Did you know that a reptile may be controlling you and trying to prevent your success? Until you learn to recognize and tame this reptilian part of your brain, it will be difficult to achieve all the goals you desire.
Your Tortoise Brain is the part of your brain that wants to prevent you from changing. Just like a tortoise, this reptilian part of your brain may slow you down and keep you from emerging from your protective shell. Some scientists refer to this reptilian part as the “lizard” brain—I like referring to it as your “tortoise” brain. Tortoises have survived on earth over 200 million years while humans can be traced 2.5 million years. This special brain part is left over from prehistoric times when humans faced life and death situations on a daily basis. The Tortoise Brain is focused on survival. It’s that voice in your head that tells you to “be careful, back off, hide from danger and play it safe.” Today, as in the past, your Tortoise Brain’s role is to keep you safe.
Reptiles and humans share this similar brain part that they inherited from fish. This reptilian part handles basic body functions like breathing, balance, and coordination plus simple survival urges like feeding, mating, and defense. The trick is to discern when the inner Tortoise warrants your attention, and when you should ignore it. With your Tortoise’s focus on your safety, it can prevent you from taking risks, being bold, accomplishing goals and living the life you envision.
In contrast to your reptilian Tortoise is the “Primate” part of your brain that is considered the thinker. When your primate brain is more active, you’re likely to reason, reflect, plan and strategize.
Don’t Let Your Tortoise Brain Sabotage You
How do you recognize when your Tortoise Brain is rearing its head and sabotaging your success? You must learn to acknowledge it and then tame it. The Tortoise Brain or “Amygdalan” is a physical part of your brain near the brain stem and it feels responsible for your survival by causing fear, enabling you to attack, and pushing you to reproduce. Another name for this reptilian part of your brain is “Resistance.” It wants to limit your exposure to anything new like your growth, development and risk-taking. The Tortoise tells you why you shouldn’t take action to do something and gives you lots of excuses why it won’t work. It abhors change, achievement and risk.
You can recognize your Tortoise’s voice by the “What if?” questions resounding in your head. “What if I don’t succeed?” “What if I can’t lose weight?” “What if I can’t find a publisher?” “What if everyone laughs at me?” “What if I’m not smart enough?” The language from your tortoise brain often contains the words “we” and “let’s”. “We need to take a break”, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee” or “Let’s call grandma to check in.” The voice becomes louder and louder the closer you get to success whether it’s shedding the last few pounds for a healthy body, finishing that MBA, completing the proposal or writing your story.
Once you learn to recognize the negative soundtrack from your Tortoise Brain, you can begin the taming process. You can consciously tap into the large part of your “Primate” brain, the neo-cortex, the modern, creative brain that can feel joy, gratitude and has become skillful in intellectual pursuits like science, creativity and reaching goals.
Stay aware of the Tortoise and how it wants to control your behavior. It wants to keep you in your metaphorical protective shell. Awareness is the first step. According to Author Seth Godin, this reptile “is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.”
When your Tortoise Brain sends you warnings, flip your thoughts to something positive that you enjoy or someone you love.
Suspend your natural instinct to be fearful and judgmental of others. Instead of fearing that people laugh at you, envision them applauding your success.
Instead of “what if?” having a negative tone, shift it to the positive. “What if I win the award?” “What if my job interview goes well?” With positive thoughts, your brain releases endorphins that make you feel better, perform better and attain success.
Wear a rubber band around your wrist and SNAP it when you are doubting yourself and playing negative tapes in your brain. It takes 21 days to cement a new habit into your way of life, so take control of your thinking, tame your Tortoise and change your self-talk into a positive way of thinking.
Keep Post-Its with affirmations within eyesight and read them out loud daily.
Surround yourself with people who support you and your goals.
Tell your Tortoise Brain “Thank you for sharing, Tortoise, but I’m not interested. Come back when my life is truly in danger.”
Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach & speaker specializing in relationships,conflict,leadership & goal achievement. She co-authored In the Company of Women & LifeQ. www.DrSusanMurphy.com
I’m Nancy F. Clark, author of The Positive Journal, and curator of Forbes WomensMedia. My team helps businesswomen succeed and live happier and more fulfilling lives.