Beating Your Lizard Brain

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

The lizard brain is capable of subverting our best work. It wants us to get a factory job, because it feels safer.

The "lizard brain", or the amygdala, is about the size of two almonds, and this prehistoric lump near the base of your brain stem is responsible for fear, fight, flight, feeding, and fornication. This little neurological nugget is part of the limbic system, the most primitive part of your brain. It gets mad, and it's fast. It sends messages to your body you can't control, and shoots those messages straight into your spinal cord.

For writers, entrepreneurs, and creatives, this miniature menace is the source of what author Steven Pressfield describes as Resistance - the inner voice telling us to be careful, back off, go slow, procrastinate, sabotage, and delay what would be our greatest work.

This is the greatest challenge of our time. The lizard brain, the one that ones to keep us alive, doesn't know anything about turbulence, or rollercoasters, instantly kicks in to say, "Stop this. Save our life". And then our frontal cortex has this whole dialogue with the lizard, assuring him it's really just fine. But this more evolved part of your brain takes about 2 seconds longer before it can get a word in to the discussion, and talk us out of the fear that the lizard brain so instantly creates.

Fear happens to everyone. especially anyone starting their own business, rallying people around a cause, fear stays with us throughout our lives. when we’re unemployed, we fear we will never get another job. when we do get a job, we fear being fired. when we invest our earnings, we fear losing our savings. when we start our own company, putting in our own savings and effort, we fear losing everything.

Since fear is going to be with us the rest of our lives, we need to learn how to deal with it.

The first step is understanding what fear is.

Fear makes you feel axious, or apprehensive, about a possile situation or event. i.e. somthing that hasn’t even happened yet. it’s our brain’s way of telling us to pay attention, and alert us to dangers or risks. Without fear, our ancestors would have walked right up to a saber-tooth tiger and become that night's dinner.

We no longer face prehistoric predators, but we still need to listen to fear when it warns us not to jump in front of ongoing traffic, pick a fight with a sumo wrestler, or walk into a lion cage wearing a Lady Gaga meat suit.

It also gives us a hormal jolt that allows us to deal with urgent situations. the fight, flght, or freeze response. to launch us into action. but instead of responding to fear with action, too many people stop acting when they feel fear. They feel overwhelmed, retreat, give up. Often they use it as an excuse not to start something that matters.

This can be a terrible mistake, and keep you doing the work you were made to do. A saber-tooth tiger is different from an intelligent business risk. But the two feel the same, physiologically, and we seek a safe haven to spare us from this horrible feeling of fear.

The initial, unsettling feeling of fear is not something we can control. It’s natural. But what you fear won’t kill you. Successful people face their fears and come up with a plan to overcome them.

There’s not one successful enterprise that hasn’t faced rejection, bankruptcy, loss of support, or outright failure, and every opportunity to shut down, take their ball, and go home. They faced their fear, managed to get past them, and ultimately triumphed.

Everyone who succeeds battles through adversities. Mistakes, missteps, fears, and failures. I guarantee that in any new endeavor, there will be days you feel completely doomed, convinced that failure is inevitable, and no matter how hard you work you will never succeed.

You’ll want to come up with excuses for or explanations of why you should quit. Fear is one of our most powerful instincts, and the more you focus on it, the more it grows and distorts our behavior.

Focus on what you can control: our actions. How you react in the face of negative emotions will determine your success.


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