Fear and your Crazy-Making Lizard BrainDawn Kotzer
Let me guess… you’ve never, ever topped your to-do list with ‘make friends with fear’ or ‘Love crazy-making Lizard Brain’. Yeah, me neither.
I mean, who does? It sounds weird, especially if you avoid all things lizard. And fear is something we want to avoid not make friends with, right? I know. I thought that, too. But that changed when I discovered strange little fact: when we learn how to love our lizard brain life gets easier, big time.
Let me explain…
Known as the amygdala, sometimes called the Reptilian Brain, this little entity, sitting toward the back of our head, is the oldest part of our brain. It is ancient and like most elders, it deserves respect.
The almond sized Lizard Brain has ONE and only one purpose—to keep us alive by alerting us to possible threats and danger. And when we feel fear it jumps to our rescue. Seems helpful enough, right?
The trouble is, it’s stuck on caveman view where everything unknown is dangerous and only things that can be controlled are OK.
It has only 2 settings: All Clear and DangerFear! And in caveman view, precious few things made the All Clear.
Today’s world may not have the same dangers as ancient times but we still feel the emotional impact of human desire, power, fear and joy. The Lizard Brain takes its job very seriously, quickly judging which of the 2 settings our emotions belong under.
All Clear is easy— the path seems clear.
It’s business as usual.
DangerFear! is more complicated.
The fear falls into 2 categories: Lack and Attack. Both can feel crazy-making.
We suddenly feel we lack everything. We fall into Envy, FOMO, Comparisonitis, Perfectionism, Doubt and more. A story track immediately pops up and we fear we don’t have enough money, food, time, love, beauty, intelligence, charm, etc.
We can spin into a worry pool of doom, distress, attack and dread. Something terrible IS GOING to happen… for sure. Stories of past experiences and tales from the world of woe flood our brain.
Because this is our oldest part of our brain, we are hardwired to respond to the LB (short for Lizard Brain).
It’s always there, scanning the paths our Inner Genius, the ‘wizard of curiosity and action’ wants us to rush toward and explore. We’ve been interacting with LB since the day we were born.
Curiously, when in real danger, we will likely find ourselves in action before we know it. Our quest for survival kicks in, time seems to stop as we are 100% focused on what needs to be done NOW.
I’m not talking about that kind of crisis/fear but rather the crazy-making false alarms misinterpreted by the Lizard Brain.
Here’s one example of LB in action:
We have a desire, ambition or dream that we long to make real. If we feel more fear than excitement, and uncertainty overtakes us, our Lizard Brain is compelled to come to the rescue.
“NO! NO! This is NOT Safe. You will not survive this.” Survival Fears kick in.
Bogged down by feelings of Lack or Attack, we stall in the doom chamber, most likely shrinking back to the safety zone of status quo. Hyper sensitive and tied to our emotional state, when we’re uncertain, scared and reactive, LB declares it’s DangerFear time!
Awareness is key.
Modern man’s emotional stress reminds it of primitive man’s survival stress.
It’s not so much what happens as how we interpret what happened.
Does our fear bring up feelings of Lack or Attack?
What story are we telling ourselves? Was the danger real? Are we safe now?
Did we react out of habit or respond with intention?
Can you learn to love your crazy-making Lizard Brain?
Can you shift out of Lack or Attack and turn this cave man attention to duty into something that serves you in your modern world?
Yes. You. Can.
The next time you feel yourself dip into a moment of unrealistic fear, taking the following steps can provide a little relief:
5 ways to love your Lizard Brain
1. Name your LB
This creates wiggle room and breathing space. You become the Watcher and can practice observing your emotions, fear and reactions. (I named mine Skunk…things used to be soooooo black & white with him.)
2. Recognize it’s presence
When it is hyper reactive say ”I see you, _________.” Speaking to Skunk out loud helps me validate MY presence and allows me to see fear as another aspect of my self. Speaking out loud, feeling our voice resonate like a drum, works best.
3. Acknowledge LB for doing its job
Tone is everything. We are, after all talking to a part of our self. LB doesn’t know what a false alarm is. It’s either All Clear or DangerFear!
My conversation with Skunk often goes like this- ‘I get why you showed up. I felt nervous, uncertain so you jumped into DangerFear! mode. But it was a false alarm.’ Now my job is to respond in a calm, kind way. I imagine giving him a piece of fruit. Seems a bit oddball? Hey, it works for me.
4. Take the right sized Small Steps
a) When changing your fear response, small steps can work magic. But only if they’re small enough to NOT trigger FEAR of failure, comparison, etc. The amygdala (aka LB) is hyper alert to feelings of FEAR.
b) Break tasks, projects and goals into micro, doable steps. How small? Ridiculously Small… so small that you are 100% certain you will commit and succeed. Take one tiny step after another, linking them together to create a sprint. Overtime, adjust the size of your steps into strides, leaps and bounds.
5. Give yourself permission to Suck
In the beginning, release expectations and give yourself permission to do a really lousy job… I mean, really, really lousy.
You’re taking ridiculously small steps to guarantee completion, not perfection. Making room for uncertainty and ‘Beginner’s Mind’ to be part of the process helps us make friends with the fears that we all have when trying something new.
Yep. He’s right. So remember —
Feelings of Lack or Attack can easily bubble up when we’re exposed to new things or making change in our life.
When uncertainty looms and false fear gets too close, take a breath, lean in and show your crazy-making Lizard Brain a little love.
When you desperately want to forge ahead, to calmly respond rather than crazy-making react, try any or all of the 5 steps listed above. It’s OK to start small.
Did any of the steps above appeal to you? Did you give them a try?
I’d love to hear how it felt; most of all, what did you name your lizard brain.
thanks for hanging out here with Skunk and I.
don’t let fear dull your SHiNE™
I never spam you. Scout’s honour.
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