Are you paralyzed with panic when you think about the financial melt down? No, you're not losing your mind. The Fright Factor that's making you freeze is merely the lizard in your head hogging the stage. The lizard? Yes. You have a reptile living deep in your head. It's called your reptilian brain, and it's a remnant of your genetic past. It's powerful and has its hand on your internal panic button. However, allowing your reptilian brain to steer your thoughts is like letting a gecko drive your car. Understanding how your reptilian brain works can help you to disengage from fearful thoughts.
The Big Three
Paul MacLean, former director of the Laboratory of the Brain and Behavior at the National Institute of Health and author of The Triune Brain, explains that the human brain is really three brains in one. Each brain evolved at a different step in evolution.
The simplest and most primitive brain is called the R-complex, or reptilian brain, because of its similarity to the brain in reptiles. It controls our basic survival and is essentially fear-based (just think of how reptiles behave). The second brain, the limbic system, is similar to the brain in lower mammals and seems to be the seat of our emotions, personal identity, and some aspects of memory. The third and most recently evolved brain, the neocortex, is devoted to higher-order thinking, verbal memory, more complicated reasoning, as well as those handy linguistic skills for which Homo sapiens are known.
Don't Drive In Fear Gear
MacLean says that the three brains operate like "three interconnected biological computers, with each having its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space, and its own memory, motor, and other functions." You might think the neocortex runs the other two brains, but no. In any given moment, any one of the three brains dominates the others. That's one of the reasons we humans are so darn complex. This is why it so important to now allow the lizard in your head to grab the wheel. You are allowing the stupid part of your brain steer your decisions.
Your Deep Dark Inner . . . Lizard
The reptilian brain, for all its lowliness, is no wimp. It is so fundamental to our existence that educational innovator and researcher Elaine de Beauport, calls it the basic brain. It is the first part of the brain to develop in the womb. And it is buried the deepest in the head so it is the last to sustain injury.
It's the part of your brain that's in charge of self-preservation and the preservation of the species. It governs primary functions like your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature. It is also the part of your brain that sets off your automatic responses. If you want to watch your basic brain in action, step outside on a bright sunny day with a mirror in your hand. Watch how your pupils dilate . . . without your ever thinking about it. The basic brain is programmed to respond before you think. Don't let that little fact slip by! The lizard in your head has you in a panic way before you have a chance to react.
Are You Feeding Your Fear?
When you feed something it grows. Every time you listen to your fear, you are feeding your lizard. Every time you react out of a place of dread, you are feeding your lizard. Every time you make a generalization without checking out the facts, you are feeding your lizard. Every time you take an action based in fear, you are feeding your lizard a double portion.
Five Questions To Tame the Lizard
As speaker and coach I am seeing the impact that negative thinking is having on companies and individuals. One of the most powerful steps you can take is to pause and question your fears before you accept them. The reptilian brain automatically reacts in panic, but you are the boss of your brain. Five simple questions will lower your fearfulness.
1. Why am I fearful right now?
2. Where did I get the information?
3. Is this my current direct experience?
4. Do I need to react right now?
5. Is this a fact or is it a F.E.A.R -False Expectation Appearing Real?*
* The more you use that question, the more you'll become aware of when you are seeing the world through your F.E.A.R. filter.
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Eli Davidson is a nationally recognized executive coach and motivational speaker.
Her book, "Funky to Fabulous: Surefire Success Stories for The Savvy, Sassy and Swamped", (Oak Grove Publishing) has won three national book awards.
(Portions Excerpted from "Funky to Fabulous, Surefire Success Strategies for The Savvy, Sassy and Swamped", Eli Davidson, M.A. with permission Oak Grove Press.)
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