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.
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.
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??
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?