canstock7794426 green lizard

I was rolling around wheezing with laughter last night. I was reading a self-help book, for a change. Laughter and self-help don’t usually go together. Martha Beck has to be the funniest life coach ever. She’s one smart woman and more than a bit quirky. She was writing about the concept of the “lizard brain”. It’s not her concept but what she does with it is just brilliant.

What is your lizard brain?

The lizard brain is the ancient bit of our brains that sets off fight and flight responses. We don’t really need fight or flight that much these days but it lives on as stress which affects our health and our happiness. Lizard brain is edgy and flighty; its function is to make sure we don’t die now, today. Lizard brain worries about eating and getting eaten. Have I got enough food? Who might eat me?

Modern survival needs

I don’t know about you but even on a part-time secretarial wage, eating isn’t really a problem. No one has tried to kill me for food this week, or if they have, I was unaware at the time. With a serious lack of actual survival problems, lizard brain goes looking for them. Fear from lizard brain doesn’t go away, it never will but letting it run your life is dumb.

Name your lizard brain

Martha suggests getting to know your inner lizard. Watch, listen, detach and laugh about your lizard brain. Be kind to the poor thing. Make it a character. The evil is in you but it’s not very bright. If you want to take it seriously it will run your life, keep you trapped and make you miserable. Sound like fun? It might be better to realise how ridiculous it usually is.

So, let’s make it a character. What would you call your lizard brain? My lizard brain has a few characters going on:

  • Poor Orphan Waif – POW – is all alone in the world. No one has ever loved me, or ever will. If they do they will leave me heartbroken and desolate mourning the skeleton of a dead relationship for years (do laugh, I have done that). I will never thrive in this lifetime, I am too downtrodden. I survive on dry crusts of stale bread and perhaps a little water. It is no use reaching out to people, I am invisible. No one cares. POW is pale and weak and hides under tables and chairs. She is often kicked by unfeeling people using the furniture. Someone should rescue her but no one can be trusted.
  • POW also goes by the name Penelope Ophelia Windsor, a minor forgotten member of the British aristocracy. She is a little bit crazy and self obsessed. She cannot believe she is expected to dirty her hands working (working!) under these terrible conditions. Don’t you know who I am, she says. People must be jealous. No one recognises my brilliance. People are cruel and unfeeling. I should not have to be friendly and approachable. My silk slippers should not touch the earth. Commerce, she says, you expect me to engage in Commerce! She startles easily, her nerves are delicate. It is beneath her to ask for help, let alone help herself.
  • Paddington Princess – PP – thinks it is a tragedy that one cannot get goats-milk feta in a supermarket anywhere west of Newtown. She likes to bemoan the terrible years at a country high school where she never did fit in with the peasants. It would be a disaster if she could not dine at the local coffee shop several times weekly. Her present poverty is unbecoming. She has lost her kingdom. She is a poor princess in exile in a strange and foreign land where the customs are distasteful and brutish.
  • Broke a Nail – BAN – is deeply distressed at all small setbacks and transgressions: breaking a nail, stubbing a toe, slow internet, no available goats-milk feta, a shortage of her favourite flavour of Serendipity gluten-free ice-cream, the gaining of 3 grams of stomach fat (she will be an obese crone within the week), slightly funny looks, unpleasant tones of voice, distasteful administrative tasks with too little lead time, tsunamis and earthquakes. These all shake up the world of BAN. It is all too hard! If only life would run smoothly and helpfully all of the time.

No, my lizard brain characters are not very likable but they are funny. Now I think I can get on with my day. It must be time to visit the coffee shop for a flat white and a delicate treat of some sort. Penelope Ophelia Windsor needs to be served up a dose of comfort, all is not lost, one still has occasional help on request. Waiter!

What’s your lizard brain character? What nasty dumb things does it say?

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