The reptilian brain is a leftover from our fight-or-flight days. There are still neurons wrapped around our brain stem that scream messages of lack and attack at us. Our inner critic is plugged into the reptilian brain, and the lizard yells at us with negative self-talk. You know the drill:
“You’ll never get that promotion, you just aren’t good enough.”
“You keep screwing up relationships, you keep picking the same losers, you will never be happy.”
“You aren’t nearly smart enough to steer through office politics.”
We struggle with negative self-talk every day, fighting it with positive replacement thoughts, affirmations, acknowledgments. It’s a long struggle, and we still think we are going to wind up as bag ladies (men use the same phrase).
Refuting the lizard is a popular coaching technique, but I’d like to suggest something much more difficult. (I hear you sighing heavily, even from behind the computer screen.) Sometimes the lizard is right. Sometimes there are dangers around us. We do repeat mistakes. And, in fact, there are bag ladies (and men).
So the trick with the lizard is knowing when it’s just spouting off and when there may be truth in the mental warnings we feed ourselves. Yes, if we run with scissors, we can put out an eye. If the scissors are the blunt-edged ones and still in the box, the likelihood approaches zero. In the way of the lizard, it yells the same way in either case–long, sharp scissors held in one hand while running down a marble-floored, sloping hallways in wool socks or blunted scissors in a box. The lizard doesn’t discern. The lizard yells lack and attack messages.
What if the lizard whispers fear messages in your ear and they seem plausible? Luckily, the lizard isn’t all that versatile, so a few questions might make a difference. Here are some you may ask:
–Is this warning for something I’ve done before that ended badly? Let’s say it’s Yes.
–At what moment exactly, did I make the decision that took me in the wrong direction? Am I there again?
–What decision could you have made to make the earlier disaster end differently? Does that apply here? If both of the second answers are No, move on, it was the lizard. If the answers were “No”, followed by “but” and anger or drama, it’s just the lizard. Real danger has immediacy and clarity to it.
–If the answer to the first question was “No,” ask yourself, “If I act as if I am in danger, what could go wrong?” If all the answers are desperate and loaded with drama, become suspicious.
–If any of the thought is connected to anger or revenge, it’s the lizard.
–Define the solution you want to pursue. Think it through to the conclusion. Would you suggest this solution to your best friend or your boss? Many times, panic is connected to emotional triggers, and we want to punish the offender rather than solve the problem. If the answer seems good just for you, but you would never suggest it to your best friend, it’s most likely the lizard.
Of course there are times when you are in immediate danger. And yes, there are people who don’t like you and may want to work out their anger to their benefit and you happen to cross their sight, so you get pulled into the mix. But most of our messes are caused by repeating our old stories and keeping them in place because we are comfortable with them. Knowing what is dangerous and what is fear and anger based and treating it differently will make life a lot calmer.