This is the famous story an old Cherokee chief supposedly told his grandson. The chief said:
“A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible battle – between two wolves. One wolf represents negativity: fear, anger, self-pity, resentment, cruelty. The other wolf stands for positivity: kindness, hope, sharing, serenity, generosity, compassion. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too,” he added. The grandson reflected on these words for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Science tells the same story, just in different words. We have a battle between what researchers call the negativity bias and our innate entelechy. Let’s examine the negativity bias first.
The negativity bias pulls you to pay more attention to bad experiences than good ones. This tendency to give more weight to negative phenomena evolved to keep you out of danger, to protect you from harm, to enable you to survive. In essence, your brain developed a system to make it hard for you not to notice danger and respond to it. It’s as if you are on hyper-alert for threats and problems. This worked well when we were living on the savannah and fighting saber tooth tigers and hunting wooly mammoths. But in the 21st century we have a real problem. Because of the negativity bias, you are now on hyper-alert for perceived threats of an emotional nature. Did your daughter really just say “whatever” for the 100th time today? Was your boss angry with you when she closed the door to her office this afternoon? How about the driver who cut you off – what’s with that? We remember, ruminate, and rehash these incidents because we perceive them as threats to our wellbeing, security and control. And what’s the next step. We start entertaining the wolf of negativity, becoming filled with fear, anger and resentment.
Now for entelechy, a Greek word for the force that directs life and growth, the unlocks potential. Think of entelechy as positive energy that nurtures your innate essence. For example, a planted acorn becomes an oak tree due to its entelechy. It doesn’t have to try to be an oak tree, that capacity is innate from birth. The acorn just needs the positive energy of sunlight, soil and water to unlock its full unfolding. Similarly, each of you is born with a life force that spurs you to grow and become who you are meant to be. You simply need to nurture that life force, treat yourself with love and kindness, recognize and own your strengths. But along comes your negativity bias, shutting out the sunshine, choking off your growth with weeds of unresolved hurts and resentments, cutting off your growth path with rocks. You are literally smothering out the inborn positive energy of your life with all this negativity. We are born with a self-righting tendency, the capacity to spring back from adversity and bad experiences. Researchers call this capacity resilience, and those who study resiliency point out that we can either help or hinder this self-righting tendency. In other words, we can either unleash our life force or shut off its flow. The choice is yours.
And this brings us back to the Cherokee chief. The chief’s message to his grandson was to feed the positive wolf. My way of delivering the same advice is to allow your positive energy to flow. The four tips discussed in this blog are designed to prevent negative weeds from taking root and to keep your soil free of rocks. They focus on treating yourself (and others) with kindness, generosity and compassion. They empower you to focus on your strengths, to adopt a perspective of optimism and hope, and to enjoy the journey that is your life.
Imagine that you are a cork, floating down the stream of wellbeing that is your birthright. Yes, everyone faces potential obstacles in the stream. No one goes through life without experiencing some setbacks, failures, and tragedies. When faced with adversity, you have a choice. You can experience the adversity as if a hand is holding the cork under the water by continuing to focus on fear and worry, anger and guilt? Or, you can release the hand of the negative wolf by practicing these ten tips, allowing your cork to bop up to the surface, once again enjoying the power of positive energy to propel you forward and upward.
The Four Tips that will be explored in subsequent posts are:
- Retrain your amygdala
- Get in your control zone
- Focus on the positive aspects
- Become solution-oriented