When I read The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick a few years ago, it had a profound effect on me. Yes, by then I had already accepted I was smart, able to do quality work, and have a voice in all things strategic. But until then, I really had not put intrinsic value on my 'nerdiness'. My biggest takeaway from his book was that it's not only cool to focus, to learn new concepts, and become really good at a wide variety of skills that come naturally for us nerdists. It's also a highly marketable skill for professionals, small business owners and entrepreneurs to keep working on.
My other takeaway was a reminder that ultimately, we can and should exercise in order to flex the muscle of self-determination and self control. And this is where the lizard brain comes in. What is your lizard brain? Technically it refers to the amygdala, which is a primitive part of the brain. In common usage made popular by Seth Godin, it is the part of us that governs survival and defensiveness and resistance.
It is the seat of emotional memory and causes us to fight, flight or freeze. It also causes us to act out trauma and protect our ideas and images we have identified with. So I found and took a look through an eBook by T Sebastian, called "If You Have Buttons, You're A Robot (A Concise Guide To Tame Your Lizard Brain)" to learn more about how small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs can become more effective by taming this primitive throwback that resides in all of us. Clearly, as a nerdist, the title jumped right off the page for me.
If we take time to reflect, we can notice various times during our day when we feel some type of disempowering feeling, negative thoughts or reactive emotion. All of these instances arise from our lizard brain's defense system. Not only are they counterproductive, but they steal valuable awareness, attention and energy that we as entrepreneurs could be using to be and do our best.
Daniel Goleman wrote in Emotional Intelligence that "If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far".
When we stop solving problems and become a problem, success and well being get thrown out the window. Besides that, it becomes a problem for anyone we are working with if we aren't fully functional. So how do we overcome this and learn to be more effective as entrepreneurs? Simply put, by going to the root of each of our problems we can learn to permanently tame our unpredictable lizard brains reactions.
Edward de Bono said it well when he shared that, "It is well known that "problem avoidance" is an important part of problem solving. Instead of solving the problem, you go upstream and alter the system so that the problem does not occur in the first place."
Luckily, I was also able to connect with the author T Sebastian, who boiled down this integrative process into five basic steps that anyone can learn to do with a little practice. We can "alter the system" by learning to permanently disable our "buttons" so that they can't be pushed, turning us into mindless automatons that react at the drop of a hat. Think how powerful that could be. We can learn to put our lizard brains to rest, with practice, and allow our thinking frontal lobes to reboot and come back online.
So here are the five steps he crystallized during our online chat:
1) Pay Attention & Take Notice
The first step is to take notice of every time you have a negative reaction. This is your lizard brain engaging. Negative reactions arise in many ways. The negative emotions we all experience are the most obvious; fear, anger etc. These type of emotions can run the gamut from a mild anxiety to a full blown panic attack or from mild frustration to outright rage. All of these type emotions are counterproductive and will not help you create your dreams or succeed as an entrepreneur.
So what does it mean to take notice? You must apply the faculty of self reflection, potentially through the practice of meditation, to become conscious and aware of how and when your buttons are being pushed. It's as simple as just noting to yourself something like: "Oh yea, this always happens when someone says something like this to me". Make a mental note of the pattern. And yes, if you're thinking of the movie, Hancock (2008) right now, then yes, we're on the same wavelength.
2) Question "Reality"
Becoming conscious of our lizard brains patterns of reaction gives us an edge of discernment. Often when we're taken over by a negative feeling, we don't see what's really going on. This is called projection. We may have a tendency to blame another for our own feelings. Just ponder how silly this idea actually is. Can another person actually reach inside you and make you feel something? So we can get confused and in our attempt to end the bad feeling we learn to project.
Instead of this typical and completely useless response to a situation, we need to learn to step back and question our automatic projections. Questions such as; What is it I'm really feeling? Why does this feeling arise in this type situation? This questioning can bring us to a greater understanding of our lizard brain's defensive patterns. It gives us some objectivity and insight. It also short-circuits our tendency to project.
Understanding is good. Understanding your self is self-knowledge. This gives you the edge of discernment which allows you to exercise self control. Your frontal lobes will then be more likely to regain control of your mind. Continued use of this move will allow some of your buttons to become less sensitive. You will definitely feel more together. And think how powerful that would be for you and your business when interacting with potential clients and customers.
These first two steps are very important and will serve you well when you're out and about and in the business world. However, in order to really dismantle our reactivity and negativity, we need to go deeper. Setting aside a time for reflection or contemplation is the best way to really get at the roots of our debilitating issues. So here are a few more steps to focus more clearly.
3) Become More Familiar With Your Resistance
In Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin stated "The lizard brain is the reason you're afraid, the reason you don't do all the art you can, the reason you don't ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance."
The main reason we are not fully emotionally intelligent or whole is because we are resistant to our own emotional content. And it is our resistance to it that holds it firmly in place. Someone wise once said; "What you resist, persists". Going deeper means looking at our reactivity and emotional buttons with a lot of care and inquisitiveness. Become really interested in what makes you tick this way and why. The first two steps help you do this. In this step, we can take more time and attention to go deeper by asking more questions.
Ask definitive questions such as; Where does this feeling arise? How does it feel? What does it remind me of? What part of my history is tied to this? Try to think of more. This increases your understanding and allows you to adopt some self-compassion towards your issues. Then we go deeper.
4) Fully Feeling
It's time to end our resistance. (And no, there will be no Star Trek Borg references mentioned here). Ending the resistance is what will ultimately resolve the knot of reactivity in our lizard brain. Take as much time as you need to open up to the feeling. Allow the feeling to be OK. Even change your attitude and begin to appreciate the feeling for what it is. When you engage the negative feelings this way it allows them to loosen and flow. This is the beginning of resolution. Repeat when necessary.
5) Letting It Be OK
Ultimately, our attitude towards all of our failings, emotional reactions and negative feelings will determine if we grow through them or lock them in place. As you go through this process with individual issues and incidents, you will begin to adopt a non-judgmental stance toward yourself which is a state of non-resistance. You learn to let it be ok. Remember resistance causes things to persist. Your non-resistance and compassion towards your own inner baggage will begin to build a tolerance and empathy towards your fellow humans.
In short, I was reminded that the practice of reflection into ourselves become the mechanism for self-control and creating the life of our own design. For an entrepreneur, that resolution is life-changing.
T Sebastian is the author of "If You Have Buttons, You're A Robot" (A Concise Guide To Tame Your Lizard Brain). Learn more about T Sebastian at http://beyondlizardbrain.com