I heard an analogy about our brains the other night while sampling a new tv show. I’m going to butcher both the analogy and our anatomy a bit here and use it in a way I think is more accurate, at least in my head.
Our brains are basically made up of two parts: The older, more animal part that actually makes most of our serious decisions. And the logical, thinking, part that “knows things” and thinks it’s running the show. Even knowing about these two distinctions, our commands from this animal segment will still override the rest of the “smart part” in many situations.
This base-level animal part of our brain goes by many names.
- Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain.
- Steven Pressfield calls it the Resistance.
- Latin people like doctors call it the amygdala and it’s about the size of an almond.
- Most of us know it as the “fight or flight” thing in our brain that makes us throw up and piss ourselves when we think we’re about to die.
The obvious places it runs you are during these fight or flight situations: you’re attacked by a group of zombie ninjas while getting gas in a mall parking lot at 3am. You’re either running or fighting for your life. Hope you watched a lot of Jackie Chan movies growing up.
Otherwise challenging decisions like whether the electric bill is late and what color to paint the den simply disappear at times like this.
But this smaller, more resolute part of your brain is in control of your actions in far more situations than we know. It believes every situation is life and death.
Everything becomes a worst-case scenario if we don’t know how to get control here. Everything becomes a fire, or will turn into a fire if we dare step out of the warm confines of our comfort zone.
It’s like you’re an airplane (you can make the airplane noises if you want. Nobody’s watching). The smart, reasonable part of your brain thinks everything is great back here flying first class. That almond-sized thing is the part flying the plane, and since that’s also you and your brain, you believe you’re logically good.
The problem is that almond-boy is locked up in the cockpit with his headphones blasting power ballads from 80s hair bands. He’s turned off the intercom, and knows flying near the ground is the most dangerous part, so he is going to keep you safe by flying high. NO WAY is he going to get us anywhere near the ground.
You notice the plane passing your desired destination, but the pilot isn’t answering your knock on the cockpit door. He’s making circles over the airfield, but he ain’t coming down.
He knows where you want to go, but this shit’s dangerous. He’s doing it for your own good.
Your intellect starts doing math to figure out how much longer you can stay aloft before the tanks are dry and you fall from the sky.
You try to bang, kick, and smash your way through the cockpit door to get to the controls. You know the plane will come down either way. It can come down when and where you want, but only if you get into the cockpit to fly the damn plane.
With all that hullabaloo back there, he just cranks the music over the intercom.
“Sebastian Bach can drown out that racket with his sirenous wail… I’ll keep you safe…”
Get Your Own Brain in Order
I’ve been on my plane making a hatchet out of armrests and other parts to chop my way into the cockpit. I’d like to land the plane where I want to go with the thinking part of my brain instead of just letting junior fly around until this thing augers.
I don’t know how all of it works, but I know I’ll figure it out. I know the plane has to go somewhere, and I got in the cockpit to fight for the controls.
That’s what I’m trying to help you do: get into the cockpit so you can land the plane, preferably wherever you want.
Because you are coming down, whether you want to or not.
That scared part of your brain can find any number of reasons not to Do the Thing you want to do.
It is hard to share your art.
It is hard to start a business.
It is hard to make drastic changes to your life.
It’s especially hard when you’re fighting yourself. You’re your own worst enemy.
You can stay safe in your comfort zone, or you can get your head on right and do the thing.