The Lizard Brain

Yesterday I was meeting the CEO of a Detroit non profit at Starbucks and the conversation started out really well.

He was looking for ways to be better at sharing their stories so they could do a few things differently, but mostly build community and engage people in the work that they do. At the point where most meetings turn to “ok what are we going to do when we walk out these doors?” he began telling me about his board and how they’ll have a bunch of questions and he’ll need something to sort of “prove” that this is a good idea. A way to sell to them, so to speak.

No problem. I’ve done this a million times. And as I was searching for the words around “I’ll send you our process and some examples of work we’ve done” he said “I’m not trying to put you on the spot.”


I’ve never in my life felt like that is a difficult question, and yet here we were. I was troubling my way through it enough that he felt like he had to let me off the hook. I worked to regain my footing. “I didn’t think that. That’s an easy thing to do.”

But the damage, in my own head, was done. What’s going on in my brain that’s making me uncomfortable at the moment of “hey show us what you’ve got?” We’ve done some great work in the past with some great clients, there’s no reason for me to feel any sort of hesitancy.


My friend and mentor Tom Brennan often says that “it takes as long as it takes.”

And the understanding, fully functional, front part of my brain gets that. Yeah, things take time, be patient. Continue to do the right things and do them in a way that’s authentic and good things will happen. The front part of my brain understands that success is nothing more than the intersection of preparation and opportunity. Be ready when the chance comes.

But the front part of my brain isn’t always in control.

Sometimes, the back of my brain is in control. The part of my brain I call “the lizard brain.”

The lizard brain slides along the ground, reminding me exactly how many months of payroll exist in our bank account. The lizard brain reminds me that time is ticking as he whispers in my ear, “you’re not getting any younger, you know? He’s asking you to send something to him, you know how this always plays out and it’s not good. What should we do? Quick say something!”

Classic lizard brain.

Fuck the lizard brain?

I meditate every morning using the app Headspace and this month my focus has been on resistance. Every morning for a month I have been asking myself, “who or what are you resisting?” I’m not supposed to look for answers, instead just to be with that question and to allow my brain to sink into my breath.

And then this morning… BAM! It hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m resisting the lizard brain! In my resistance to it, the lizard brain grows stronger in my consciousness and it plays a bigger role in the way I act and things I say.

So I’m wondering, how do I accept the lizard brain? I mean, the lizard brain has to have some good ideas, right? It probably keeps me from taking crazy unnecessary risks when I don’t need to, and it keeps me from doing stupid shit. And all I do is resist it when it’s just trying to help.

All I do is shit on it.

Loving the lizard

I need to embrace the lizard brain, to bring it in to the fold. To love the lizard brain. If I can do that, he won’t fight me so hard. Maybe he’ll let me have a conversation without jumping to negative conclusions once in awhile. Maybe… MAYBE… he’ll show me more productive ways to accomplish the things I want to get done because he’s now a part of the team.

Good old lizard brain. I love you, pal.