This ancient parable a perfect representation of what we call human willpower.

The sun is setting in the middle of the North American desert and an old man is sitting by the fire smoking his pipe.

The red light of the sunset highlights the scars of past battles and the signs of age and wisdom on the face of the old Cherokee. Sitting by his side is a young boy. After a long day the two are just enjoying a bit of rest.


The atmosphere is still and the boy is looking at the man silently waiting for a story.

The old man takes a big puff and while watching the clouds of smoke raising and taking shapes of mystical figures, starts stirring the boy in the eyes.

He knows he doesn’t have that much time left on this planet and he’s willing to teach all he has learned about life to the curious boy with dreamy eyes.

He clears his throat and starts his parable.

Feeding your strengths

“Tonight I want to tell you a story. A story of two wolves.”

“There are two wolves, constantly fighting each other. When the sun rises they meet at the same place and start a furious battle. The bite, pierce, slash and push each other every day until the sun sets, only to get some rest and start again when the sun rises again.”

“One wolf is dark as the night. He gathers strength from evil, pain, suffering, jealousy, resentment and madness. He is relentless and bloodthirsty.”

“The other one is white like mountain snow. He takes his strength from kindness, joy, mercy, calm, reason and wisdom.”

“The two wolves are in a constant fight with one another. Day after day they wake up in the morning and start their fight to only stop after the sun sets to get some rest and start the fight once again the next sunrise.”

“The two wolves are inside the heart of every man. They are inside you and inside me too. They are always there and they are fighting recklessly with one another.”

Shocked but curious the young boy asked the old man:

“And who wins?”

“The one you feed.”
 Answered the old man.

Willpower and the brain

If you read the previous articles of this series you already know that the human brain has three layers that I have named Snake, Monkey and Genius.

If you haven’t read the articles, there is a link available above so you can understand the concepts I am about to explain

To quickly recap the Monkey brain is the center of emotions and temptations.

He likes to keep us entertained with drama, gossip, feelings of anger and frustration and, for some of us planning revenge towards our hateful bosses. The monkey also likes shiny objects, cars, watches, clothes and he loves all sort of quick foods to reward himself.

Guess what?

The dark and fierce wolf of the parable has evolved into the more sophisticated drama­queen monkey.

On the other hand you have the Genius brain, or prefrontal cortex, which plays the part of the good white wolf that is always here to guide us towards acts of love, wisdom and kindness.

He’s the one responsible for long term planning and “doing the right thing,” even when the Monkey is messing around.

We can now define willpower simply as “the ability to control impulses and do the right thing.”

Scientists would say that the function of the Genius brain is to bias the brain. I personally like to think it as the Genius slapping the Monkey and putting him back to sleep.

how to increase willpower_2Willpower challenge

Let’s take a closer look on what kind of challenges we are going to face in everyday’s life.

The Genius appears to be a resourceful one and armed us with the tools to face three different type of challenges the Monkey is constantly throwing at us.

I will do it

We all know this one. The monkey loves procrastination.

Staying on the sofa rather than going to the gym, ordering pizza rather than cooking, playing games rather than studying, browsing Facebook rather than working on a serious project.

Whenever we know we need to do something but we simply don’t feel like getting started we face the ‘I will’ challenge.

I won’t do it

Here the Monkey becomes a real monster.

Craving for cookies, gambling impulses, Whatsapp romance, keeping chill while the boss is shouting at you or simply going through that one more rep at the gym.

We face ‘I won’t’ challenges when we try to resist temptations or keep cool in stressful situations.

I want

This is a particular type of challenge is where the Genius helps us keep track of what are our long term goals, dreams and desires are.

This is the center of what we call motivation.

You recognize it when you go into dream mode and you know you should take action right now to come one step closer to the goal.

Every willpower challenge is literally a battle between two selves inside our head. You can feel it when a challenge is approaching. The body becomes rigid, eyes wide open and we feel unnaturally tense. The fight is on.

Who’s going to win?

When the Genius wins we feel a deep sense of satisfaction and relief. We feel in line with ourselves, whole and complete, calm and inspired.

When the monkey wins we enjoy the short term pleasure but we end up feeling frustrated, guilty, hopeless and derailed from our true self.

Look out for Part Two of this article! Tomorrow I will explain how to feed your Genius and keep the Monkey under control. 

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