The story of the two wolves: Managing your thoughts, feelings and actions

Published on February 21, 2012

Knowing which wolf to feed is the first step towards recognizing you have control over your own self.

Have you ever had thoughts, feelings or acted in ways that were unacceptable to yourself but felt powerless to control? The purpose of this post is to help you find ways to manage your mind so that you can live your life more in accordance with what your own judgment says is best for you.

As we grow up, we gradually become aware of the many things in the external world which are largely beyond our ability to control. These include other people in general and most events in our lives. Initially this is difficult to accept, but a more shocking realization is that there are many things about ourselves that we seem powerless to control.

Some of these are our own thoughts, feelings, and actions which unfortunately can be the source of much distress. It may be thoughts such as “I cannot stop hating my boss for passing me over for a promotion.” It may involve an emotion e.g. “My girl friend left me and I cannot stop feeling sad, lonely and unloved.” It can also be in the form of a behavior such as the inability to control one's craving for food such as sweet deserts or constant snacking. “

But are we indeed really powerless to control our own maladaptive thoughts, feelings and actions? The following is an old Cherokee Indian story that I find enlightening and I hope you will find helpful as well.


The story of the two wolves

two wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all"

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed".

This story was sent to me by a dear old friend in Canada who despite medical difficulties, routinely sends me positive messages. The Cherokee are an aboriginal native group found in the Southeastern United States. As is common with oral historical narratives, there are various versions of this story.

Good and bad wolves


The grandfather’s answer "The one you feed" is deceivingly simple. The results of psychological research indicate that there are at least four important concepts or ideas implied by the answer:

  1. The mind is not the unitary entity it seems to us but consists of different parts. For example in the story there are the two wolves and the “you” that chooses between them.
  2. These parts of the mind/brain can interact and be in conflict with each other i.e. the two wolves fight for dominance over our mind and behavior.
  3. The “you” has the ability to decide which wolf it will feed.
  4. Having made a choice, “you” can decide specifically how to “feed” or nurture the selected wolf.

These four ideas give rise to a number of questions, some of which I have listed below. You might want to write down your answers in your own private journal or computer file protected by a password. The important thing is to take a quiet time to reflect on the questions and answer them as best you can. I hope that by taking time to do this, you will learn to better manage your mind, feelings, and actions and consciously feeding the good wolf in your.


Questions to help improve your control over your own mind, feelings, and actions

  • Are you aware of two different opposing “wolves” operating within your mind, one of which leads to pain and a diminished sense o of life and the other to a joyous, meaningful, and fulfilling life?
  • Do you recognize that within your mind is a separate entity which is the core you? Other names for this core self are “ego” or just simply the “self”.
  • Have you ever experienced times when you noticed a conflict or fight between parts of yourself so that you did not know which way to turn?
  • Were you ever disappointed by the choice of behavior made by “you” because you knew that there was a more positive option but you just didn’t choose it?
  • In general how effective is your ego in choosing the thoughts feelings and actions which are best for you?
  • What ways or techniques or exercises do you use to strengthen your ego or self so as to increase its potency to choose and hence control your life?
  • In what specific ways do you feed the negative wolf?
  • What specific ways do you use to feed the positive wolf?
  • Having become aware of how you feed the wolves within, can you think of ways to better nurture your chosen wolf?

I will discuss these points in future posts but if you have any immediate questions please send them to me in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them.

Category(s):Control Issues, Life Purpose / Meaning / Inner-Guidance, Personality problems, Self-Care / Self Compassion

Written by:

Brian Scott

Dr. Scott is a clinical psychologist based in Singapore with three decades of counseling and psychotherapy experience in helping adults with many kinds of psychological difficulties. These include anxiety, depression, addictions (cybersex, love), and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD).

Brian Scott belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore

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