The Wolf You Feed

Every year as we near Thanksgiving, I try harder to focus my thoughts on gratitude and kindness. I always feel a need to “step back” from my daily worrying, fixing, yearning, striving to change what doesn’t work in my life. This time of the year, I often think of the “The Wolf You Feed”, an old Cherokee Indian tale:

wolfOne day a Cherokee grandfather was telling his grandchild about a battle going on inside of people. He said, “My son, inside us all there is a battle raging between two wolves. One is evil: anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson, after thinking about it for a minute, asks “which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replies “the one you feed”.

I am struck by how much, as humans, we focus so much on all that is missing in our lives, on what we want but don’t yet have. How much energy do we spend on self-improvement? On fixing ourselves? Smoothing over our rough spots? How much good does it do us to spend so much time on who we aren’t rather than who we are?

Of course we all have areas we need to work on, and personal growth is critical for meaningful and fulfilled living. But, usually, we tend to be harsh task masters with ourselves. We are often quick to criticize, not forgive or concede one inch. We tend to nit-pick every little detail. And, paradoxically, this only results in increased stress, anxiety, tension, negativity self-doubt.

Perhaps worst of all, we don’t even achieve the results that we want. Studies in the talent and leadership development arena show that the larger headways in growth and excellence come about when people expand their strengths rather than fixating on their weaknesses. In other words, we will be more likely to get the results we want when we focus on what we have, what our goals are and get to work! (And frankly, even if we don’t get the results we want, being positive means that we are living a happier life, so we feel better)

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Beating ourselves up leads to the permanently dissatisfied place of “never enough” whereas compassion, gratitude and understanding lead to peace….and on purely practical terms: better results. So why don’t we always focus on the positive?

It’s that little ingrained wolf in us that is now a part of our goal-oriented, efficiency driven culture. Human beings are hard-wired to look for what’s missing. But the search for what ifs often robs us of the what is. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that in life you always have to be happy and cheerful all the time. Sad, stressful things happen all the time and it is natural that we react. I am only saying that we can, with a great deal of dedication and practice, learn to control and be in charge of our attitudes and approach to ourselves. We can choose which wolf we feed.

Keep Calm: We’re Going Back to School

Re-entering “real” life in September can be tremendously stressful for families. The sudden onslaught and re-uptake of busy responsibilities and hectic schedules makes this transition period one of the most anxious and tense times of the year.corona
But by acting intentionally and keeping calm, you can avoid many bumps in the road and leverage simple strategies to help manage, and (even enjoy!) the transition into school or work. Here are few tips that have been popular over the years with both friends and professional clients alike.

Name it and Claim it

  • Recognize up front that this is a messy, tiring period. Just as you are sore when you begin working-out again after a period of absence, so will you be “mentally distressed” as you get back to the constraints of routines and chores. Feeling tired and overwhelmed, coupled with the physical exertion of getting back into the swing of things, translates into anxiety and strain. Just recognizing the symptoms for what they are goes a long way to help you remain calm, as you learn to see that your behavior and feelings are natural for what is happening in your life: This IS a difficult period. It is NORMAL to be deflated and overwhelmed.
  • Your children are also dealing with a tangled heap of emotions which they don’t recognize. Fear, excitement, anticipation and uncertainty can mean over-stimulation, which results in crankiness, tiredness and tantrums. Recognizing that this is just a coping mechanism and staying composed and unperturbed will allow you to be a source of reassurance and comfort to your children.

 Manage the Manic

  • The “rush period” of overstuffed schedules and early alarm clocks are major anxiety triggers. So preempt the madness – make a huge planner and write down everything. Get the whole family involved in working out the logistics of the crunch times: how will your family plan waking up, eating breakfast, getting out of the house at the same time? What needs to be done the night before? Do a visual “dress rehearsal” with them so that they “see” their role in this process. Involving the kids allows them to own the process and builds life habits that are critical.
  • Do everything 15 Minutes earlier. Working against tight deadlines only creates more stress and anxiety. Reward everyone (including yourself!) who is ready ahead of schedule – 5 minutes of music listening? 5 extra minutes of screen time? Newspaper reading?

 Talk it out

  • Keeping things inside increases anxiety and fretfulness. Talk to those close to you about how you’re feeling. Talk to your kids and about their worries, fears and anxieties and share yours with them (obviously in an appropriate manner. The goal is to share concerns, not off-load adult fears) Verbally sharing not only diminishes anxiety, but also lays the foundation for dialogue and conversation, which in later years will be important. Make sure to start talking well before re-entry, and into the first few weeks if school/work. Make this process informal, the best results come when you are discussing while “doing something else” such as cooking, walking, drawing etc.

Fun-tastic Family Time.

In times of turbulence and uncertainty, create pockets of joy and tranquility. You need to plan and organize these up front! Pamper yourself and your family by creating and scheduling fun things at home – some friends have an annual 1st day back to school barbeque to discuss “best” and “worst” things of the day, our family does a “funniest/scariest thing that happened to me today” for the entire first week of school. Do your own version – movie night at home, game night, or just dinner together – and don’t underestimate the value of just hanging out together: an intimate cocoon is soul-nourishing for adults and children alike – and the most likely time your kids will talk!

Good Luck!