Do You Sabotage Your Own Success? Posted on 19 Aug 15:20 , 0 comments


It’s time to introduce you to your Lizard Brain.

The Lizard Brain- or the amygdala if we want to get scientific- is the integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour and motivation.

We credit our lizard brain with fight, flight, fear, freezing, fornication and feeding responses.

The amygdala is about the size of a lizard’s brain (thus the name) and is thought to be the part of our brain that fears change.  This part of the brain is often used to explain our primal nature as it tells us that change leads to death.  (And thus we should fear change)

I introduce the Lizard Brain in week three of my six-week coaching program.

By that time participants are starting to realise the benefits of changing a few of their habits and they can smell success.  

I know it won’t be too long until they have their first set back. 

Or, as I like to say, they will “fall off the wagon" and they won’t quite understand why. 

Remember those times when you made massive efforts to adopt healthy lifestyle habits?

After three weeks of a disciplined diet and exercise program you started to fit into the smaller sizes in your wardrobe.  Your skin looked fabulous, and you could finally run on the treadmill for 30 minutes straight.

Then... disaster happened.

You found yourself standing in front of the freezer at home putting an almost empty ice-cream container back.  You suddenly realised that you’d nearly polished off a full container of chocolate ice-cream without even thinking.

After all of your great work over the last few weeks you ate three times your daily calorie limit in one sitting. You don’t even remember walking into the kitchen.

You sabotaged yourself.  Again!

And so, what most of us do next is open the fridge.  You’ve already stuffed up your diet so you might as well finish off that beautiful French cheese, and of course cheese is best devoured with a nice organic Australian wine.  (You might as well finish the rest of that ice-cream while you’re at it.)

Soon the self-talk starts, “I’m not good enough", or “I always fail" or “I’ll never be healthy and fit” or “I’ll never be successful.”

Here’s the secret that will help you next time you’re trying to change habits.

Your Lizard Brain made you do it. It thinks you’re going to die if you change anything about your life so it sabotaged you.

Some people say that “it takes three weeks to change a habit”.  That's just not true. 

Research has shown that it takes somewhere between three and eight months to truly change or create a habit.  Sure, you can imprint a new habit over a 21-day period, but you’ve got to be prepared for setbacks before you create a habit that you do automatically as a “must do or else”.

Understanding the Lizard Brain will help you.

When we try to change our habits- for good or bad- our Lizard Brain will fight us by sabotaging our new habits until we train it to believe the habit is just normal behaviour that is critical to our survival.  At that point our Lizard Brain works for us and protects our habit from being changed.

“Just try to eat that ice cream”, Lizard Brain says (in 3-8 months time), “I’m going to make it taste horrible and sickening.”

And you can say to your Lizard Brain… “tricked you!  Now you're finally on board with my fit and healthy lifestyle.” (Don’t worry- you can still have a small serving...)

If we want to achieve optimal productivity we need to understand the Lizard Brain and forgive ourselves when- every now and then- it takes control of our responses and makes us act in a way that takes us in the opposite direction of where we want to go and who we want to be.

Here are three ways to tame and train your Lizard Brain:

1. Forgive yourself and make the right next decision 

Why it works:  Usually the first thing we feel when we realise we’ve sabotaged ourselves is shame.  We realise our behaviour doesn’t line up with our values and we allow this to impact on our self-identity and self-worth.  This can have a dangerous impact on our behaviour. 

Forgive yourself and move on.  Realise that it’s part of the process and get back to work by making the next right decision.

How to do it:  When you have decided to change a habit, take a moment to script your setbacks. 

For instance, when I coach professionals to help them change habits I ask them to identify their “non-negotiables.”  That is, the one or two habits they will always stick to no matter what. 

So, when they “fall off the wagon" for whatever reason they can put themselves back on the path to success by performing one of their “non-negotiable” habits.  (e.g. planning, email batching, exercise)

2. Acknowledge your fear and don’t let it drive. 

Fear can be useful. It identifies potential risks, allowing us to react quickly or prepare for and mitigate disaster. 

Fear too often holds us back from creating extraordinary work. 

Success in today’s market is about innovation, creativity, disruption. 

We can’t achieve success if we are going to let fear drive our behaviour. 

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear in her book about creative living called “Big Magic”.  Here is an excerpt about working with fear from the book.  

“Dearest Fear,

Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do.

I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously.

Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must.

But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring.

There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this:

Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognise and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed.

You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.

You’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature.

Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Then we head off together – me and creativity and fear – side by side forever, advancing once more into the terrifying but marvellous terrain of unknown outcome."

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

3. Don’t take your eye off the ball

Our Lizard Brain creates all sorts of distractions to encourage us to procrastinate on the changes we need to make to be successful. 

We have an amazing idea, start implementing it and then someone tells us it won't work and our Lizard Brain says “I told you so” so we drop it without even considering that person may be driven by fear themselves.

Or, we have an outstanding idea which could change lives and our Lizard Brain reminds us that there’s a new fabulous series on Netflix which we should binge watch instead. 

Never forget your vision.  Your vision will help you shut out the many distractions that could take you off your path.

Realise that fear has its place and will always be there but never, ever let it drive you. 

You are not your fear.

Do you sabotage your own success?

If you’re looking for a coach to hold you accountable for achieving your career or business goals, you should join my six-week coaching program.  Together, we’ll identify just how much you can achieve by changing your mindset and your habits and make the changes necessary to achieve your goals.  

Call me or email me for a free consultation.