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How to Tame Your Lizard Brain

By Susan Murphy, PhD
Recognizing and taming your Lizard Brain can help in achieving goals.

Did you know that a lizard may be controlling you and trying to prevent your success? Until you learn to recognize and tame this reptilian part of your brain, it will be difficult to achieve all the goals you desire.

Your Lizard Brain is the part of your brain that wants to prevent you from changing. It’s left over from prehistoric times when humans faced life and death situations on a daily basis. The Lizard Brain is focused on survival. It’s that voice in your head that tells you to “be careful, back off, run away from danger and play it safe.” Today, as in the past, your Lizard Brain’s role is to keep you safe.

Lizards and humans share this similar brain part that they inherited from fish. This reptilian part handles basic body functions like breathing, balance, and coordination plus simple survival urges like feeding, mating, and defense. The trick is to discern when the Lizard warrants your attention, and when you should ignore it. Because with your Lizard’s focus on your safety, it can prevent you from taking risks, being bold, accomplishing goals and living the life you envision.

In contrast to your Lizard, the Primate part of your brain is considered the thinker. When your Primate Brain is more active, you’re likely to slow things down, reason, reflect, plan and strategize.

Don’t Let Your Lizard Brain Sabotage You

How do you recognize when your Lizard Brain is rearing its head and sabotaging your success? You must learn to acknowledge it and then tame it. The Lizard Brain or “amygdala” is a physical part of your brain near the brainstem and it feels responsible for your survival by causing fear, enabling you to attack, and pushing you to reproduce. Another name for the Lizard Brain is “Resistance.” It wants to limit your exposure to anything new like your growth, development and risk-taking. The Lizard tells you why you shouldn’t take action to do something and gives you a lot of excuses why it won’t work. Seth Godin writes in Quieting the Lizard Brain, “It hates change, achievement and risk.”

You can recognize your Lizard’s voice by the “What if?” questions resounding in your head. “What if I don’t succeed?” “What if I can’t lose weight?” “What if I can’t find a publisher?” “What if everyone laughs at me?” “What if I’m not smart enough?” The language from your Lizard Brain often contains the words “we” and “let’s.” “We need to take a break”; “Let’s grab a cup of coffee”; or “Let’s call Grandma to check in.” The voice becomes louder and louder the closer you get to success whether it’s shedding the last few pounds for a healthy body, finishing that MBA, completing the proposal or writing your story.

The Taming Process

Once you learn to recognize the negative soundtrack from your Lizard Brain, you can begin the taming process. You can begin to consciously tap into the large part of your Primate Brain, the neo-cortex, the modern, creative brain that can feel joy, gratitude and has become skillful in intellectual pursuits like science, creativity and reaching goals.

TIPS:

Stay aware of the Lizard and how it wants to control your behavior. Awareness is the first step. According to Seth Godin, “The Lizard Brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.”

When your Lizard Brain sends you warnings, flip your thoughts to something positive that you enjoy or someone you love.

Suspend your natural instinct to be fearful and judgmental of others. Instead of fearing that people laugh at you, envision them applauding your success. Envision yourself reaching your goal.

Instead of “what if?” having a negative tone, shift it to the positive. “What if I win the award?” “What if my job interview goes well?” With positive thoughts, your brain releases endorphins that make you feel better, perform better and attain success.

Wear a rubber band around your wrist and SNAP it when you are doubting yourself and playing negative tapes in your brain. It takes 21 days to cement a new habit into your way of life, so take control of your thinking, tame your Lizard and change your self-talk into a positive way of thinking.

Keep Post-It Notes with affirmations within eyesight and read them out loud daily.

Surround yourself with people who support you and your goals.

Tell your Lizard Brain, “Thank you for sharing, Lizard, but I’m not interested. Come back when my life is truly in danger.”

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker who specializes in relationships, conflict, leadership & goal achievement. She co-authored In the Company of Women and Life Q.  Dr. Murphy can be reached at (760) 674.1615 and Susan@DrSusanMurphy.com

4 Responses to “How to Tame Your Lizard Brain”

  1. Dad says:

    So true but for me it may be too late to face reality

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