5 Steps to Managing Your Lizard Brain

Salamander: photo credit - Mark Faviell

No matter how much personal development work you’ve done, no matter how many self-help books you’ve read, there’s one thing you need to know…

Salamander: photo credit - Mark Faviell

This little fella ain’t never going away!


Your lizard brain is never going away and it’s never going to shut up.

It’s there for your survival and we’re still here as a species so it must be doing something right. Thing is, survival isn’t what it used to be.

Our Neanderthal ancestors? They had to deal with survival; saber tooth tigers and warring tribes were a real threat! That you’re afraid to try something new and step out of your comfort zone – not so much.

So if it’s never going away and never shutting up, just how do you manage this ancient, survival driven part of your brain?

1. Talk to it

“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” – Anthony de Mello

Start questioning it! One of the best ways I’ve found to talk to the lizard brain is through The Work, a process created by Byron Katie. It’s a process of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the fear that trigger your lizard brain.

In its most basic form The Work consists of 4 questions:

1.  Is it true?

2.  Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

3.  How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?

4.  Who would you be without the thought?

What would happen if you stopped listening to your lizard brain so intently and started talking to it? Use these 4 questions to get you started and loosen the lizard’s grip!

2. Ask for support

One of my clients recently went through a challenging event at work and his lizard brain kicked in:

What if I lose my job?

What if I don’t have what it takes?

Why is this happening to me?

Familiar, right?

Typically he would listen to the lizard’s chatter for hours, some times even days. That particular day however he picked up the phone and called me. One of my earliest coaches used to say, “Get out of your head; it’s a dark and scary neighbourhood.” That day, my client got out of his head and reached out for support. Within minutes, he was refocused and calm, with a plan of action.

Wouldn’t have happened on his own; the vicious circle going round and round in his brain via the lizard would probably have kept going for quite awhile!

Follow his lead and ask for help.

3. Take baby steps

Taking baby steps is like negotiating with your lizard brain, and I know that might sound crazy. Is it possible to negotiate, perhaps even make friends with the lizard? Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race and taking small steps consistently over time is the way to go. For example:

Me:  I want to write a book.

LB (lizard brain):  You don’t have time for that; you’re over committed as it is!

Me:  I know, you’re probably right, but what if I just wrote one blog post.  What if I just wrote a list of ideas?

LB:  OK, as long as you don’t write that damn book!

End result: I started writing, I launched the blog and I’m pursuing a dream, one step at a time.

4.  Use your imagination

This isn’t about wishful thinking or pretending that negative things don’t happen. That would be like spreading icing on a mud pie. Take a bite; it’s still a mud pie.

This is about about overriding that primitive part of the brain, rewiring it  by accessing your neocortex and it’s easier than you think!

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine something you really want. See yourself in your mind’s eye with the desired outcome.  Let your imagination fill in the details:  What do you see, hear and feel?  Notice how good it feels to be in your body, imagining that ideal outcome.

Shifting from your lizard brain to your visual brain is easy, so just do it will you?

5.  Get grateful!

So many studies have been done on gratitude, proving that people who spend time appreciating what they’ve got in life are generally happier than those who whine and complain. Whether it’s using a gratitude journal or speaking your gratitude out loud, start expressing more gratitude in your life.

Lizard brain stays pretty quiet when you’re noticing all the good in life, so what are you grateful for today? Right now, in this moment what can you appreciate?

There you have it. 5 steps to keep it simple. 

Pick one and get started.