The wolf you feed the most
“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…. by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage.” — Mark Twain
There’s a terrible battle going inside your mind right now, according to an old Cherokee.
There are two wolves inside us all battling to see who will take over. One is negative— full of anger, envy, resentment, greed, sorrow, judgment, inferiority, criticism, and doubt. The other wolf is good — full of joy, appreciation, love, kindness, empathy, understanding, confidence, compassion, and clarity.
This fight is going inside of you, even if you don’t notice it.
“Which wolf will win?” — You may ask, as this Cherokee’s grandson did.
“The one you feed the most.” — the wise grandfather simply replied.
Your thoughts are those two wolves. When you feed the negative animal, your mind loses clarity. You won’t be able to get rid of the bad wolf. It exists within you for a reason. Personal growth is about accepting your entire self instead of hiding your flaws.
Taming the negative wolf, not killing it — that’s how you neutralize your thoughts from causing pain and suffering.
The Story of Two Wolves
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” — Albert Einstein
Your thoughts can eat you alive.
Having emotions and thoughts is normal. Letting them take over your behavior, that’s the problem. When you believe you are what you feel and think, you lose perspective, as I wrote here.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking. It helps us understand matters, make decisions, and solve problems. The issue emerges when your judgmental wolf takes over. That’s when you look ‘from’ your thoughts.
Too much thinking can get you distracted. Your inner wolves can cloud your mind. And start eating you alive, without you noticing it. Piece by Piece.
Amateurish drivers do not cause most chain reaction accidents. It’s how fog affects our perception of what provokes those collisions. Fog lowers contrast substantially, causing objects to become fainter and less distinct.
Your thoughts have the same effect as fog.
The “Mandelbaum Effect,” the tendency of the eye to approach “resting” accommodation under conditions of poor visibility, clouds our vision. Since resting accommodation is relatively short, objects down the road will be out of focus.
Your inner wolves cloud your perspective too. Fueled by anxiety, fear, and stress, letting your thoughts take over can drive to brain foggy (Foggy Head Anxiety Symptoms).
Driving in foggy conditions is risky. That’s why it’s wise to slow down. As the air heats up again, the fog slowly disappears, and your visibility gets back to normal. The reality didn’t change while it was foggy; it simply affected your perspective.
Don’t buy into your thoughts. Your inner wolves come and go, just like fog.
The Science Behind the Wolves We Feed
“I think and think and think, I‘ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” — Jonathan Safran Foer
Our state of mind is like a wild wolf. As Chögyam Trungpa, author of The Sanity we are born with, explains: “It contains memories of the past, dreams of the future, and the fickleness of the present. We find that to be a problematic situation.”
You need to tame your wild wolf. Detaching yourself from your thoughts is how to stop them from eating you alive.
‘Defusion’ is a term coined by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to describe the ability to separate ourselves from our thoughts. On the contrary, ‘Fusion’ means getting caught up in our thoughts and letting them direct our behavior.
In his book “ACT made simple,” Russ Harris defines ‘defusion’ as:
- Looking at thoughts rather than from your thoughts
- Noticing thoughts rather than being caught up in them
- Letting thoughts come and go rather than holding on to them
Thoughts do not control our actions unless we allow them to do so. Remember not to overfeed your negative wolf. Neither your thoughts nor your emotions can determine how you behave. You are not what you suffer from, as I wrote here.
We can’t escape from our thoughts (or emotions), but we can decide what we do despite them. Tame your internal wolves, rather than kill them.
Harris provides a practical exercise to experience this first-hand. Silently repeat to yourself: “I can’t lift my arm.” Say it over and over. Lift your arm as you continue to say: “I can’t lift my arm.” So you lifted it despite your thoughts, right? But you probably hesitated, though.
You are so used to believing what your mind tells you it that can easily mislead you. Becoming aware of the power of your thoughts is the first step towards defusing their influence.
How to Defuse Your Thoughts — Exercises
“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” — Jean Racine
You cannot control when your wolves attack, but you can avoid being eaten alive by them. When you react to what comes to mind, you allow your thoughts to disconnect you from the present moment, thus living in autopilot.
Mindfulness is the opposite of living on auto-pilot.
As the creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, says: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” It’s the practice of noticing the degree in which we are identified with our ideas and beliefs, creating a space for:
- Awareness, not thinking
- An attitude of openness and curiosity, not judging
- Flexibility of attention, not resisting
Mindfulness is not a distraction technique; it is not meant for you to avoid your thoughts. If negative feelings come up, notice them and move on.
Try these simple techniques to reduce your thoughts influence. See which one works better for you, tweak them, and make them yours. The purpose is not to silence your thoughts — or wolves — , but to prevent them from making you foggy.
1. Label your thoughts:
The practice of meditation is not to eliminate thoughts but actually be open to them. When you stop fighting your negative wolf, you regain control. When a thought shows up and wants to distract you, simply label it. Say “thought” or “wolf” to yourself.
You can apply this exercise even if you don’t meditate.
2. Objectify your thoughts:
By turning them into an object — a wolf for that matters — you can neutralize your thoughts influence. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Imagine your thoughts as a wolf. What color are they? How big are they? What kind of sound do they produce? How close are they? Start playing with your thoughts by changing the wolf’s size, color, sound, and shape.
This visualization exercise helps me a lot when I feel distracted by many thoughts at a time.
3. Treat Your Mind as A Wolf:
Refer to your mind as if it was a wolf talking. “There goes my mind again.” “I heard you, wolf, saying that before.” “My inner wolf is always reacting and worrying.”
The purpose of this is to listen to the voice of your mind as if it was coming from an animal, not from you. When others do the talking, it feels less personal.
4. Challenge Your Mind:
React with skepticism, don’t buy into everything your mind tells you. “I’m not buying into that.” “Really, how so?” “Who says so?”
When you challenge your thoughts, you stop accepting them at face value.
5. Turn Your Emotions Into a Noun:
Think about recent events when you were feeling sorry for something that happened to you. Share those moments with your partner, using an adjective to label you: “I lost my last two tennis matches; I’m a loser.”
Every time you share something, the other person must reframe it by turning the adjective into a noun. The purpose is to spin your story positively: “You are not a loser, you just lost two matches in a row.”
6. Categorize Your Thoughts:
Not all wolf attacks are equal. Calling out precisely what you are experiencing provides clarity. Also, by discriminating the type of thinking, will offer in-depth awareness and understanding. Every time you feel threatened by your wolves, say your thoughts aloud using one of the following formats:
- I’m thinking…
- I’m feeling…
- I’m believing…
- I’m remembering…
- I’m relieving…
- I have a physical symptom…
7. Have Fun:
Humor solves all our problems, especially those caused by our way of thinking. When we stop taking our internal wolves seriously— and ourselves —we relax and stop reacting.
Here are some ways to clarify your foggy thoughts with a dose of humor:
- Play with your voice: experiment with different tones — a character, a kid, a comedian, a wolf, you choose.
- Treat your thoughts as a wolf: “my negative wolf is trying to get my attention by…” or “sorry negative wolf, I run out of food for you.”
- Become a helicopter: imagine that you take-off and get higher and higher, taking distance from your thoughts.
- Change your lenses: imagine that you are using a pair of cloudy glasses. What happens when you use a new one and stop seeing through the fog?
- Create a song: turn your thoughts into cheesy lyrics, sing it aloud.
How do you deal with your inner wolves? How do you tame your thoughts?
Remember, you become the wolf you feed the most.