The Lizard brain

Why did the chicken cross the road? Because, its lizard brain told it to.

What is the lizard brain? The lizard brain is known by different names- “reptilian brain” by American neuro scientist Paul Maclean and as the “mechanical mind” by philosopher Sri Aurobindo. It is the lower most part of the brain just above the spinal cord that is responsible for human emotions of fear, anger, revenge and reproduction. The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear, rage and reproductive drive. It is the part of the brain that should be given credit for protecting us from the saber toothed tigers in the ancient times.

lizard brain

However, the lizard brain is the best at shunning your cerebral cortex (the creative and executive wing of your brain) for thinking anything that is out of the ordinary. The lizard brain has a single simplex reflex program and that is – protection. It doesn’t want you to go out and be adventurous and put yourself in potentially dangerous circumstances. It doesn’t want you to think differently. It wants you to stay warm and happy and make lots of babies. Just like lizards and snakes. The lizard hates change, and achievement and risk.

Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin talks about how the thing standing between you and what you really want to do is the lizard brain. Anytime that the lizard brain speaks, it wins. Because it is what got us here (by protecting us from the saber toothed tigers and from getting thrown out of the village in prehistoric times). Here is the bad news. The part that got us here is wrecking with our lives now. It is sabotaging our ability to do the work that is actually going to work. It is constantly making us anxious.

What is anxiety? All anxiety is, is experiencing failure in advance(in your head). What happens when you are anxious? You seek reassurance. You want to be constantly assured that everything is fine from some external source. However, there is never enough reassurance for the lizard brain. The lizard brain will not be happy until it is all over and we are dead. That’s the lizard brain’s job. To keep us from trying anything that is different. We always want to be told what to do. We want to be more average than average. We always like to listen to that voice-“Oh you’re talking about things that could get me into real trouble” and then play safe.

What do all successful people have in common? Successful singers / entrepreneurs / managers. They have figured out how to go to the edges, connect with people and most importantly how to deal with the lizard brain.

Philippe Petit- tigt rope walking across the twin towers of the World Trade Centre
Philippe Petit- tight rope walking across the twin towers of the World Trade Centre

The world wouldn’t have gotten where it is today if people had listened to their lizard brain. Take Christopher Columbus  for example. At the time of Christopher, most sailors wouldn’t venture further into the ocean than to lose sight of land. They travelled parallel to the coast. And why did they do this? It is because they feared the unknown. Christopher had other ideas. He decided to travel at 90 degrees to the land to see what is out there. The rest is history.
Where would Philippe Petit be if he let the lizard brain win? He broke into the world trade centre when it was under construction. Using a bow and arrow, he shot a cable between the two towers and high wire walked across it.

Lizard brain at work
Lizard brain at work

Look at the photo. It is a picture of a baseball bat falling into the stands. The bat is going to hit the lower row, at most.Why is the man with the black cap raising his hands as a method of protection? Maybe even the guy below with the red cap? Their lizard brain is making them do this. Most of us would react in a similar way. Our brain is hard-wired.

Most of the time there are no bats flying at you. Often, the very thing that you are scared of is the very opportunity that you have, to make a difference. There are no saber toothed tigers to eat you alive anymore, so ask that lizard to shut up.


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