Taming your Lizard Brain

11 Feb

We all have one. It’s the section of our brain located at the top of the spine. The Lizard Brain is like a “command center” for our body. It takes care of things like digestion, heartbeats, breathing … so you don’t have to think about sending messages to “breath in” and “breath out” millions of times in your lifetime. So, that’s good, right? But what happens when your lizard brain senses danger??

Your Lizard Brain functions in a black and white kind of way. It either feels safe or unsafe, peaceful or panicked. It remembers all of your life traumas. It thinks only in the present – RIGHT NOW!

Your Lizard Brain goes into overdrive when you are in a dispute. It floods you with adrenaline, makes you defensive and stops you from thinking or acting rationally. And it only takes 1/5 of a second … amazingly fast. You don’t even know it is happening.

But it takes 20 minutes to recover.

So, the next time you get into an argument, whether at work, home or anywhere, think about how you are reacting – is your heart beating faster, are your cheeks getting red, are your palms getting sweaty? Are you feeling stress and ready to spring into action? Well, that’s your Lizard Brain taking over.

Here are a few helpful hints to tame that lizard– breathe; isolate what you are feeling (i.e. tightness, heat); ask yourself, what’s this really about?

Sometimes, people are so good at going after each other through their lizard brains, that they may need a neutral third party to sit with them. As a mediator, one of my jobs is to create a safe place, to help manage the threats and triggers so that people in dispute can leave their lizard brains behind. Then, they can think about the future and use language, negotiation, empathy and reason to help address their issues.


P.S. Thank-you to Debra Oliver, founder of Common Ground Mediation Services, for teaching me about the lizard brain in a Workplace Mediation training.

Print Friendly

No comments yet

Leave a Reply