Having problems getting things done? Easier to answer email, tweet or check Facebook than get that unfinished project finished?
Like the idea of a trimmer, healthier body but your willpower just can’t resist the call of ice cream when your favorite TV shows are on? Well, there may be a reason. And even better, it isn’t our fault that we don’t get anything done, or we continue to gain weight. We have something or someone else to blame!
Well, actually, we only have a different part of ourselves to blame.
Your lizard brain may be in control.
The first part of the brain that develops in the womb is the same part that was with us a million years ago. There are two almond shape lumps near the top of your spinal cord that are remnants of our evolutionary history and responsible for our survival traits. This mini-brain takes over when you are angry, hungry, afraid, angry or aroused. Scientists call it the amygdala, others refer to it as the primitive brain, while Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain.
In Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD, the primitive brain is responsible for controlling your body’s weight. Our bodies are the result of millions of years of evolution, and up until the last hundred years or so we had to hunt and gather our food. The only time we were ever inactive was when we had to hibernate or were preparing to die – at which time the body started saving all the reserves it could in order to survive as long as possible. Now that we have central heating, grocery stores and drive-thrus, we no longer have to hunt or gather. We have become sedentary, and the primitive brain has started hoarding fat. The only way to fool the primitive brain is to be active every day for at least 45 minutes.
In Seth’s book Linchpin, he explains that the Lizard Brain is in control, no matter it’s relative size to the rest of your brain. Your much larger, higher reasoning and creative gray matter always surrenders to the Lizard Brain since it is there to keep you alive.
It is that same part of the brain that then allows you make the “safe” choice that “feels good” instead of the “hard” choice you know you should. Unfortunately this control can be crippling for a lot of people: the fear of public speaking, the inability to finish projects until the emergency of a deadline, the self sabotage of hard work when oh-so-close to completion or success, the self-destructive behavior of an obese person in eating “just one more.”
In typical Godin form, he re-frames this urge to take the easy way out as “the resistance.” It’s easy to toe the line, use bullets in your powerpoint because the boss likes them, not make waves, criticize anyone that dares to offer any new ideas. Much easier to melt into the background than try to do something different, to show your genius. Much easier to go with the flow. As Seth says, “you don’t need more genius, you need less resistance.”
Both of these books have one thing in common: anxiety and inertia are products of our genetic makeup, and only by recognizing the devious control of that lizard brain can you make the conscious decision to stop holding back, to excel, to show what you are truly capable of doing.
I’ve never been a big fan of lizards, anyway.