Home of the Bellingwood Series – Nammynools

Making the Lizard Brain Scream for Mercy

Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance.

Honestly, for me, it’s just plain fear.

Every single time I get close to finishing a book, I balk at the thought of it and can find a million reasons to avoid writing. The reasons are always good … from visiting family to cleaning; from managing accounts to handling advertising and marketing. I am afraid of finishing each book.

When it comes time to press the button that delivers the book for publication, I get sick to my stomach. Fear stops me from moving forward and does its best to hold me in place.

These last few weeks I’ve watched fear as an outsider. My sister is fostering a little girl and after spending several months getting comfortable in Carol’s house, all of a sudden lots of new things started pouring down on this child and she erupted. Carol would call me after her daughter had gone to bed, absolutely livid with fury because of the child’s behavior. We’d talk. She would calm down and prepare herself for the next day.

Carol had to listen to her daughter say horrible things to her about wanting to live just about anywhere else than with Carol. She had to discipline the girl for choosing terrible methods of disobedience. If a good day was experienced, the evening turned into a battle of wills.

Then … it was over.

What changed? Big experiences were in the past and normalcy had been regained. Things that we took for granted, Carol’s daughter didn’t know how to process. We took her to meet my brother’s family – a chaotic, wonderful mess filled with adults, noise, a new place, swimming, new foods, new animals … and I’m sure that little girl knew there were expectations. We wanted her to love them as much as Carol and I do. She didn’t know up front that it would be easy. She’d never experienced a great, big, loving family.

Two days later, Carol had to ask a friend to care for the girl for four days since Carol was going through an iodine radiation treatment and needed to pretty much be in quarantine. Even though the child knew the woman she was staying with, her recent experience with being moved from home to home after the rescue from her own abusive home, was still quite fresh. She couldn’t know that she wasn’t being passed off again to a new family. The first night away, she was able to call Carol and talk to her and I imagine that everything settled down in her little heart. It really was just temporary and had nothing to do with her – everything to do with Carol’s health.

For several days prior to that explosion of experience, Carol’s daughter faced inner turmoil that she couldn’t articulate. How could she hate going to our brother’s house? How could she be angry that Carol’s health required her to be out of the home?

That little amygdala in the back of her scalp told her, though, that she should be very afraid. Everything that could go wrong probably would and she needed to jump into self-protection mode, even if it meant alienating everyone around her.

That’s what Seth Godin calls the Lizard Brain. It scares the life out of us, telling us that the only way we will continue to be safe is to stay exactly where we are. Don’t make any changes, don’t let anyone make changes around us. Don’t stir the pot, don’t make waves. Stay safe – stay alive. It’s much easier to pay attention to that fear center within us than it is to shut it down and step away from our fears.

This little guy crawls into my arms each evening as I work. It helps.
This little guy crawls into my arms each evening as I work. It helps.

I can’t tell you how much self-discipline it is taking for me to write each day this week. Moreso than at any other point in the process. I’m so close to the end and I keep finding ways to draw this out, because being finished means making a commitment to the goal. It means moving forward to the next story … the next book … the next part of the process.

The weird thing about all of this? Discovering that the fear of not completing the project – not being able to continue this life as a writer – or not meeting my goals, actually supplants the Lizard Brain surrounding completion of the book.

When Roosevelt said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself in 1932, he was speaking to me all these years later. I may not win over my Lizard Brain today or even tomorrow, but I’m going to kick it around enough so that it runs away screaming.

Can you imagine the amazing things you could accomplish if that Lizard Brain was brought under control? It makes my head hurt to realize how many things I’ve missed in the past because of my fears. I wish I had understood then that I had more control over it than I realized.


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