Personal Productivity

How To Beat Your "Lizard Brain"

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Motivation Science Advice
“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.” ~ Seth Godin

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How To Beat Your "Lizard Brain"

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin talks a lot about the term “lizard brain” 1 (also known as “reptilian brain”) to refer to the most primitive part of our brain, where the instincts that warn us of danger when it lurks reside. Actually, this lizard brain is a metaphor for the amygdala, the part of the limbic system which is responsible for processing our emotions.

This old part of the brain allows us to react to a threat in an immediate and automatic way, without the rest of the brain processing information, thus gaining a split second that has allowed our survival for millions of years. Today, in a world in which these threats are not exactly the order of the day (we have our predators pretty well-controlled and we don’t live in such a hostile environment), this “survival instinct” that has hardly evolved, rather than help, hurts us often.

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve felt it many times, although you may not have a name for it.

Steven Pressfield calls this phenomenon “Resistance” in his book Do The Work: “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.”

This resistance is the reaction of your mind every time you want to create something new or do something different. A reaction that has the same strength than you desire, but goes in the opposite direction. You can never completely eliminate resistance, but you can learn to live with it and be stronger than it.

To do this, you must first detect when the resistance is doing its job. The following behaviors usually indicates it:

  • You keep postponing a task or a project.
  • You’re being too self-critic.
  • You get obsessed so much over details that results are never good enough for you.
  • You always find some excuse not to do something.

Then use all the weapons at your disposal to combat resistance:

  • Do not judge yourself. Do something, even if it has defects or it’s not perfect. Self-criticism is not allowed, since it is part of the resistance.
  • Accept all ideas. There are no standards or rules. The more absurd your ideas seem, the better. The more you move away from the convention, the more likely that you create something totally new.
  • Stop making excuses. These excuses that you make… well, they are just excuses.
  • Have lots of ideas, good and bad, logical and irrational, and catch them all. To begin with, you do not know the potential of an idea.
  • Act first, think later. Act and reflect. And repeat the process. A work in progress generates a magnetic field that grabs you and pushes you to continue working.
  • Do not be afraid to fail. Failure is just another way to learn. The real failure is not trying.
  • If all else fails, remember how the idea was born. What is the reason you wanted to do that? How much do you want it? If there is no passion or commitment, or not a really important reason behind all this, you’re probably wasting your time and you must leave. But if there is something really significant and important to you, remembering and acknowledging it will help you overcome your lizard brain.

I leave you with a very enlightening video about What is the Lizard Brain?:

And here’s a transcription of the Linchpin Manifesto. Check it out when you need some extra motivation:

Yes. Now.

  • I am an artist.
  • I take initiative.
  • I do the work, not the job.
  • Without critics, there is no art.
  • I am a Linchpin. I am not easily replaced.
  • If it’s never been done before, even better.
  • The work is personal, too important to phone in.
  • The lizard brain is powerless in the face of art.
  • I make it happen. Every day.
  • Every interaction is an opportunity to make a connection.
  • The past is gone. It has no power. The future depends on choices I make now.
  • I own the means of production—the system isn’t as important as my contribution to it.
  • I see the essential truth unclouded by worldview, and that truth drives my decisions.
  • I lean into the work, not away from it. Trivial work doesn’t require leaning.
  • Busywork is too easy. Rule-breaking works better and is worth the effort.
  • Energy is contagious. The more I put in, the more the world gives back.
  • It doesn’t matter if I’m always right. It matters that I’m always moving.
  • I raise the bar. I know yesterday’s innovation is today’s standard.
  • I will not be brainwashed into believing in the status quo.
  • Artists don’t care about credit. We care about change.
  • There is no resistance if I don’t allow it to defeat me.
  • I embrace a lack of structure to find a new path.
  • I am surprising. (And often surprised).
  • I donate energy and risk to the cause.
  • I turn charisma into leadership.
  • The work matters.
  • Go. Make something happen.

1 Notes:
- Quieting the lizard brain, by Seth Godin.
- The Lizard Brain, by Tim Dunne and Maggie Dugan.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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