The limbic cortex in our brain is responsible for basic emotions, addictive qualities, moods, and a host of other life-sustaining functions, many of which operate at a very primitive and subconsciously level. The actions of the limbic cortex usual boil down to: fight, flight, feed, freeze, or fornication. In very simple animals, like a lizard, all they have are limbic systems. And thus, whenever primitive urges rise up out of our ancient limbic brain and start to assert control of our more modern and logical brain, I call that voice in our head: The Lizard. And The Lizard talks to me. All the time.
The Lizard wants to be comfortable. It does not want me to get over heated, breathe too hard, or have an elevated heart rate for too long. In those situations, The Lizard wants me to slow down, get some soda or something refreshing, and take it easy for a while. The Lizard tells me I shouldn’t be exerting myself and such endeavors are a waste of my time. If I persist, The Lizard makes me think I can’t breathe, or that I’m hurting, or that I’m doing something wrong.
The Lizard wants to be calm and happy. It does not want to be excited or scared. When I experience something out of the norm, something challenging, or something that could possibly be considered dangerous, The Lizard tells me to turn around and go home. It makes my breathing more difficult until I get away from all that excitement. It elevates my heart rate, shifts blood into my legs for a hasty retreat, and does this cool trick of slowing down time so that I can plot a course to get us out of harm’s way. So of the Lizard’s least favorite things: dark water where it cannot see the contents or the bottom, confined areas where escape is made more difficult, heights where a fall would be harmful, and any situation involving an animal or insect or something that might possible bite, claw, or sting us. In those situations, The Lizard really starts yelling.
My Lizard is very nervous and non-competitive. It gives me performance anxiety during training and during races. It tells me to slow down. It tells me that I shouldn’t be trying. It tells me to play it safe. Not to push myself. Not to take risks. Not to try to do anything other than sitting on the sofa and watch Netflix with a Mountain Dew in one hand and a slice of thick crust pizza in the other.
That’s my daily battle. And it probably sounds familiar to most people.
The point is: these feelings are natural. They are forged way down deep in our heads. The Lizard sits right in the middle of our brain. We’re wired to fight against being uncomfortable. And The Lizard wields a lot of power weapons that it uses to get its way. The most powerful of which include: panic, anxiety, and self-doubt.
When you feel anxiety starting to cloud your thoughts: that is The Lizard.
When you feel like quitting, even though you know you can do it: that is The Lizard.
And when you find yourself want to say, “I can’t!” even though you have barely tried: that is The Lizard.
Whenever you hear that ancient voice in your head, find a new focus. When running, I often go from light pole to light pole, telling myself: get to the next one. Then get to the next one. Over and over. Drowning out The Lizard.
Whenever you want to quit, ask yourself: why? Are your legs working? Are your arms working? What’s NOT working right? Realize that The Lizard is trying to trick you. But when you try to find what’s wrong, you won’t find anything. Just lies from that sneaky Lizard.
And whenever anxiety creeps up into your throat, choking out your breath and kicking your heart into a higher gear, slow everything down and tell yourself a positive affirmation: It’s Okay. Be Cool. I’m Good. Whatever it takes to focus yourself, find a phrase and say it enough until it become true. Eventually, you’ll be okay. You’ll be cool. You’ll be good. You just have to regain control, from You Know Who.
None of this is easy the first time, or the tenth. Maybe you’ll have to cross swords with Your Lizard a hundred times before you win in your fight with it. But you can win. And it gets easier after the first time.
I still fight The Lizard. Sometimes it wins. But most of the time, it loses. And I hope yours starts losing to you more often, too.