Me And My Lizzie – Making Peace With The Lizard Brain

Wow! Look how fit she is, her legs look like she’s 20! I can’t believe she can run a half marathon at this age. I’ll never be able to do that. I guess it’s not even worth it to go jogging since my attempts are so pitiful.

She’s so prolific! She writes two books a year. I can barely get a chapter written in a month. I don’t know why I’m even bothering.

Going on a cruise to Alaska! Her business must be so successful! What makes me think I can make it in business? I’ve never been able to make money.

Sound familiar?

We all have such thoughts – or similar – from time to time. Maybe you’re even like me, and you have a domineering Lizard Brain that you’ve too often allowed to get the upper hand.

In that case such scripts may plague you on a daily basis.

The big question is this:  What do you do with those thoughts?

Do you allow yourself to get sucked into that story? Do you set down your project, or open up that pint of ice cream and plop down on the couch?

Or have you discovered a way to talk down that lizardy part of your brain? You know, that prehistoric part that’s still trying to protect you from the saber toothed tiger.

The Comparison Trap

There’s two things going on when these thoughts start yammering away inside your head. One is Lizard Brain worrying that your safe little world might somehow be threatened.

The other is what I call “comparison-itis“.

Here’s a quote I’ve been coming across on almost a daily basis lately, I think Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, first said it:

“Stop comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

It’s become a bit of a mantra – and no wonder! It just makes sense.

It’s easy to notice how other people seem to have their shit so together on the outside. But the part we don’t see is what’s going on for them on the inside.

Have you ever admired someone for their accomplishments, their looks, their job – whatever – and then gotten to know them and realized they have a totally screwed up personal life?

In fact, you realize, you are actually much better off then they are?

It can be quite the epiphany.

I try to remind myself of this whenever I fall back into comparison-itis – wondering why I can’t get my shit together and be as prolific, energetic, smart, fit, productive or (insert adjective) as someone I’m admiring from afar.

Hey – how about some gratitude for how far I’ve come? Some intention, and some believing in my own knowledge and abilities?

Now that’s a unique concept! And – you know what? It works!

Except when it gets derailed by that old lizard brain.

Talking To the Lizard

I call her “Lizzie” – naming her was a tip I gleaned from my summer course with Sandi Amorim and Jenny Bones (and a circle of amazing new women friends) at “Summer Camp for Solopreneurs.” (Now morphed into Campfire Circles for Coaches – check it out! Life changing possibilities here!)

While working through this course – and sharing insights with the group – I got a grip on how to handle Lizzie. Well, at least I got more of a grip than I had before!

I learned that Lizzie can be my friend, that she’s never going away, and while she does not specifically aim to sabotage me, she wants to keep me safe at all costs.

Which, it turns out, can and does sabotage my growth.

Well, crap, what now?

One thing that helps is to understand that everyone has a Lizzie! Yes, every single person on this planet – even that marathon runner, that prolific author, that incredible artist or the super mom.

Now, if you’re measuring your time on the planet in decades rather than years – as in you’ve reached midlife – you’ve probably already made that discovery, although you might not have thought of it quite this way.

When we’re younger we imagine that everyone else has it all figured out. Many of us stay convinced of our own inferiority for quite some time. Then as the grey hairs begin to sprout and we grow a bit wiser it dawns on us: ‘wow, they’re just as fucked up as I am!’

But then we forget again. At least I do.

So it helps – a lot – when you find yourself sinking into to comparison-itis, or worrying about other people noticing your shortcomings, to remember:  they’re too busy worrying about their own shit and wrestling down their own Lizzie to be focusing on YOU.

Best to turn your attention to handling your own irrational lizard brain fears.

 So, how to handle Lizzie when she starts freaking out?

Take this scenario:  you’re about to sign up for a class you’ve been wanting to take for ages. You’re finally going to do it.

But suddenly you remember that your husband (sister, kid, best friend) expects you to be available for a phone conversation at that particular time every Wednesday. And then you realize how hard it will be to get dinner cooked if you have to run off to that class.

You  hate to bail on your commitments. So, you decide to put off signing up. Maybe you need to think about this a little more.

Is this your integrity talking? Or is it another of Lizzie’s insidious methods to keep you safe?

The first step is simply recognizing what’s going on.

It starts with slowing down, turning down the incessant mental chatter and checking in with your body. Here’s what I’ve learned: the body always knows. But wow, what a challenge to tune out monkey mind so you can tune in to the old body.

That may be step one, but it’s often the hardest step of all.

Once you’ve quieted down, it becomes easier to ascertain which messages are fear-based from Lizzie, and which might be a higher form of guidance.

And, um, that class scenario? That’s probably Lizzie!

Sometimes Lizzie just needs a friendly acknowledgement.

Sandi, my coach and teacher, suggests inviting her to go chill out on the deck. Perhaps sit in the lounge chair and have a margarita. No lounge chair? Just tell her to take a nap.

Whatever works.

The point is you’re acknowledging the input, and affirming that you will now move on with your intention. After all, the saber tooth tiger is not pounding down the door. You’re just signing up for a freakin’ class for goddess sake!

Other times Lizzie might need a more aggressive approach. At least if she’s as demanding as mine. That’s when an “STFU” is called for.

If Lizzie’s not taking the hint and going off to take a nap, then it’s time to just say, “Shut the Fuck Up!”

And move on.

Now, don’t get me wrong – actually doing this is not as easy as it was to read it.

Like anything, this takes some practice and commitment. But eventually you can cultivate a truce with your lizard brain – although you may always be sparring partners.

Building That Lizzie Lifting Muscle

Lizzie really, really didn’t want me to move to Portland. In fact she still pops up daily (well, several times a day) to remind me of the state of my finances and the fact that I don’t have a JOB. What the fuck are you doing? She screams.

Who do you think you are?? Do you want to end up pushing a shopping cart around and sleeping under the bridge??

A lizard – not a T rex!

But you know what? Her voice has become a bit less strident of late, and sometimes she takes on her appropriate size – a lizard, not a Tyrannosaurus rex!

Because I DID make the move, I DID stand up to her bitching and whining so now she knows she’s not the one totally in charge. (And yes, she’s pissed, but hey I’m just letting her know who gets to be boss in this head of mine.)

You don’t have to make a big move to let your own Lizzie know who’s boss.

It all comes back to those baby steps, doing one small thing that scares you. Just one of those actions to which Lizzie is screaming ‘No, no, no!’

Maybe it’s standing up for what you believe in at the next work meeting, even though everyone else has a different viewpoint. Maybe it’s taking that walk on an unfamiliar trail. Maybe it’s finally telling a loved one that thing you know they need to hear. Maybe it’s that class.

Lizzie hates making waves. Can’t we just keep the status quo, she demands? What’s wrong with the way things are?! It’s safe!

But here’s the thing: once you take charge, tell her what’s what, and start stirring up the water she’s like, ‘Ok, guess I’ll check out now.’

But don’t expect her to be gone for good. Sure enough she’ll be back the next time you’re venturing out of safe, familiar territory.


Is your lizard brain blocking the path to your dreams? It’s time to get on with this thing! What is one step you can take today to move Lizzie out of the way?


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Showing 19 comments
  • Sandi Amorim

    Love, love, love the shift from T-Rex to lizard! Best reality check of all!!!
    One step to deal with my own recent Lizzie conversations is to work on the outline for my book. And yes, every time I think of the book, Lizzie freaks out. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the STFU strategy on myself lately 😉 

    • saraho

       @Sandi Amorim Sometimes nothing else works but the old STFU! And I’m glad Lizzie is shrinking down and letting you get to work on the outline! We need your book Sandi! The world needs it!

  • Ellen Berg

    Meditation quiets Lizzie.  So does acupuncture, but meditation is free.  Or…she’s not exactly quiet, but I see her chatter more like dust motes in a sunbeam.  She’s only effective at all in my special soft spots, the ones I refuse to examine and deal with.

    • saraho

       @Ellen Berg   Hmmm, I’ve noticed it with the meditation (even though monkey mind barely allows me more than 10 seconds of absolute quiet,) but I hadn’t realized that about acupuncture. They have a couple of these ‘working person’s acupuncture clinics’ here in Portland. You get it in a group setting I think and don’t have to pay the big bucks. I’ve been thinking about checking it out and you’ve just given me one more reason! (And more reasons to extend those meditation sessions!)

  • LoriLynnSmith

    You always make me  laugh!  meditation does help quite a bit for sure!    Totally agree those baby steps are not easy to make… but once you start doing it more and more you can totally rock it!

    • saraho

       @LoriLynnSmith  That’s just it, it’s amazing what happens when you talk Lizzie into letting you take one tiny, little step each day. Three months on and you’re thinking, Wow! Look what happened! Glad you got a chuckle out of this one Lori!

  • Carol Hess

    I’ve decided to befriend Lizzie instead of fight her.  Because if I fight her, she just keeps me up all night long, and I need my beauty sleep.  I’ve noticed Lizzie backs off a bit and even goes somewhat quiet when I treat her with respect and gratitude.  After all, she is just looking after me because she loves me (in an overbearing, over-protective, hovering mother kind of way).Take this morning. I was scheduled to go to a local network meeting. Lizzie didn’t think so. I told her I was going and that was that. So Lizzie switched gears and laid out some scenarios of what would happen at the meeting. I ignored her.  She switched some more gears and talked me into practicing my “what I do for a living” elevator speech (that got worse the more I did it). See how tricky Lizzie is?   Finally the Wise One stepped in and said, “Okay, you two, listen up. Lizzie, STFU. Carol is going to the networking meeting with an attitude of open curiosity. And, Carol, stop practicing the elevator speech. Just be yourself. They’ll love you.”  (When did the Wise One start to sound like my mother?!)
    And guess what?  The network meeting was a terrific experience, I met some really nice people, I made some interesting contacts, and I lived to tell the tale. Heck, I even resisted the incredibly delicious donuts the restaurant is known for. See Lizzie? A networking meeting is not a death sentence after all.

    • saraho

       @Carol Hess Great story! I’m so glad Wise One got into the fray and put her foot down. I do think you have a point about befriending Lizzie, that’s the attitude to start with. But if she’s going to get all sly, tricky and slithery about the thing (finally getting you practice the dreaded elevator speech), then it’s time for the good ‘ole STFU. Good thing Wise One was around to do the deed. Are you sure she sounds like your mother? Sounds suspiciously like a mutual friend and coach!

  • acordaamor

    My own way of dealing with moments of anxiety about doing something is, ideally (although I don’t always do it), to admit that I’m feeling that discomfort to the people I’m with.  When I can just reveal how I’m feeling and stop expending all that energy trying to look confident or comfortable with the people I’m around, I can actually start to enjoy what I’m doing, which for me these days is the first priority.

    • saraho

       @acordaamor You know, I’m glad I finally realized that it’s okay to do that! I agree that it works wonders in diffusing that uncomfortable energy – that the others are surely picking up on too! Often when we can just speak about our fear, it breaks the ice and opens up new pathways and opportunities in our relations with others.
      It’s too bad that so many business and other teachings counsel to never say you’re nervous when public speaking or teaching (just one example.) I took that to heart for far too long. Then I realized that when I hear other people admit their nervousness or fear, I connect to them so much more!
      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment!

  • joeyjoejoe

    Hi Sarah,
    One step I’ll be taking today to quiet my Lizzie (I love how you’ve personalized the lizard brain by the way) is to read an article I rotate in for just this purpose. I have a big stash of curated articles on this topic and schedule myself to read one of them periodically.
    Today it’s going to be “A Thoughtful Guide to Gaining Self-Confidence” by Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist.
    I like other people’s suggestions to combat the ever raging battle against Lizzie. Perhaps you could package all these great responses and feature them in a follow up article?

  • BobbiEmel

    Good stuff, Sarah. You are so spot on with the antics of Lizzie. One way that someone taught me to deal with her incessant chattering is to say to her, “Can you repeat that in pig latin?”

    • saraho

       @BobbiEmel Hahahahaha! I just love that Bobbi! That is definitely a keeper and I’m going to try it next time Lizzie gets really obnoxious!

  • kaizenjournaling

    Absolutely love this post! I love the refreshing voice in this. Naming Lizard Brain does make it all the more real, and I suppose easier to tell it off 🙂 
    You should be incredibly proud of what you’ve achieved in last few months, and I’m still envious of your move to Portland, amidst such a creative community. 

    • saraho

       @kaizenjournaling  Thanks Dolly! Your encouragement is so welcome and means a lot! And yes, it’s so true that giving that voice a name makes it easier to get real clear and just tell her off!
      And yes, I’m still kind of in awe that I’ve made it here to Portland, amazing creative and entrepreneurial energy. Plus it’s quirky! And I like that!

  • ironiclee

    Actually, I have admired one person’s success and drive at her job, yes, only to realize after becoming friends that the drive is incessant and she doesn’t give herself a moments peace. 
    I love you manner of speaking, like we’re great ol’ friends. So much pleasure to read your writing!
    And I love the idea of telling Lizzie to STFU. That she’s gonna be a pair of shoes if she pipes up again.   😉

    • saraho

       @ironiclee Thanks for stopping by and for your fun comment! As I wrote I’ve certainly had that experience of being utterly convinced that a person is so successful and fabulous and thin, or whatever – only to realize she’s pretty empty inside. So, yeah give that Lizzie the STFU and get on with creating your own beautiful life!

  • HappierHuman

    Hm… this is a thought provoking article. Comparison-itis I’m all too familiar with, but my lizzard brain?
    Yes, with some thought it becomes clear that there are many ways my lizard brain acts to keep me safe, even though it should be doing the opposite. STFU!  

  • Priska

    It’s easy to notice how other people seem to have their shit so together on the outside. But the part we don’t see is what’s going on for them on the inside.
    The problem I had was that I only noticed what I had together on the outside. I was so caught up in the busyness of life, I’d failed to notice what was going on the inside.  When I stood still I realized that I wasn’t the confident together person I’d led myself to believe. 
    Unbeknown to me, I’d been listening to Lizzie for years, she controlled my every move.
    So I started making waves, this frightened Lizzie, she wasn’t trying to control my life, she was protecting me from life’s disasters.
    Lizzie is now my friend, when she steps in, I thank her for her concern, take into account her cautionary concern, but no longer blindly follow.

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