Your Lizard Brain: A User's Guide

I've just finished reading, "Linchpin" by Seth Godin.  It's a terrific book – as always – and I recommend you pick up a copy.  The main thrust of the book is something other than just the basic biology of your brain, but Godin spends a lot of time talking about why we self-sabotage, delay, procrastinate, and fail to live up to our own high expectations.  He's talking about our Lizard Brain.

In the very deepest recesses of your think-box hide your Amygdala, almond-shaped clusters of cells that formed the earliest parts of our advanced thinking as humans.  These are where it all started, and still form the "buck-stops-here" final decisions that override our conscious mind.  The cerebral cortex ("grey matter") is actually pretty new, compared to the amygdala; this 'Lizard Brain' (Godin's term) is what saw us through the earliest phases of humanity.

Amygdala The priorities of the amygdala:


Flight (default setting)


F – ( uh, procreation.)

…in short, survival at any cost.  Avoidance of risk is its specialty.

It's easier – far easier – to check email a dozen times this morning than to drive to CrossFit.  It's soothing to stay on facebook until it's too late to make it to the Group on time. It's easier to research cell phone plans online than to go to the store and have a conversation.  As Jerry Seinfeld joked, "Public speaking is the #1 fear of most people.  Death is #2.  People are more scared of public speaking than death.  That means that most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy."

The Lizard Brain hates confrontation.  It fears judgment – even if that fear is irrational.    It avoids eye contact.  It screens your calls.  It makes excuses.  It hides in the familiar. And it overrides your smarter brain, which creates a lot of anxiety.

Show up at CrossFit for the first time?  Nah, let's read the blog a few more times.

Call the girl?  Not today.  Tomorrow.  I have a deadline.

Hold my wife's hand in public?  My buddies might be there. 

Sign up for Murph?  I hate groups.  Plus it's not my 'cardio day.'

Get some running coaching? I hate running.  I'm so bad at it.  Plus, it's boring.

Call out a local politician in a public forum? No, it might reflect badly on my business.

Finish my school work?  Not when the skiing's so good!

Write the speech for PodCamp in advance? I'm better 'off the cuff.'

Join the new Barbell Bettys group? No, I don't know anyone there.

Start the WOD? Wait for a good song to come on / wait for Whit to finish her warmups / chalk up again.

Do the Polar Bear Swim?  No, it's pointless.  Just look at those laughing, screaming jerks!


Polarbearswim Steps:

1. Recognize what's happening.  If you've checked email more than once in the last 3 hours; if you've been on facebook all morning; if you're checking hits on your website more than once per day; if you're using a code-name on news forums…..the Lizard is in charge.

2. Acknowledge that you're reacting with a primitive portion of the brain.

3. Frequently expose the Lizard to challenge.  Do more public speaking.  Do stuff that makes you uncomfortable.  Go to karaoke.  Join a group as a stranger. Take a lesson.

4. Train the weakest links first.  Great at double-unders?  Run to warm up.  Awesome at deadlifting?  Train muscle-ups all week. 

5. Choose things that make you uncomfortable.  Exercise, books, public exposure.  Do them.

The longer you avoid, the deeper you dig.  Running a mile, twice, in sub-zero temperatures, is not comfortable.  It's not fun.  Snuggies are warm, and safe, and feel like a nice hug and look great on your new couch and don't get bored while you watch the Olympics all morning.  But that big, fuzzy parachute will become an anchor.  That's okay, says the Lizard Brain.  You just lean back, and let me do the talking………..

Start here

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