If you haven’t heard of the lizard brain before, I wouldn’t be surprised. It is not a name that is appealing neither does it have beautiful stories being told about it.
The Lizard brain is the term used to denote the amygdala. It is said to be the oldest part of the brain responsible for primitive survival instincts like fear, flight, fight and even emotional reactions. This part of the brain warns us of danger or any risk endeavoring activity and it is said to be located at the back of our head.
For instance, if you are walking through a thick bush in the middle of the night, that feeling of fear you get where you begin to imagine different things is the work of the lizard brain. Before civilization, the lizard brain was instrumental for survival as it allowed the men of old to respond immediately and automatically to a threat without the other part of the brain processing it
However, today, we really do not face such treats to a large degree as we have law and order that helps keep people in check, we have wild animals living very far from us. In other words, danger is limited to a certain degree. However, we face a different kind of threat and this part of the brain that used to be very useful, has failed to evolve and as such, it has become a pain in our lives.
Now, we are faced with the fear of doing, the fear of what people will say, the fear of risk and losing it all, the fear of success and all the other kinds of fear we can think about. Because the lizard brain is designed to run from threat and its other comrades, we have found ourselves running away from doing stuff because of the fear we face.
This is what has been termed as “The Resistance.” According to Seth Godin,
“The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”
Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, describes the Resistance this way:
“Resistance is an active, intelligent, protean, malign, force — tireless, relentless and inextinguishable — whose sole object is to stop us from becoming our best selves and from achieving our higher goals.”
Now, you know why you procrastinate, why you hide, why you play safe, why you run from risks.
I have gone through all of the explanation above to explain the lizard brain and the role it plays in our day to day activities. This narrative is what is common in almost every book and article you will read on the internet. However, I have a different narrative.
The lizard brain doesn’t function when you are having fun with your friends, when you are chatting or scrolling through social media. The lizard brain tells you to rest when you should be working. Tells you to stay at home when you should be on your way to work. Tells you to sleep a bit more when you should be up preparing for the day.
There seems to be a pattern there and that is the fact that it points you the opposite direction of what you are meant to do. Say for instance, you want to start a business, the lizard brain, rather than give you logical reasons why you shouldn’t, it would rather give you mediocre reasons like – you will fail and people will laugh at you, if you fail, nobody will come to your aid. Or if you want to publish an article or a book, it goes – nobody will read your book, nobody will buy from you, people will laugh at you, this book is trash.
I have come to realize therefore that the lizard brain is a pointer. A pointer from important work which in my opinion, is a plus. That thing it tells you to run away from is the thing you actually should be doing.
This way of seeing will help your mindset better when approaching difficult things. A lot of people are afraid of the lizard brain because of the terrible things it is said to be capable of. Meanwhile, all we need to do is to see it as an ally, a tool, a compass for important work.
The better news is that the lizard brain never leaves, you cannot do away with it, although, you can learn to live with it and learn to silence it whenever it wants to speak. But it is always going to be there to point you in the wrong direction – a plus!
When next you hear it speak to you to hide, to play safe, to be careful, etc. there is a 95% chance that you should do the opposite.
I hope this makes sense to you.