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.
Seth says, ‘our amygdala isn’t going away’.
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.
PS- Do you think others would appreciate this post? Yay! Share away.
Wow, no wonder it took a while to post to the challenge, you pack a lot into an article. I think the idea of naming that part of your brain that controls the fight or flight mode to danger is a great idea. Talking outloud to your fear as if it was another being there to help you is a great way to slow things down and take off a little of the pressure to over react. Thanks for sharing this, I think it is great information presented in a very understandable way.
Spot on. It does feel as if there is another being present to help slow things down and ease the pressure. Thanks for hanging out here, Chef William. I appreciate your taking time to read and comment. d:)
Great article, Dawn. I like #5 Give yourself permission to suck. That helped me most. Funny thing that I had PTSD after I retired. It was when I ‘gave up’ /surrender to my fear and anxiety that I got better.
#5 is my fave too. ‘Surrendering’ has a certain understated power that transforms big time, doesn’t it? (says she who struggled with the word surrender for a very long time.) Thanks so , Lily for your time taken to read and comment. d:)
Really nice visual – it really drew me in and made me want to find out more. Well done!
Hi Kimberly, thank you! I am thrilled this one drew you in. I use my own photos to create all my own graphics so your comment is doubly appreciated. d:)
Great lesson Dawn! It still gets discovered more than half a year after posting 🙂
I am currently fighting with my Scoundrel, but it’s more than that – it’s an inability to forgive that seems to keep scratching my LB and sapping my creative efforts, let alone my self-esteem. I recently saw the film Capernaum where a 12-year old dealt with his crazy-making in an award-winning way, by naming the wrong-doing; taking action; and voicing his verdict accordingly. It left me speechless. I am fighting with a similar crazy-making situation, only I chose not to verbalize it, in my attempt to protect my parents’ wellbeing (the wrong-doers) and thinking that time would heal the issue. It didn’t and now I could use Munch’s ‘Scream’ as a self-portrait… Any advice? Much appreciated 🙂
Protecting the wellbeing of our loved ones is normal and part of the invisible loyalty pledge we have with our parents. Forgiveness is a singularly sticky issue for many of us who feel lost in the inner wilderness. My resistance to forgiveness changed dramatically when I realized:
1) There’s a soul-sapping residue attached to our forgiveness issues. It most certainly drains us, affects our creativity and our self esteem. In other words, it dulls our SHiNE.
2) Forgiveness means to give away the energy attached … not the energy of their wrongdoing toward me but rather the energy that comes from the jail-like constraints I’ve shackled myself with in regard to actions against me. Forgiveness means I get to release, to unshackle myself from the soul-sapping emotions I’ve attached to the actions of another. In short, I forgive my reactions and choose instead, a response that raises my vibrations.
Thank you for your interest, your curiosity, for reading and for asking questions. Shine on, Lucia.
My gratitude goes to you Dawn, both for having written this article and for the inspiration you offered during our talk about how to apply these lessons in my own circumstances. A week of practice, in parallel to my daily meditation, and I can feel the difference in my approach to life. For me, it was #3 and #4 that were a revelation. I’m still working on #3, but taking small steps and committing to the desired change in increments and keeping in control of the territory I’ve conquered in collaboration with the LB does pay off. It almost feels as if I’m not alone in this anymore… I’ve got my Scoundrel with me, after all, ha, ha!
Dear Lucia, Thank your for reading, for reaching out and for connecting. Thank you for your confidence in my work. I appreciate it more than I can say.
btw, You’ve discovered the secret! Acknowledge the presence and purpose of our LB in a kind and respectful way and,regardless of what path we take, we can trust that we aren’t alone in the journey ever again.
Shine on, Lucia. Shine on!