How Discovering Your Inner Lizard Can Make You Happier and More Productive

Self on 06.11.12
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Photo: Katie Morton

Meet my inner lizard. Her name is Shelby. She looks a little depressed because she's worried that nobody likes her. Shelby voices these fears when I merely consider meeting up with very good friends. So you can imagine what happens when I sit down to blog and people who don't know me are going to judge me based on a few paragraphs of prose. Shelby goes a little nuts, to put it mildly. I tell her, "Aw, there, there, Shelby. It's okay. Some people like you, and some people don't. But it's nothing to worry about. You just go out there and be YOU and good things will happen. Nothing good comes from hiding."

The amazing thing is that it's working. I'm getting more joy from my work and I feel less stress. This makes me more productive and more likely to promote my pieces when I don't spend energy caring that some people might not like me. Thanks to Shelby, I'm coming out of my shell and it feels great.

Inner Lizard? What Are You TALKING About, You FOOL!

In Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny, author Martha Beck explains that we each have an inner lizard, stemming from the reptilian brain, which constantly bleats out messages of "lack and attack" so that you'll find enough food to eat and stay safe from predators. By the majority of American's standards, lack means worries like, "I don't have enough money!" And by attack, well, my dear little Shelby's got it bad, but the upshot is that you think people have it out for you in one way or another. Attack fears might make you defensive -- or offensive -- at times, or it might give you some social anxiety ranging from mild to Shelby levels. (Lack and attack fears may also play a part in dieting: first you lack food, and then you attack it. Hardy har har.)

By naming and picturing your inner lizard, you become able to soothe your lack and attack thoughts using your higher, more evolved brain. Beck says:

This silly visualization is actually a very serious, powerful exercise, rooted in sound psychological and neurological evidence. It may in fact, physically change your brain. By calling on the nonreptilian part of your neural complex to watch the reptile, you subtract neural energy from survival fear and move it to a more highly evolved portion of the brain.

In order to meet your inner lizard, let's do a little digging, shall we?

Enchanté, Inner Lizard

First, it helps to discern your own lack and attack fears so that you can better picture your inner lizard and the types of messages it's sending you. Complete this simple exercise found in Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny by filling in the blanks:

Oh no! I don't have enough _________________________________________.

If I don't watch out, someone will _________________________________________.

People want to take my _________________________________________.

I can't be perfectly happy until I get _________________________________________.

Everybody pressures me to _________________________________________.

You just can't trust _________________________________________.

People will hurt me unless _________________________________________.

If only I had _________________________________________.

Someone's always out to _________________________________________.

I must hang on to _________________________________________.

Time to Draw a Picture

Do you notice a pattern? Are there any particular thoughts that stifle you, hold you back or make your life stressful or difficult? That's your inner lizard talking. I didn't benefit from this exercise until I actually drew a picture of my inner lizard. In order to elicit my sympathy, she looks pretty pathetic, obviously distressed that people don't like her. I gave her the meek-sounding name Shelby so that I can address her directly. If this sounds insane, rest assured that it is, but it's also super fun.

Find Your Lizard's Faulty Thinking

To separate yourself from your lizard, it helps to look for evidence that's contrary to what your lizard thinks. If you're afraid you don't have enough money, consider that you have enough food to eat, shelter over your head, and internet access. Then comfort your lizard to quiet her fears. If you think people don't like you or that you would feel more comfortable if everyone in the world loved you endlessly, think of moments of connection you've enjoyed with others and let your lizard know that you experience an abundance of love. I hung my picture of Shelby over my desk so that I can calm Shelby down when it's time to write. Anytime you feel stressed, avoidant, or defensive, pat your little lizard on the head and tell her not to worry so that you can live your life to the fullest, with calm productivity and happiness.

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