Which Wolf Are You Feeding?
There is a Native American parable about an elder Cherokee chief. He took his grandchildren into the forest, sat them down and said to them, “A fight is going on inside of me. This is a terrible fight and it is a fight between two wolves. One wolf is the wolf of fear, anger, arrogance and greed. The other wolf is the wolf of courage, kindness, humility and love.”
The children were very quiet and listening to their grandfather. He then said to them, “This same fight between the two wolves that is going on inside of me is going on inside of you, and inside of every person.” They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked the chief, “Grandfather, which wolf will win the fight?” He said quietly, “The one you feed.”
The story is simple and true. The Evil Wolf or the Good Wolf is fed daily by the choices we make with our thoughts. What you think about and dwell on will influence your behavior.
The human brain produces approximately 70,000 thoughts on an average day. Not all of these thoughts are useful, and we certainly don’t act upon every one. We filter out those that we consider to be ‘useful’ and we disregard others. So essentially, we choose which thoughts we listen to. From time to time we all experience negative thoughts as well as angry or depressing feelings. Ups and downs are a part of life. But overall, do you see the best or the worst in situations?
I talked with a Doctor last week who is living in a constant state of fear - mostly the fear of financial insecurity/business failure. Although he’s financially comfortable - always has been and in all likelihood always will be - he thinks about how much money he has and how much money he’s likely to have next year, in five years, in ten years, and beyond. This may not sound so bad except he’s in a constant state of anxiety, which has made him a pretty unhappy person. He worries whether his practice will stay afloat. You can imagine his impact on the dental team! He’s definitely feeding the ‘bad wolf’.
Your thoughts affect your emotions and your actions. It’s normal to be angry, disappointed, or anxious when a member of your dental team calls in sick…or worse, just doesn’t show up. We are wired for survival, so it makes sense that a part of us serves as a protector. But be careful about attributing intentions to other people. Although our prefrontal network of neurons attribute intentions routinely, they are often wrong. Most of the time you are just a bit player in other people's dramas. In other words, it’s often not about you but all about them!
The starting point toward feeding the good wolf isn’t with your feelings. That’s because emotions are almost impossible to change directly. If you’ve ever tried to tell yourself not to feel something or to feel something different, you know what I mean. Similarly, telling yourself the opposite of what you have been negatively saying to yourself rarely works. “Oh great, I don’t have a clinical assistant today. It’s going to be a terrific day” is just as inaccurate as “It’s going to be a miserable day.”
Feeding the good wolf is about finding alternative ways to look at adversities when they occur. Because we spend much of our time on auto-pilot, we may not be realizing how often we are feeding the hurtful wolf. If you have been experiencing lowered productivity and/or a tendency to become overstressed with life’s inevitable downturns, evaluate your thoughts. Challenge automatic beliefs.
Once you gain an awareness of your negative thinking, resist the temptation to react. Instead, have a neutral response such as, “That’s interesting - there’s a negative thought.” Don’t criticize or judge yourself, because that’s feeding the bad wolf. Simply ask yourself, “Is this thought useful to me? Is it helping me to feel the way I want to feel?”
Perhaps today you might consider an intentional practice toward feeding the good wolf by practicing kindness to yourself and others. Is there something you’ve been putting off that you wanted to do for yourself or for your staff? If you’re used to overdoing it at work, is there a way to ease up on yourself and remember that your “to-do” list will never be done?
Negative thoughts are contagious. Once the bad wolf takes hold, your mind will seek ‘support’ that your thinking is true. Don’t feed the escalation. Rather, look for contradictory facts that refute the negative thought. Challenge your mental models. Manage your thoughts, feelings and actions. I urge you…feed the good wolf.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her firstname.lastname@example.org
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