Recently I was told this Cherokee Indian legend entitled 'Two Wolves'. Long story short it narrates the presence of two wolves - the bad and the good - who fight for the spotlight. One playing the envious, greedy, judgmental wolf. The other emerging as the joyful, caring, kind wolf. Moral of the story: The winner wolf is the one you choose to feed. They represent the inside battle we all go through between our worst and best selves. Which made me think about how often we unconsciously choose to feed the bad wolf. And we keep doing so until it becomes this invincible creature we fear and hide from. Which wolf is winning at the end of your day? Which wolf are you choosing to feed? How much space are you giving to the bad wolf in your life? Ignoring the bad wolf will not make it go away. The same way as your bad thoughts always find a way to creep in when you least expect. On the other hand, it is not likely that the bad wolf can be banned for life and never show up again as if magically gone. Worst self and best self are both sides of you. Two sides you should know and acknowledge. Two selves that have their own story to tell, hence fighting for the spotlight. Often without even realizing, you are feeding the bad wolf. You are making your Worst Self stronger. This happens when you let negative thoughts prevail, fears grow out of proportion, self-limiting beliefs develop deep roots. In case you are questioning the 'why' - why do we do it? - even knowing it is not healthy nor helpful. There are plenty of reasons that come to mind, especially our tendency to value the negative in detriment of the positive. But let us turn the question around and ask ourselves instead: What can I do to stop this pattern? How can I shift my attention to the good wolf?
Below are 6 strategies to help you focus on your Best Self, to remind you to keep feeding the good wolf every single day.
1. Play to your strengths: Strengths and weaknesses. This is one way to put it. But it does not have to be black or white. Sure, there will be always areas where you feel less comfortable, things that do not come naturally to you and that you would like to do better. Wouldn’t it be smarter to focus instead on what you are good at and become even better? Your Best Self knows your strengths by heart, that’s why you must listen to it closely. The the bad wolf will try to creep in and make you feel guilty through your self-limiting beliefs. Telling you that you are not the creative type, or you always suck at math. One more reason to play to your strengths. Perhaps your facilitator skills are a great asset both in your personal and your professional life. Or maybe you have a talent for numbers that make you sound like a nerdy Rockstar. Use your strengths as superpowers, identify key moments in your daily routine where you put them in practice and feed them to your Best Self as often as possible.
2. Stick to good habits: I bet you are already doing a mental list of all your unhealthy habits. Stop! This is you giving away power to the bad wolf once more. We all have habits we are not necessarily proud of. Maybe it is smoking, binge-watching Netflix, eating too much sugar, drinking too much caffeine. Here there is an opportunity to check all your unhealthy habits and try to quit some of them. Apart from those, I am sure you can identify a few good habits you have in place. Think about your typical day. How do you usually start your mornings? What do you do that energizes you and prepares you for the day ahead? Perhaps it is reading a few pages of a good old classic, or listening to your favorite podcast, or going for a run. And if not, then again this is a chance to get inspired and find new healthy habits (for more details check here the post about developing healthier habits). Whatever these good habits are, ensure you stick to them especially in more stressful moments. These healthy practices keep your Best Self in check, enabling it to feed from this positive energy.
3. Celebrate the small wins: We often get so tangled in our own drama – sometimes in other people’s drama - that we forget to acknowledge what we have indeed accomplished. We keep wanting more and more – nothing wrong with being ambitious by the way! – rushing into the next big moment, the next exhilarating milestone. This is when a small crack into our mind opens and the bad wolf gets a chance to jump in. Reminding you of what you did not achieve yet, bringing your fears to the surface, leaving you paralyzed and blaming yourself. Celebrating your wins, however small, allows you to pause and be grateful for your own efforts and achievements. For the perfectionists out there, it may sound as bragging, but I guarantee you it is not. It is a way to honor yourself, your attributes, what makes you unique. Your success depends on you, though what does it matter if you never recognize it as such? Every step of your journey deserves to be reminded and celebrated, with yourself, with others close to you.
4. Manage expectations: Tough one for most of us. And why is that? Expectations are as hard to manage as they are hard to avoid. Have you ever noticed what is your usual reply when someone asks you “What are your expectations [about a certain meeting, job, training, person]?”? Most of us immediately say “I have no expectations”, though that’s rarely the case. The same way we cannot avoid making first impressions when meeting someone new, we can also not stop ourselves from raising expectations about a situation or a person. So, if having no expectations is not a real scenario, how can you still manage them to avoid falling into a black hole when things do not go the way you wanted? I am likely overdoing it by referring to this disappointment as a black hole, but truth is the bad wolf – your Worst Self – feeds you’re your emotional imbalance every chance it gets. Do your best to be realistic about present and future situations, including analyzing some options in more detail if needed. And when it still does not go your way, remind yourself that the outcome does not define you. Let go of, you are not your emotions, the disappointment you feel in yourself and maybe in others will eventually go away.
5. Forgive yourself: We can be way too harsh on ourselves and incredibly critical of our own thoughts and actions. We linger over harmful thoughts and feelings whose impact on our well-being is everything but healthy, keep adding up to the pile of negative stories we tell ourselves. First and foremost, be aware of this heaviness you put on yourself – and this is obvious when the bad wolf is breathing down your neck. Next comes acceptance, your ability to embrace your shortcomings as part of who you are. Your mistakes and misjudgments do not have to feel as a burden, but rather as learnings from your experiences. When you are ready, the ultimate step is to release all the blame, pain, regret and surrender to that sense of relief that comes from letting go of. You will catch the bad wolf off guard, using forgiveness as a powerful antidote. At the same time, allowing the good wolf – your Best Self – to emerge through this new light.
6. Focus on self-care: You are the best person to take care of yourself, as you know what you enjoy the most, what helps you feel relaxed. Do not wait for others to do it, nor use others as an excuse to de-prioritize yourself. Make yourself your number one priority! – you have heard it many times and you still find a way to ignore it. Every time you do it, the bad wolf is gaining ground, getting more comfortable to express its discontent. No wonder that soon you start feeling tired or in pain, frustrated, angry. Your body will keep supporting the weight, until it has no other way out than expressing clear physical symptoms you can no longer ignore. No reason to reach this low point if you act in your best interest. Make a commitment with yourself and prioritize your self-care. It can be achieved in many ways according to what fits your needs and preferences. Be gentle with the good wolf!
We have two sides of us impossible to eliminate. Have you ever wondered if people like Madre Teresa or Dalai Lama have reached a kind of enlightenment making them essentially all good? Despite how you see it, I would dare saying that they have mastered their Best Self’s presence in everyday life. They kept feeding the good wolf. Every day you have a choice. Hopefully from today onward you choose to feed the good wolf – aka, your Best Self – so it grows stronger and healthier making you win one day at a time.