Starting a business. Finding your dream job. Getting fit. Becoming more productive.
For anything you want to do, finding out how is easy. Just get onto the internet, read a book, do the research and make it happen—or so the gurus would have you believe. Yet despite all the “advice” out there, every day you still stay stuck in your dreadful job, you become more unfit, and you procrastinate. Every day, despite your best intentions, you do the exact opposite of what you plan to do.
This is supposed to be the age of information. The steps to achieving greatness are supposed to be easy to search for. Ideas are supposed to be easy to generate. You should be able to generate ideas on a whim, and write them down on the back of a napkin, ready to take on the world.
And yet, you are still not doing it. Part of the movie is still missing. A page is torn out of the book. There’s a big X in the equation. Do you know what it is?
The X is what Seth Godin calls your lizard brain.
The lizard brain is your real opponent, and no amount of information will help you fight it.
The lizard brain is behind every unhappy marriage, every hidden vice, and every unfulfilled life. Behind the lizard brain is pain avoidance, and dealing with pain demands strength you may not think you have.
The lizard brain is why the lazy entrepreneur, never makes it big—because she never really sweats to make it happen. She wants to live the 4 hour week, without putting in the work to get there. It’s why the monolithic company gets wiped out by a lean startup—because the big company culture avoids the hard questions.
It’s the reason we stumble through life making the wrong decisions, even though we may know what the right one is.
Behind every act you’re unable to do, the lizard brain is there, like a puppet master, steering you off course.
But facing your lizard brain is hard.
Facing it means that we need to see the lies we tell our-self, facing the fear behind it, and handling the pain that the journey demands—all without hesitation.
The lizard brain creates that moment when every doubt we’ve ever had comes back and hits us hard. It’s when our whole body feels tense. It’s an instinct that tells us to run. It’s a moment of tension that happens in the body and the brain, and it stops everything cold.
When coming across something they know will make us flinch, most of us have been trained to refuse the challenge and turn back. It’s a reaction that brings up old memories and haunts us with them. It tightens our chests and makes us want to run for the hills. It does whatever it must do to prevent us from moving forward. If the lizard brain wins, we can’t do the work that matters because the fear it creates is too strong.
Individuals have lizard brains, but so do organizations and cultures. They can invoke a fear of a certain kind of person, a kind of racism or xenophobia, or a fear of new technology or outside influences.
Whatever form it takes, the lizard brain is there to support the status quo. It whispers in our ear so we will dismiss a good idea that requires a lot of change. It stops us from seeing an up-and-coming competitor as a threat. It’s the reason most modern movies are remakes and most successful books are sequels. It hides under the guise of the hard-headed boss, the skeptical publisher, or the cautious friend.
But the problem with the lizard brain is that it’s based in a brain that wants to protect you. It sees shadows as threats and creates blind spots. It’s endemic to cultures that embrace the old, even though the old might not work anymore. Both individuals and groups must develop systems to handle the flinch, or they’ll always fall prey to outside forces.
Fight Your Lizard Brain
Everywhere your fear avoidance hides, you have to find it, and face it. You need to take back control and stop the lizard brain, like the boxer in the ring, because you have a job to do—you have a fight you need to win.
For most of your life or your business’s existence, the lizard brain has been there, guiding you. As you discovered your world and learned best practices from others, the lizard brain was learning too. It pushes you to judge some ideas as good and others as bad, guiding your behavior over time, until your decisions became streamlined.
Whatever you avoided, whatever you and authorities considered a threat, became a blind spot—it became something that could make you fear.
The lizard brain has a complex history. It appears whether you want it to or not. Every day, you make decisions based on it. But you may not think much about it at all. But this is exactly what your lizard brain wants.
Facing the lizard brain is hard internal labor that comes with no up-front promise of reward. But one day, your world will change, maybe drastically, and it will do so without warning. On that day, you won’t be prepared—unless you’ve fought the fear before.
Do this work now, and your future self will thank you.
Finding the lizard brain reveals a secret passage, hiding in plain sight. It’s why some people know how to sell, and others can’t—because they see the lizard brain in others. It’s why you can’t quit your job or be the person you want to be—you can’t see the lizard brain in yourself. The lizard brain is why you don’t do the work that matters, and why you won’t make the hard decisions. It’s why your organization isn’t competing. It’s why you don’t lead the life you want.
Take this time to learn about it. It won’t take long. Once you see it, it will be visible to you forever.