Sorry for the lack of posts this week — I have running around a bit more than usual and didn’t have time to write.
I just finished this post for Martha Beck’s blog. It is on a favorite topic: lizard fears that get in the way of you realizing your dreams. And I got to reference one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches of all time: Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker. Here is the video which had me rolling on the floor:
Enjoy the post!
I listened intently to my highly educated and successful client express his fears about quitting his job to start a business.
"What are you really afraid of?" I said.
"When it comes down to it, I am afraid of living on the street and eating garbage out of a dumpster."
This fear is very common for people who are making significant career or life changes. It doesn’t matter how much experience they have or how much money sits in their bank account, they feel as though one wrong move will utterly destroy their lives.
This is no accident.
We all receive multiple messages a day about how there are not enough resources in the world to support us ("The economy is falling!" "There are no good men left in New York!" "I must eat the WHOLE cake, or never eat again!") and how we should be very afraid of the future ("The ice caps are melting!" "Serial killers are on the loose!" "The terrorists are coming!".) Martha calls this the Wizard vs. Lizard battle for your brain in her new book Steering by Starlight.
What is lizard brain?
One of the deepest layers of your brain is a neural structure evolved in early vertebrates. It is wrapped around the cortex of your brain and blasts signals on a regular basis intended to keep you fed and out of danger. Martha says in Steering by Starlight:
The entire purpose of your reptile brain is to continually broadcast survival fears- alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two different categories: lack, and attack. On one hand, our reptile brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: we don’t have enough time, money, everything. On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen. A predator– human or animal–is poised to snatch us! That makes sense if we’re hiding in a cave somewhere, but when we’re home in bed, our imaginations can fixate on catastrophes that are so vague and hard to ward off that they fill us with anxiety that has no clear action implication.
Animals will live longer when obsessed with getting more resources and avoiding danger.
Humans, on the other hand, especially those of us driving minivans and owning large-screen televisions, carry that same instinct, without facing the same dire situations. This leads us to act in all kinds of unpleasant ways, including paranoid, greedy, suspicious and desperate. The more we listen to our inner lizard, the more we are pulled toward a fate we most fear:
- A salesperson, certain that he won’t be able to sell a thing in a tight economy, calls the same prospect five times in one week, leading him to be permanently blacklisted from the company.
- A jealous boyfriend, convinced his girlfriend is cheating on him, secretly monitors her cellphone calls, follows her, breaks into her email and has a fit whenever she wants to go out with friends. Guess what happens? She packs her bags as fast as she can (unless her lizard fear is "I will never find another man" in which case she marries him, stays in relationship hell for a decade or two before having a heart attack from the stress)
- A young woman, so terrified that she will make a fool of herself presenting to a debate team for the first time, actually passes out when she gets to the podium. In this case, it was Martha, as described in Finding Your Own North Star (Coincidentally, as lizard wizardry works, when her worst nightmare was realized, she overcame her deathly fear of speaking and went on to be a secure and polished presenter.)
Examples of Lizard Fears:
"I’ll never find love"
"Something may have gone right, but you know that other shoe is going to drop"
"You can’t trust anyone in this rotten world."
"I have to keep secrets; people will use information to hurt me."
"Ultimately, everyone will betray me."
"The minute I get anything, someone will take it from me."
"Nice guys always end up getting screwed."
"Successful people have all the luck – I just get bad breaks."
Notice the lack and attack themes that permeate these thoughts? If you want to make progress towards your goals, you must learn to tame your inner lizard. Here are five ways, summarized from Steering by Starlight. Read the rest here.
P.S. My Dad, Lewis Stewart, took the picture of Jorge the Lizard.