 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 thought about it for a minute and then asked: “Which wolf wins?”
The answer was simply: “The one you feed”.
Even though I have come across this tale 9 years ago during my Master’s studies, and I often use it during coaching, my recent journey with weight loss shifted my focus again towards this wisdom. I have in the past year got rid of (not lost as I’m not planning to find it again) almost 30kg’s, and it’s been quite and emotional journey to get here. I’ve been very much confronted with the way in which I literally fed my bad wolf. I have always struggled with weight, a constant up and down battle. However after Juneldè’s accident I needed overeating as a survival tool and didn’t want to give proper attention to the root cause. Eating became my way of coping. And my weight ballooned as a result. Bad wolf kept on appearing in my life, with an array of messages. “You’re not a good mother” he said. “Look at other people’s lives, why do they have the fairy tale” he constantly repeated. And jealousy and envy found a home. Anger, grief, guilt, fear, self-doubt, anxiety…O, how familiar they became. And every time they would make me physically turn to the comfort I found in food. I was actively feeding this wolf, making him stronger. I believed his lies, bought into it. If only he was so upfront and in my face with these messages as it now seems when I repeat them. However, I have found bad wolf to be a bit of a chameleon. He knows me so well and manages to be subtle in his hunger and drive to grow. But I have made a choice to start the difficult journey of starving this wolf. When self-doubt reared I would counter it with compliments toward myself. I would repeat my strengths and repeat verses in the Bible that reiterates who I am in Him. It was so difficult not to indulge and eat and satisfy the constant emotional hunger inside of me. I had to start believing that I too deserve to be healthy, happy and have a full life. Somewhere, somehow bad wolf convinced me that I am not good enough. Not good enough for my husband, not good enough for my kids, not good enough a friend, not good enough in facing my challenges, not good enough as a coach. Even as I write this I still feel exposed, vulnerable and scared. What will others think if I share these thoughts? I wanted to hide away and not be seen, however by overeating I created the exact opposite effect. My weight gain made me stand out instead and confirmed the messaging within myself that “I am weak” and that “I don’t have self control”.
When I chose to alter my ability to overeat I had to finally face of the bad wolf and acknowledge his potential to destroy. I needed good wolf to help me fight and put self-love and kindness into practice. Bad wolf would accuse and good wolf would counter. I focused on my own strengths and wisdom. I wrote these down and affirmed them daily. I chose to focus on that which I appreciate about myself and affirm these. Did you know that for every negative comment, either from outside or from within yourself, you need 5 positives in order to counter that 1 negative (Gottman & Levenson). In other words when bad wolf said “You’re not good enough”, I needed to reply with: “No, that’s not true. I am a child of God (1), created in His image (2). I am more than enough (3). I am a good wife (4). I am a good mother (5).” And slowly but surely I started noticing a change within myself. I was less focused on what is not and more on what is. My anxiety subsided and my mental and emotional hunger became less and less. As I started to believe in my own worth and value, and treat myself with kindness and gentleness, I saw an instinctive drive towards healthier choices.
I also shifted my focus from what is wrong with Juneldè towards what is special and unique about her. I would repeat these qualities to her and to myself. My gratitude for her life and her being became more important than fixing her injury. I found a release of hope and faith and an openness to the here and now. Whenever a negative thought or comment arose I used gratitude to alter my focus. I used my fingers as a guide, for example right through the day I would focus on 5 things I am grateful for. I tried to not repeat the same things throughout the day. (This is called the 5 Finger Gratitude model, should you wish to get access to a template of this model please comment with your email and I’ll be sure to send it).
As you are reading this you might ask yourself which wolf do you feed? Do you feed good wolf with happiness, joy, humility, unity, harmony and love. Or do you feed bad wolf with harsh words towards yourself, or others, with judgement and anger, self-loathing and comparison. What small changes can you put in place today to make good wolf stronger? Always remember that good wolf flourishes on a diet of kindness, gentleness and gratitude.
Please share the ways in which good wolf and bad wolf show up in your life?