Battle of the brains: Seven ways to shut the Lizard up.

Frontal lobe - Human brain in x-ray viewLetting go: Beat The Motivation Blues, Reboot, Re-energise and Learn to Love your Business Again. Another great Word Carnival Event.

In another life, I’d have loved to have been a brain researcher like Dr Helen Fisher, author of the Brain in Love.

She has a fascinating job, assessing thousands of surveys from people newly in love.

Some of those people are put through a MRI scanner to review what happens in the the brain when it’s owner is in that euphoric state.

Lo, parts of the the brain light up like a New Year’s firework display.

She explains that a small part of the brain called the Ventricle Tech-mental Area activates cells that spray dopamine into many parts of the brain.

What’s dopamine?
Dopamine is the chemical in the brain responsible for regulating thought, movement, motivation and learning as explained by Christopher Harris, a neuroscientist and researcher at the National Institute of Health.

Addictive drugs release dopamine. Romantic love which is an obsessive and behaves like an addiction releases dopamine. But according to Christopher, so does everything you want. And you only want it because it releases dopamine. Coffee, pizza, chocolate, alcohol, ritual, going out to dinner, getting paid, getting…. oh okay, enough said.

That’s something of a profound revelation. What you want, what motivates you, what gets you out of bed (or into it) is determined by your wanting.

If that’s the case, why is life not so simple, that we want and in wanting dopamine is released. Immediately, you’re energised and motivated and as a bonus, you learn something along the way?

Battle of the brains
It appears that the parts of our brain, the Paleo-mammalian Brain interwoven with the Ancient Brain (aka The Lizard) are the spoilers of that halcyon possibility.

As this part of the brain is responsible for handling our emotions (those associated with pain and pleasure) and much of our memory, it plays a large part in our daily lives.

Without scientific reference, I’d be inclined to think much of humanity continues to fight out there on the plains filled with large scary beasts, daily making instant, unthought-out decisions as to whether they run from Rex or fight the brute down.

The rest of the day, our Old Mammalian Brain might have us sitting in comfort and safety at the top of the forest getting a vicarious thrill while watching the entertainment on the plain below. We don’t have to go beyond the billions of human hours spent in front of TV or on Facebook to testify to that.

It is our ‘newly’ created Rational Brain or Thinking Cortex which exists only in humans, that is responsible for our ‘higher thinking’ such as in creativity, notions of abundance and empathy.

It does not react in a millisecond to danger as does our other brains. It would prefer to consider the scenario and put forward a dissertation on what would be the best course of action, even when it’s owners’ feet might be pounding the pavement beneath it.

This creative brain fuels our motivation, endlessly plying us with opportunities and boundless possibility.

The daily tussle
What happens then is a daily tussle. We realise an opportunity and immediately Lizard and OMB go to work on us. Both resile from change.

Otherwise known in our family as ‘awfulizing’, this thinking can move very rapidly from, ‘That’s not going to work, that”s not going to pay the bills, nobody will want that,’ to a ‘what if’ scenario. ‘What if it all goes completely wrong? We’ll have no money, we’ll have to start again, we’ll lose everything.”

For entrepreneurs, this creates an endless circle of effort and demotivation.

We leap onto one of many opportunities, artfully arrayed like a tray of precious stones by our Thinking Brain and implement some of it, only to give into our other brains’ chatter.

Undeterred, our Thinking Brain presents the tray again, we pick up another jewel of an idea and the cycle starts again, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, half implemented it won’t work or pay the bills. Seth Godin describes this simply as sabotaging our work.

One of my favourite unattributed quotes, is ‘a good idea done is better than a brilliant idea undone’. Seth goes further suggesting we allow for bad ideas and don’t make a plan B.

There is nothing like this cycle either, even if it is being played out on a small scale within your bigger business lives to create a demotivation vortex. In that vortex, a bill arriving on your desk is a mind slap. It glowers at you. Until you file it in a ‘to be sorted’ tray, only to suffer a mind assault when it’s pinker version arrives a month later.

Motivation is bountiful when the battle between the brains is ended. And its ended when you can simply shut out the chatter and persist with your opportunity.

Here are the seven ways to reboot motivation and refuel your passion.


1. Know and pitch your purpose
Go through whatever excoriating process you can find: a course, a mentor, self examination, counselling, a master mind group or combination of them all, to find and then put boundaries around your business purpose.

Why do you do what you do? For whom do you do it? What is the purpose? What difference does it make? Learn to pitch it every day in whatever you’re doing. You’re educating your audience. You’re also calming the Lizard. Every day when you talk with confidence about why you do what you do, it gets to believe you.

2. Embrace research
Research every opportunity aligned to your purpose and calm the Lizard by presenting it with irrefutable evidence that people want what you offer.

3. Be coherent
Really think through the strategies for implementation. Leave no stone unturned in addressing its rollout. If you do, you leave yourself open to argument. The Lizard is ameliorated by good planning. It feels safe and secure. And it is. Being coherent gets stuff done which maintains motivation.

4. Manage and control
Allow your Thinking Brain all the airtime it needs to present you with ideas and reasons why you should implement them. They’ll align to your purpose, because your Thinking Brain already thought that through for you. Then manage the implementation by doing the research and planning. Nothing like managed implementation to control the Lizard.

5. Go public and publish
Get it out there, blog it, pitch it, publish it. Write a book. Tell the world. In the face of constant publicity, feedback and endorsement of your purpose, Lizard might even begin to celebrate it with you.

6. Connect and collaborate
Connect with as many of the others who also believe in your purpose.

Sharing a common purpose raises the temperature or your enthusiasm. Such willingness, ardour, spirit and commitment is like snail bait to the Lizard. It’s just forced to retreat.

Once you go further and collaborate with others to achieve your purpose, you’ll have little argument from your once recalcitrant Lizard.

7. Fuel your passion with play
Now the battle is ended, you have permission to be passionate. So fuel it with play. Play is defined by an activity in a specific place, bounded by time.

When I wrote the book Clans. Supercharge Your Business, I gave myself permission to play. First I wrote 200 reasons to get up at 6am in the morning, never having been a morning person. Then for 60 days I wrote between 6 and 8am every day. It was blissful. Stuff I didn’t know was in my brain wrote itself daily. It wasn’t work, it was play.

It fuelled my passion for what I do, working with businesses to make a difference. Now that’s motivation. If you would like to learn more about what you can do to fuel your passion and keep yourself motivated, join me in a Build-a-clan Discovery Session. I would love to meet you.


  1. Tea Silvestre says

    Great post, Sandy. (And I love your new header.)
    Having recently gone through a tough period of demotivation myself, I found your points fascinating. It’s amazing to me how much of our lives are ruled by brain chemistry and default settings like the ol lizard. For me, following through on a big commitment pulled me forward and out of the doldrums. I had to focus on the present and on doing my best and before you could say sweet baby lettuce, the sunshine was peeking thru the clouds again.
    Tea Silvestre recently posted…This Week’s Marketing Dish: Spaghetti & MeatballsMy Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Thank you Tea re the header. It was the best way to amalgamate both brands (Why You Must Blog and The Clan Makers) always a tricky problem. It’s hard to think of you going through demotivation! But that makes you even more admirable given what you achieve. Focusing on the present is actually such a balm when you live it, which we rarely do. So often we’re mulling over something or the past or fretting about the future. But if you truly live in the moment, its lovely. Really we should do it all the time. So pleased that the sunshine is peeking again!
      SandyMc recently posted…Battle of the brains: Seven ways to shut the Lizard up. My Profile

  2. says

    Wow, that was a fascinating science lesson, Sandy! i think my Lizard brain is stuck in a vat of cookie dough at the moment…

    I really love your reference to how planning makes the Lizard feel safe and secure. So true! And such a simple thing that is easy to throw out the window when we’re all in a bunch about something going wrong and we start running around doing whatever we can to fix it.

    When I get into one of those moods, the whiteboard comes out and I start listing stuff and drawing a lot of circles and lines and stuff that probably only makes sense to me :) But it’s part of the figuring out what to do next process, as opposed to jumping in and doing.

    I really love the angle of this post. There were some great tidbits here and your advice is pricelessly usable in a very rational and helpful way!
    Carol Lynn recently posted…If You Don’t Hate Your Business, You’re Doing It WrongMy Profile

  3. says

    There’s this great line from The Cult of Done…

    “Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost as good as knowing what you’re doing”. The old “fake it til you make it” paradigm comes into play when you need to defeat the lizard brain… you might feel like a total fraud. That is, until you realize that the source of your doubt was just that you hadn’t connected the dots and were totally capable in the first place.

    What a wonderfully complimentary foil to Carol’s post this month. Great insights, Sandy!
    Nick Armstrong recently posted…How’d Those New Years Resolutions Go For You?My Profile

  4. says

    Any post with a reference to “play” gets my attention … and my vote! Very, very interesting brain science you’re sharing here, Sandy. As a lover of science and medicine, in my book, you rock! :)

    I’m a gal who tends to stay motivated to get things accomplished when I’m “in the know”. Although it’s said “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing” … doing the research and having my hands on the facts calms and reassures me. Research is definitely a safety zone.

    Brilliant and brain-tingling piece! :)

  5. says

    Sandy I love the title of this post. My first thought was of the 90’s punk band “Dead Milkman” who have an album called “Big Lizard in my Backyard”. With those songs playing in my head I read your post – quite an interesting juxtaposition.

    Numbers 2 & 6 are my current favorites. I’m only starting to realize and embrace #7. Your explanation of the unseen tug of war in all our heads helped me accept there’s a legitimate reason for #7. Now I don’t have to feel guilty!
    Nicole Fende recently posted…Turning 40 – How I Embraced This Scary NumberMy Profile

  6. says

    Hi Sandy,

    Well, I landed on your blog which I didn’t known before thanks to my friend Carol Lynn.
    Wonderful expose about the brain and how to protect our thinking abilities.

    As a life coach I am all too aware of the negative chatter that we can generate in our brain, but the good news is that we can (even though I won’t say that it’s easy) control the chatter my taking the right type of actions.

    Looking for a mastermind group or a coach are two excellent things that anyone can do, for example.

    Thanks for this great post.
    Sylviane Nuccio recently posted…Change Your Actions To Create Different ResultsMy Profile

  7. says

    Sandy, I have literally had this post loaded up since LAST MONTH to read (that’s how crazy I’ve been!) and I’m SO GLAD I now have! Brain science FASCINATES me, even though it can easily get beyond my comprehension. When I got to “Know and pitch your purpose”, I was like “Ooh, I like that…I’ll comment about that!”, but then I kept reading and found power and validation in all of your points. I don’t put enough confidence into what I do, and the Lizard knows it. Thanks for emboldening me!
    evan austin recently posted…Communicating Love in Business: Colors & ImageryMy Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Evan, I love the fact that the Lizard post has lived on for another month in your browser! I too am fascinated by brain science and in another life would have loved to have been Helen Fisher. Or a psychologist perhaps!

      Learning to keep the Lizard in its box is in itself a discipline, like learning to love your blog!, that needs practise. It is in the act of catching yourself thinking that thought which is an instant de-energiser or takes you on a wasted trail of ‘what if’ thinking.

      You know’ when you realise you’ve just spent the last ten minutes fantasising about what you might say to a person/usually client IF they do such and such. That is just SO Lizard. The client hasn’t said it yet and there you are wasting your time trying to imagine the dozen different ways the conversation is going to go. Why do we do that? I am getting better at shutting those type of conversations in my head down. They really are wasted brain space!

      Glad the post has helped to embolden you. You work is awesome, so you really can shut the Lizard up!
      SandyMc recently posted…How to fall in love with your business blogMy Profile


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