I read a promotional article recently that was trying to pursuade me to spend money on a product.

It claimed that constantly and in every aspect of my life, there is a fierce battle taking place in my mind as two forces battle for control over my thoughts, actions and ultimately, my entire life. It claimed that the battle is between good and evil, light and dark, good and bad, progress and regression, and that everything I want to achieve depends on my ‘inner angel’ defeating my “inner demons”.

I did not buy the product, even though it was heavily discounted to $27. But it did get me thinking and reminded me that, so far, it has not been a good year for my mind. It has been all over the place. This was, perhaps, best illustrated during a game of badminton last week where at one point I was listening to an argument going on inside my head. Needless to say, the ‘inner demons’ won the argument and I was soundly thrashed.

I was told recently an interesting story which presents the same point but in a different way. It is a story of two wolves, and is a old Cherokee Indian story (although there appears to be some dispute over the origin). It went something like:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about the battle that goes on inside all people.

 

He said “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside all of us. One wolf brings sadness: it is anger, anxiety, envy, jealousy, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lying, feeling superior to others. The other wolf brings joy: it is peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and trust in yourself and in life.”

 

The grandson thought about his words for a minute and asked his grandfather “Which wolf wins?”

 

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”.

Psychology Matters observes that answer is deceivingly simple, and states that the results of psychological research indicate that there are at least four important concepts or ideas implied by the answer:

  • “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.
  • 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.
  • The “you” has the ability to decide which wolf it will feed.
  • Having made a choice, “you” can decide specifically how to “feed” or nurture the selected wolf.”

I love a section in chapter 12 of The Hobbit, where Bilbo somewhat reluctantly goes into the mountain alone (because dwarves are not heroes) to find the dragon and the gold he is protecting. The narrator points out that going on was the bravest thing Bilbo ever did – not as one might imagine fighting Smaug. Bilbo did not win the battle when he met the dragon but at that point on his journey inside the mountain where he chose not to turn back but to go on.

Very often the real battles are won (or lost) long before they are fought.

But how do we maximise the chances of us wining the battle for our minds?

It seems to me that the first thing we need is to be aware of and acknowledge the battle and, as the psychologists point out, to recognise that we, and only we, can make the choice of which wolf to feed. But self help is often not enough and this is where coaching (or in extreme cases) counselling can be necessary. Additionally God’s help is available (if you believe in God).

Now, to apply this when I am playing badminton! And do let me know how you get on battling your demons.