We tend to think of the brain as a single entity, but there are a number of structures and one of the more mischievous of them is the amygdala. One of the 2 parts of the amygdala is shaped and sized somewhat like an almond, from which it gets its Greek name.
But this small area has other popular metaphorical names you may have heard, such as the Lizard Brain and the Fear Factory.*
The amygdala represents the oldest most primitive part of our human brains and it is primarily concerned with instinct, automatic reflex and adrenaline-fueled fight, flight or freeze.
The amygdala is what helped us suss out prehistoric dangers and jump away from saber toothed tigers and it still works when you are walking to your car in a dark parking lot or camping on a Yukon adventure.
The problem is how this little almond shaped primeval relic functions in day-to-day 21st Century life.
If you’ve experienced loops of procrastination, self-doubt and fear of embarrassment then congratulations, you have a functioning amygdala.
The amygdala is why you don’t do what you think you want to do.
It is why you don’t say what you planned to say.
It’s why you gave up on your dream.
It’s particularly uninterested in you doing anything:
The amygdala is the source of what Stephen Pressfield calls the “Resistance,” in his book on writing Do the Work.
Resistance is what comes up when we sit down to write, or paint, or compose.
Resistance is procrastination.
Resistance is harsh self-judgment, collecting evidence that the project is no good,
and ruminating on how many geniuses get vilified and mocked.
Resistance demands more research, new certifications, advanced graduate degrees, a more supportive spouse or a rich benefactor.
That’s about all the nuance this little almond shaped packet of nuclei has to offer.
Coaching clients often explain that they just can’t get anything done on their creative projects. They imagine it must be a bad sign if they can’t settle down and work.
It must mean that the book/the song/the painting/the new idea/the invention is no good.
It’s your amygdala! It doesn’t even speak English!
You’ve got books and poetry and paintings and inventions and businesses to create!
We need you.
If you think your amygdala has been giving your brain nutty feedback there is a way to beat it at its own game.
Welcome all the bad ideas.
Give yourself permission to do mediocre work.
Embrace failure and defy that little dinosaur with regular habits to decondition the alarm bells it sends out.
My coach says fear is just shallow breathing, cramping bowels and a little vomit in the back of your throat.
No big deal.
As soon as you remind yourself what it is, you can override that little nut.
You’ve got the rest of that brain to use and you’ve got work to do.