“He who takes no chances wins nothing.” – Danish Proverb
There’s a primitive part of your brain that’s often referred to as the lizard brain, or reptilian brain, and its only concern is survival. It’s the ancient part that has allowed us, as humans, to act on instinct and avoid danger, thereby survive and evolve for millions of years, but in today’s world, it’s an instinct that may be holding you back and preventing you from becoming your best self.
The Lurking Lizard
We no longer live in a primitive world where life-threatening dangers lurk all around us, but the primitive lizard brain still exists. Scientists believe our brains evolved in three stages, with the lizard brain being the first. The next stage, known as the mammalian brain, gave us the ability to store memories and thereby act on experiences beyond basic instincts, and in the third stage, the neocortex developed, creating the brain as we understand it today.
As the brain evolved, we became able to draw on past experiences, sift through the information stored as memories, and rationalise an appropriate response in any given situation, making conscious decisions rather than acting purely on instinct and fleeing from anything unfamiliar – and therefore a life-threatening danger. However, the lizard brain response still lurks within us, and in times of high stress, it can overrule all rational thought processes. When the pressure is on, irrational thoughts creep to the forefront of your mind, and this can lead to the brakes effectively being slammed on, stopping you from moving forwards, taking the next step, or progressing from where you are. In other words, the lurking lizard can stop you in your tracks and hold you back.
The Effects of Holding Back
The lizard brain doesn’t want you to take any chances or do anything risky, it wants you to play it safe and just stay alive. From its standpoint, there’s no difference between being faced with a sabre-toothed tiger or being faced with a decision to make over whether to stay in your job or quit and start your own business. If you’ve ever said you’re going to do something and then not done it, perhaps thinking of making a career change and then not acting on that thought, that’s the lizard brain response. It’s the voice in the back of your head telling you to be careful, to go slow, to back off, and to compromise rather than dream big and go for your goals.
When the lizard brain takes over, you’ll procrastinate, putting off making decisions and taking action; you’ll fixate on tiny details, always managing to find “reasons” for not pushing ahead with things; and you’ll generally be overly harsh on yourself, becoming increasingly self-critical. When this happens, you’re stuck. Your old brain is standing in the way of new thinking, and irrational thoughts continue to fuel irrational fears.
Hushing the Lizard
It’s fair to say that in the primitive world, one false move could have resulted in being eaten, but is that the case today? No. To hush the lizard, you need to move. Making a decision or taking the next step can be “scary” but until you do, you’re stuck where you are. Fear can paralyze you. The lizard brain doesn’t want you to take a chance on something that’s an unknown, but unless you make that move and give it a try, that unknown can never become a known. Unless you get eaten, you’re going to learn from the experience, and it’s learning that keeps you moving forwards.
Could it be that your lizard brain is preventing you from achieving your dreams?
The lizard brain fears change, it fears progress, and fear sabotages success.
For the last 17 years Don MacNaughton has worked with thousands of players and coaches on the mental side of their game .If you are interested in working with Don on an individual level please email firstname.lastname@example.org