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.”
Do you experience it, too? Those nagging, self-defeating little thoughts that insidiously seep into your subconscious until—if unchecked—it takes root and shapes your reality? “I’ll never be a great leader.” “I’m a terrible parent.” “I’m never going to win this weight-loss battle.” Yeah, those little stinkers. Behavioral therapists call them “saboteurs” and they can embed in us a very warped assessment of ourselves that can be far removed from reality.
Our Amazing Brain
As a survival mechanism, the brain is wired to use fear as a tool to see dangerous situations and ready us for fight or flight. For instance, we see a deadly predator in the wild and in kicks the amygdala, the “brain’s fear center’. This releases stress hormones such as cortisol in response to the perceived threats. This reaction then triggers the brain to focus on anticipating and surviving the perceived harm. But that means it focuses less toward what we really need at that moment— the brain’s prefrontal cortex, responsible for reasoning and decision-making.
Studies show that sustained exposure of stress hormones to the brain depletes the capabilities of the prefrontal cortex and strengthens the amygdala instead. In people who are continually stressed, the brain can’t tell the difference between real and imagined threats. Which means they can end up with disorders such as chronic anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the same way, our brains register these “saboteur” thoughts as real fears and set in motion the sympathetic nervous system which tries to process the fear.
What you think about, you bring about.
A basic truth that many of us seem to underestimate is that our brain picks up on what we constantly feed it. If you are constantly feeding your brain with negativity, you are training your brain to approach situations from a place of fright. This, then, causes the prefrontal cortex to be less capable of performing its function of making balanced and intelligent decisions.
We all go through problems at some point in our lives. Sometimes, difficult situations are entirely outside of our control and we may have no sense of control over what’s happening around us. However, the one thing we have absolute control over is the kind of self-talk we allow in our minds. Positive Intelligence is the process of keeping in check the sage and saboteur voices in your head. And, more importantly, optimizing your mind to be your friend instead of a saboteur. It’s a concept detailed by best-selling author, Shirzad Chamine, in his book Positive Intelligence.
Chamine illustrates positive intelligence (PQ) as an unceasing battle in the mind between your saboteurs “who wreck any attempt at increasing either your happiness or performance” and your sage “who has access to your wisdom, insights, and often untapped mental powers.” Thus, Positive Intelligence is measured by how much better a person is able to subdue these limiting thoughts, also known as saboteurs, so the sage or wise mind can emerge. You can take a free PQ assessment here to find out who your saboteurs may be.
From a leadership perspective, leaders with higher positive intelligence scores have been known to perform 31% better with their project teams than less positive managers. Higher-PQ managers are also more likely to lead happy teams who report their working environment as conducive to high performance.
Individuals with higher positive intelligence scores are no strangers to adversities. No one is. What sets them apart from others is that they have trained their minds to develop a stronger relationship with their sage. Where others tend to typically hit their panic button and become crippled by fear, people with positive Intelligence are solutions-focused in the face of adversity.
A Huffington Post article, states, “Lo and behold, it turns out that 85% of what subjects worried about never happened. And with the 15% that did happen, 79% of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.” Our self-talk affects our perception – of fear or possibility.
We all know that sheer positive thoughts alone don’t guarantee success. Yet the mere step of trying to increase your positive inner dialogue to a problem is a huge leap toward living a more fulfilled life. Instead of training your mind to countdown to meltdown by thinking, “I am going to fail this presentation”, how about propelling your frontal lobes into action by thinking, ‘How can I effectively ensure this doesn’t happen?” By making this simple but powerful shift to your thoughts, you are building in your brain a logical, problem-solving approach when such events reoccur.
Psychologist Deann Ware justifies that repeated behavior forms and develops new neural pathways in the brain. She explains, “When brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens. Messages that travel the same pathway in the brain over and over begin to transmit faster and faster. With enough repetition, they become automatic.”
The more we let negativity marinate in our minds, the more entrenched these thoughts become. Learning to disrupt these negative thought patterns puts things in a healthier perspective. You are better able to assess all options on the table and ultimately bring your best self to working through the problem.
In what has already been a tough year last year, getting your mind to be your friend will help tremendously going forward. The first step toward this is to take charge of and positively filter your inner talk to a point where negative self-talk feels like a deviation from the norm. Thankfully, it’s possible. It starts with taking the first baby step, simply making a commitment to positive thoughts, continuously working toward this, and then watching the beauty of compounding interest in your mind!
Now, it’s all in your hands … or your head! Will you continue to feed the bad wolf (your Saboteurs) or the good wolf (your Sage)?