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The Lizard Brain and the Resistance

The triune brain model of the nervous system (to simplify it) says we have a reptilian complex as the most “primitive” part of our brain, plus the limbic system and the neocortex.

In his article The Evolution of Anxiety, Rich Presta explains that the amygdala is part of the “reptilian brain” – “because it’s been around since we were virtually reptiles ourselves, and one of the main jobs of the amygdala is assessing danger and keeping us safe.”

In her article Does the Internet Make You Happy? Thoughts from SxSW, psychologist and teacher Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D. says, “At the lizard level, we don’t distinguish readily between real and virtual in our visceral response.”

She notes that even ‘virtual’ experiences are interpreted as meaningful by the lizard brain.

So what does this have to do with creative expression?

In his Success Magazine post Ways to Reinvent Yourself, Seth Godin notes that making a creative project risks other people not liking it, ignoring it, even laughing at it – and the cringe we may feel about getting those reactions (or even anticipating them) is a sign of the reptilian part of our system.

“The lizard brain, that prehistoric brain stem that all of us must contend with, doesn’t like being laughed at,” he writes. “It’s the part of our brain that worries about safety and dishes out anger. Being laughed at is the lizard brain’s worst nightmare. And so it shuts down our art.”

He continues, “Author Steven Pressfield calls this shutdown ‘the Resistance.’ The Resistance is the little voice in your head that keeps your head down and encourages you to follow instructions. The Resistance lives in fear and doesn’t hesitate to shut us down at the first sign of possible derision or the first hint that we might be ostracized.

“The Resistance is the voice complicit in brainwashing, because The Resistance is easy to arouse. When your teacher threatens you with (insert social punishment here) if you don’t do your work in school, you do the work. The Resistance wins.”

Working around The Resistance

Godin adds, “What artists over time have figured out is that the Resistance is the sole barrier between today and their art, that the act of genius required to produce original and important work is crippled by the Resistance. Ignoring the voice of skepticism is critical if you want to create art.

“And so, we acknowledge the Resistance. We hear the voice of the lizard brain, and we recognize that it’s there. Then we stand up, walk to the podium and do the work anyway. We acknowledge the lizard, and we ignore it.”

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Seth Godin is an entrepreneur and best-selling author whose books include Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

See a video of his presentation on this topic in my post Seth Godin on Quieting the Lizard Brain.

Steven Pressfield is author of books including The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

Photo: chameleon by mikescanon30d

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The Lizard Brain and the Resistance

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2011). The Lizard Brain and the Resistance. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Apr 2011
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