We have brains. At least all my childhood I was being told to use them. Humanity is supposed to be reasoning and intelligent. Why then, with all our info and research, are we in the mess we are? The Mayo clinic can't get the doctors to take off their ties, even though they know they spread germs. It took 25 years to stop x-raying pregnant women although the research clearly showed any radiation drastically increased the risk of childhood cancer.
We make lists, weigh alternatives, debate till we are square eyed. So why are our actual decisions often bewildering? Why have we bought a lemon or worse married one?
Because we are sabotaged by our lizard brains. Once vital for survival, the lizard forges on in a totally different environment, making choices that would have worked a few thousand years ago. It specializes in fear, running from danger, finding food, which it does so efficiently that the cortex now spends hours counting calories to battle overweight. More problematic, the lizard doesn't understand a word you say to it. Which is why I can keep telling myself not to worry. I can prove to myself I am safe. I can google the threat, but the lizard is impervious. It goes on sending panic messages and bathing me in stress chemicals,
Which is why I have been listening to a vet! After all, who could better understand the foibles of my reptile than Haoting Chow, a vet. As he points out, it doesn't matter how reasonable or intelligent our cortex, how uplifting and affirmative our self-talk, the lizard knows what it wants and digs its heels in. Very like trying to take a cat for a walk.
Very simply, our lizards are run by fear, always suspicious of danger. Think cat being shown something new. They dislike change, are afraid of rejection, always looking for food and very lazy. That covers the lowest levels of Maslow's pyramid of needs. Why look further? it says.
Jonathan Haidt talks of the rider and the elephant. The elephant aka lizard brain with its press agent, the cortex. The lizard always wins, which is why we need the cortex ingeniously inventing alibis. Sometimes I catch myself rationalizing, but often the wiley cortex jumps in first, leaving me sure of my justification. Think teenager!
What to do? Pacify the lizard, soothe its troubled breast. And how, if it doesn't understand a word I say? Think toddler! So that's why all the times try to pep-talk myself out of panic or Pollyanna my pain, it doesn't work. In fact, I feel worse. It never works to bully my lizard into submission. As my husband's flying instructor said when he did a rough landing, “Don't rape it, seduce it!”
So I try seduction, visualizing happy scenes as vividly as I can. Or I bathe it in white light, which makes it feel safe. I cajole and tempt with visions of a sunny beach, floating gently on a lapping sea. We watch clouds, gunmetal grey tipped with white lace rolling into placid blue. I choose soothing music and recall warm emotions, particularly just before sleep. My lizard purrs and I am at peace.
Overcome Fear and Self-Sabotage -Take Control of your Lizard Brain by Haoting Chow.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt.
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin.
Wilful Blindness: Why we Ignore the Obvious at our Peril by Margaret Heffernan.
Lizard/reptilian brain – link
Doctors and neckties – Link
Dr. Alice Stewart's pivotal research on X-rays and pregnancy – link
Maslow's hierarchy of needs – link