Hey there, Dean here. I write and publish articles on productivity, self-education, psychology, health, finance, entrepreneurship, philosophy, and more. You can read more about me here or join my free 10x Performance email course here.

The Fight of Two Wolves Within You

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“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.”

First Lesson: The Fight is Eternal

The first part of the story is telling us that we can never get rid of the first wolf, the first wolf will always be there. The fight between two wolves is eternal.

Both wolves will always be there. This applies to our emotions, behaviors, habits, and every other aspect of our life.

I used to fall into the trap of trying hard to banish the negative side of myself. I would force myself to eat 100% healthy all the time, beat myself up for relaxing even for just a minute, and tried to get rid of those negative thoughts in my head.

The truth is that none of us is living in pure bliss. What we can do is to act in spite of those negative feelings or hard times. We can take those fears, those worries, those doubts and move forward anyway. That’s how you feed the second wolf.

  • Feeling unmotivated to workout, workout anyway.
  • Not feeling confident in your upcoming sales presentation, do it anyway.
  • Not happy with your spouse, show him/her your love

Imagine if we’re paralyzed by the first wolf, by doing nothing, accomplishing nothing, and getting nowhere. We’d lose the momentum to move forward and indirectly we’d be feeding the evil wolf!

Besides, what will you be doing by telling yourself you haven’t accomplished anything? How will you feel when you get nothing done all the time? You won’t just stop at where you are; you’ll be moving backward! And the evil wolf will get stronger day by day.

Small Actions Build Momentum

Now, start telling yourself you’re worthy, begin to believe in your ability and act in spite of fears and doubts, in spite of constraints and challenges. One step forward will always be a step ahead even it’s tiny.

Instead of doubting yourself and doing nothing, you can try to learn new things and expand yourself at a slower pace. Instead of focusing on the fears within, start with ONE thing you should (and could) do that is right in front of you.

  • Want to lose 100 pounds and achieve your fitness goals? Start by walking for 15 minutes a day if you haven’t yet. Then start learning squats and maybe push-ups with your body weight and make slow progress from there.
  • Want to build a community with a vast audience? Focus on delivering quality content, and start building ONE audience at a time. Provide value to ONE person at a time and grow your audience from there.
  • Want to start a business? Start by validating your idea and find one customer. Then optimize your product and offering from there.

Start Feeding The Right Wolf

One truth to remember is that it’s so much easier to feed the first wolf — the first wolf is there to encourage the easier options in life. It’s easier to complain, procrastinate, dismiss, ignore, and give up.

There is almost no effort required to do those things, and you’re getting the reward with the sensation of relieving and instant gratification without much an action.

The second wolf is very different; it’s picky, it’s harder to feed. It’s challenging, tiring and time-consuming to do things like learning, teaching, inspiring, sharing or simply sticking to a new behavior. These things take so much energy, effort, momentum, and guts. And you don’t usually see immediate results from them.

Which wolf you choose to feed will define who you are, and we all know we should feed the second wolf — even if it’s harder. Feeding the second wolf is how we end up feeling a sense of accomplishment and success at the end of the day.

By conquering the temptation of the first wolf we opt for a much more challenging (but right) option in life.

Feeding Both Wolves

In the Cherokee world, however, there’s another version of the story and it ends this way:

Feeding Both Wolves in Your Mind

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:

“You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and will always fight the white wolf.”

“But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities — tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking–that I have need of at times. These are the very things the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.”

“You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life.”

“Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowledge that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.”

“Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.”

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

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33 comments… add one
  • Gomathi Priya

    really nice.
    i got solution for internal struggle within me.
    it helped me a lot .thankyou…………….a lot

  • Paul Christens

    This second ending proves to be the more difficult, and more challenging. Beautifull!

  • ASAP CiCi

    I REALLY love this story. It has helped me get through some of my toughest times. It adds meaning to my life and I try to apply it everyday. I can definitely relate to starving the wolves. It’s funny because I interpreted this the exact same way on my OWN without even coming to this site. I really love analogies, it’s something I’m good at deciphering. Again, I really appreciate this story, I love symbolism as well. The yin and yang makes so much sense.

    • Dean Yeong

      Thanks for the word. Glad you enjoyed it

  • Joel Donfak

    Beautiful article! Very interesting piece of reading!

  • Amanda

    Great post, great story! Thanks for sharing!

  • Brenda Stevens

    perfectly written and found JUST at the right time <3
    thank you

  • Adam

    Hey Dean! Love the version you’ve shared here. I am writing a curriculum and I am discussing the many versions of this story and addressing the questions and debate about its source(s). Can you please share the source(s) you’ve used with me? Thank you in advance!

  • Soane (Jonny) Makalio

    Thank you for the beautiful story. It helps me bless my life… Wrestling with behavior of flesh (Galatian5:17) spirit and flesh fighting… Who do I feed the most?. That’s who win.

  • Owen Burke

    I’ve been fighting my whole life. I am the deer who has the ferocity and fire of a lion. Lately, as I tire. I notice the Lion is more taking control and I Do Not want that!! I think my spirit and my body are at war. I am my own worst enemy. Thank you for this story!! I’ve come a long way, inch by inch, loneliness my constant companion with no self-worth. I am my own worst enemy. Now I recognize this may be the final battle within to find a balance and then accept each day as it comes. Lord knows how tired I’ve become. I will take goodness from your story. Thanks again

  • Rosemarie Grasso

    So awesome and so profound it’s a WOW! Thank you.

  • Floris Koot

    Haha, great story and explaining the deeper layer. It triggered me to write this variation on the story.

    The wolves story is helpful for those suffering their own negativity. To escape sneaky Ego snakes a different story might be needed… A story on overcoming self-deception.

    A shaman approaches a man and says, “I see you have two snakes within. One is a liar that makes you self justify ego-centric choices at the cost of your body and others. And the other is a smooth avoider of conflict with this one, trying to free itself.”

    “What!?” shouts the man, “I’m not a liar and if you say more of that stuff I’ll smack your face.” “That’s the lying snake; it comes out as poison when it feels threatened or exposed.” “What do you mean, with that?” replies the man. “That’s the other snake.” says the shaman, “It opens a way out by being curious for how things really work.”

    I expanded it a bit more here

    • Dean Yeong

      Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it, Floris.

    • Karen

      Nice.

  • Kiara

    I was impressed with this story the first time I read it years ago.

    The true conflict we all have inside of us is real, and the animal (wolf) we feed is also real.

    I am a volunteer in our regional detention center. This story of the two wolves is a perfect example to give the inmates not to feed the first wolf. While incarcerated inside those prison walls because of something they did or someone who lied… every day they breathe revenge. With examples, I show them they are having God-time out to reflect on their life and amend it.

    “Even though you are locked up, you can still be free. There are many, many people who are outside these walls and yet they are prisoners of their own negative thoughts… by feeding the black wolf.”

    THANK YOU FOR THIS REMINDER.

  • Victoria

    Thank you for this. I had heard the story this week but wanted to share with my clients.

  • Hank

    This is awesome. I love the second ending and much more useful.

  • Harish R

    Good read 🙂

  • Les

    For me, it is all about comprehending the universal law of Oneness, and abot the virtue of turning “the other cheek”.

  • Marl

    It’s most definitely food for thought.

    I pass the story around to those who choose to listen. Those who choose not to listen aren’t interested in learning more about themselves.

    They are the ones who believe anyone going to therapy is beneath them.

    The wolf people who believe they are entitled to do whatever they want and their sole goal is to trample all others for their own benefit.

  • Angela

    I often think of this story. As my higher self speaks to me , when I need to make a choice. Be at peace in all of your choices. It pays to check in with wisdom and discernment. For one call action, and the other calls cut. You are your own creator. What and how will you decide to feed the two wolves.

  • Ellen

    This is one of my favorite quotes ever and I love the direction you took on expanding it. I really appreciate your writing style and the over-arching message you conveyed. Thank you for publishing such a well thought out piece. Best, Ellen

  • Alan Katz

    I got a tattoo of two wolves on my chest what is the mean angry one the other is the kind gentle one. Beneath the two wolves is the words the one I feed with an Indian feather below it.

    Yes I got the tattoo when I was dealing with some stress and depression about some challenges in my life at that time. Now when I get stressed and depressed I look at the tattoo and know which one I need to feed.

  • Chris

    This is a personal favorite and made me rethink my ways for the better when I was younger. This is a fantastic retelling of the fable and I was shocked to learn of the alternate ending. I’m not sure which I like more. Thank you for posting.

    • Dean Yeong

      Glad you enjoyed it, Chris.

  • Kathy Hamilton

    I also heard this Cherokee fable from a lady in my group chat yesterday and this is during the pandemic stay at home rule. I like the second ending where you need to feed the first wolf as well or you will know no peace and always be fighting that wolf. Thank you for this.

  • Beth Jordan

    As I come to the Autumn of my life, reading this story gives me courage to allow these wolves inside me to help and guide me as I walk through the journey of my life.

  • Suresh Pahel

    Beautiful thoughts dear friend.

  • Pagngnasir Thero

    I really like this story. I have read it before but this version and the comments enlightened me further. Thanks Dean and others who have made comments and shared their ideas.
    Thero

  • Marilyn Bradley

    Thank you for such wisdom!

  • Angela

    This is the 1st time I‘ve heard that the 2 inner wolves are black & white. Oh & of course the black wolf has admirable qualities too. Sad

  • Mark E. Grall

    Love this, and the thought and love behind it.

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