Got Lizard Brain?

I usually have to read Seth Godin in small bursts. Two-thirds of the way through his new book, I now know that this overwhelm is not just because of exciting ideas.  It’s because his brilliant ideas trigger what he calls my lizard brain.

Lizard brain is an ancient, authoritative, and cunning voice that keeps things from moving forward. It’s the oldest part of the brain, and it was designed for survival.  But since many of us are lucky enough to not have to worry about staying alive on a minute-to-minute basis, the lizard gets bored – so he keeps us anxious instead.

After several stops and starts trying to read the book –I got it. Linchpin offers a real-time experience of lizard brain. Here’s how it looks:

Every few sentences:
“Wow – right on – I need to put down this book right now and go work on my stuff!”

Then in sneaks Lizard Brain:
“Maybe I read too much – think about all those books. If I’d only been DOING! I should start a list and get planning.”

Put down the book. Engage in busy work. (Lizard brain LOVES busy work!):
There is so much to do! I’m buried.  I’ll never be able to build this. Surely it will be done by somebody else faster and better. I need a break…Better check my email.

Guilt-Inadequacy-Fear. Guilt-Inadequacy-Fear.  Believe it or not, this lizard-speak is the source of what many business people are complaining (loudly) about. The boss asks, “Why aren’t my people speaking up, offering new ideas, and being accountable for the big picture?” While the employees say “The way we do things around here makes it impossible to do my job well, much less enjoy it.”

It’s no wonder that people have a hard time getting things done.

Change creates fear and fear triggers paralysis. If you follow paralysis downhill, you find missed commitments, disappointments, resentment, and blame. And the lizard brain is so cleverly disguised, it looks like we are all just heroes working really hard against insurmountable odds.


If we keep checking our email, gathering more data, pushing decisions around the org chart, talking endlessly about strategy, and tweaking ad infinitum, we never have to – as Godin says – “ship”. What’s more – it’s never our fault.

The good news is that once we get familiar with lizard brain, we not only have a choice, but a pretty strong idea as to which direction to go. It takes a little practice to identify your lizard, and some intentional steps to quiet it. Here are a few suggestions:

Notice Your Experience
Notice what ‘overwhelm’, ‘stress’, ‘frustration’ or ‘working hard’  feels like – physically. Can you locate tension, pain or discomfort? Begin to identify that feeling every time it occurs.

Identify the Thought
Once you are aware of the feeling, try to identify the thought that goes along with it. Do this by putting it in a sentence. “Here I am, stalled again.  I can’t get this done because I need Joe and Marty’s input and they are never around.”

Question your thought. Why do you need sign off?  Is it because you are afraid to put your name on it? If so, what could you do to change that?  Is this sign-off a rule? If so, is it a rule that is serving your organization? Have you offered a solution to this stall that you claim is holding things up? FYI -‘Why?’ is the taproot of innovation.

Act Different
Systematically quiet the lizard by consistently thumbing your nose at him. Name the problem and create a solution – even an imperfect one. Ship. Each time you do this, courage increases exponentially and makes more room for your gift.

Maybe the hardest step is to get okay with failing. Godin says it best –“the secret to winning is losing well.” Our ego doesn’t naturally let us say – “What a GREAT lesson, I can’t wait to do that totally different next time!” But if there is one common denominator in great thinkers, this might be it.

Try it out. Enjoy experiencing your lizard brain. Let us know what he has to say.

Comments are closed.