Have you ever felt that you are engaged in self-sabotaging activities that hold you back from achieving your goals and dreams? You often think you are not good enough, that you don’t deserve it or you are not smart enough? Some call it the inner critic, I like calling it feeding the bad wolf within our thoughts.
In Jim Afremow’s book “The champion’s mind” I found this old Cherokee legend known as the tale of the two wolves. A grandfather explains to his warrior grandson that there are two wolves within each of us: one wolf is positive and beneficial, while the other wolf is negative and destructive. They both fight for control over us. When the grandson asks which wolf will win, the grandfather answers: “The one you feed more”.
Well, I think there is hope for learning how to feed the positive wolf
The first step is to recognise the negative thoughts that are feeding the bad wolf and to write them down. Some examples are: “You are stupid”, “You’ll never be successful”, “No one appreciates you”, “You don’t deserve to feel better”… Try to reflect on these thoughts and see if they are really your own, or if they were repeatedly being told to you by other persons like: family members, teachers, parents, peers from school.
Understanding the source of your negative thoughts makes it easier to accept them and to put in balance your own idea of positive thoughts that lead to success. On the contrary, ignoring or suppressing negative thoughts might increase their intensity and frequency. To avoid that you might say to yourself: “ I recognize my negative thoughts and accept them, but accepting doesn’t mean I must follow them...” Is like when someone gives us a piece of advice, we can accept it, but following it is our own choice.
The next step is to create your own positive thoughts that lead you to success. Be as thorough as possible. If you feel you are creative, be creative: draw or put a collage together. The idea is if you want to replace negative thoughts, you should be prepared to put new thoughts instead.
You can start asking yourself what is success: for some, success resides in pursuing a successful career, for others in enjoying healthy relationships…for me, success is being happy with myself.
There are numerous studies that show that happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including relationships with family and friends, income, work performance, health. Happiness is associated with and precedes numerous successful outcomes as well as behavior paralleling success. Shawn Achor, the author of “The happiness advantage” explains it nicely in his book: “it is happiness and optimism (the good wolf from our story) that actually fuel performance and achievement- not the other way around”.
When you have your own vision of success and the positive thoughts that accompany it, take the next step and feed the good wolf: start encouraging yourself. Tell yourself that you deserve success and that you are allowed to have it! Because action is guided by mind, if we succeed in guiding our mind, we can succeed in guiding our behavior.
The last step is to think of situations when the bad wolf can actually help you and to make an ally of him. He can be the critical part of you who assures that you have most of all necessary tools to achieve your goals, he sets high expectations that are actually important for achieving great successes, but that’s it. It is important to feel you are prepared, but then move to the level of doing things. I agree that for success we need a very good preparation, but if the anxiety of not being 100% prepared is keeping us from actually doing things, let’s settle for a bit less. Thus we can leave place for change and improvement.
I often ask clients: what if you do things only 90% perfectly? Maybe you don’t get an 100% result, but you get your own positive wolf thanking you for feeding him, you get to tell to yourself: good job, you managed your anxiety and fear, you didn’t give in to the bad wolf. You actually did something toward success.
Last, but certainly not least try and think about situations in your past when you were in control over your thoughts, how did that feel? Which strategy of controlling your bad wolf worked the best? Chances are, if it worked once, it could work again.
Understanding that we have a choice and we can consciously feed the positive wolf is essential in getting control over our thoughts; instead of letting them control our thinking, feelings and behaviors.