Have you ever experienced a fear so intense that you started to shake and get dizzy? A recent experience left me with a new appreciation of my ‘fight or flight’ response and taught me a few things about my lizard brain.
Let’s rewind to last Friday afternoon.
We left Portland for a bike camping adventure. We were both excited to spend time outdoors, ride our bikes, and explore a new state park. The beginning of the ride was fantastic. The air was warm, fresh, and the scenery was incredible. Everything rolled along smoothly until we turned onto HWY 212, near Boring, Oregon.
Yes, the road was legal and had a bike lane, but there were too many cars, going way too fast, and when a 18-wheeler semi-truck passed me, I completely freaked out. I started to get scared and became sweaty, dizzy, and felt sick to my stomach. I yelled ahead at Logan to “stop” but he couldn’t hear me over the noise of the traffic. I kept pedaling behind him yelling for him to stop. Once Logan noticed my distress he turned around and asked “what’s wrong?”.
Logan was adamant that we only had a little more pedaling to do before we reached our turnoff to the park. But I was determined to find a new route to the park and get off the business road. Rather than argue on the side of the road, we decided to walk back to a less trafficked road and take a break. The break gave me a chance to calm down and look at a few maps. Interestingly, we discovered that we’d been going the wrong way and my lizard brain helped put us back on track.
So what exactly is the lizard brain?
Seth Godin describes this part of our brain as the resistance.
…the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. The resistance is writer’s block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn’t stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.
…The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because her lizard brain told her to.
There are a number of lessons you can learn from my story; ways you can acknowledge the lizard brain, but not engage it.
1. Acknowledge it.
Acknowledge fear. Acknowledge the resistance. And remember you can always change your direction. That might be literally changing your direction, like we did on our bike camping trip or changing the course of your career.
2. Plan ahead.
To some degree planing can calm the lizard brain. For instance, we should have planned alternative bike routes to avoid really busy roads. The same can be said for folks who are planning on leaving a day job.
The resistance will scream at you and say things like: “What are you thinking? Why would you leave a day job during a great recession? And what about health insurance?”
You can quiet the resistance and make your path a lot smoother by doing things like saving money and connecting with mentors.
3. Listen to your instincts.
I think it’s important to listen to your instincts before they start screaming at you. A lot of us go through life following the crowd and engaging in activities that society deems acceptable. Many folks aren’t happy on this path.
So it’s essential to listen to your gut, the little voice that says: “Hey, this doesn’t feel right. Maybe we should take a different path.”
Listening to your instincts might give you an amazing new opportunity. I think it’s a whole lot easier to find success if you stop chasing it.
4. If the lizard brain wins, what can you do to make the best of the situation?
It’s hard to regroup after you’ve experienced a high stress situation. With that being said, you can make the best of a bad experience. To do so, you have to give yourself time to calm down and make the best of what you’ve got.
For instance, after we regrouped on the side of HWY 212 we decided to keep pedaling. We turned away from Boring and headed to a different camp ground. Our ride to the new park was amazing. Being able to see local farms and Mt. Hood in the distance reminded me of why I love bike camping so much.
The lizard brain can take over in high stress situations. So it’s important to recognize the lizard when he or she appears. Take time out to quiet your mind, acknowledge fear, and think about what you can learn from the situation.
Micro-action: What can you do today to acknowledge your fears and move forward? What is your absolute worst-case-scenario?
Write that scenario down and then figure out how you can work through it, in the unlikely event that it came true.
And write down a list of possible benefits from you worst case scenario.
Note: Image from Seth Godin