018 How Your Lizard Brain is Keeping you Stuck

Today’s broadcast is packed with great information and specific tips based on your own “fear type” which I’m going to help you identify today and teach you great tools to break free and start living a connected, happy life…TODAY!

What You’ll Learn Today:

  • Why you react initially from the fear part of your brain (the fight, flight or freeze part) and how that’s getting in the way of your various relationships (don’t worry, I break it down and make it super-understandable)
  • You’re going to learn which fear type you are 
  • I’ll give you specific, practical tips and solutions to help you connect with yourself and others, depending on whether you’re a fighter, fleer or freezer
  • Give you specific tools that you can use with your partner (and anyone else) depending on whether they’re a fighter, fleer or freezer

Top Take-A-Ways:

The structure we focus on in today’s broadcast is a part of the Limbic System called the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain so it’s where you get feelings like pleasure, fear, anxiety and anger. Your amygdala is always on point scanning for any threats in your environment. This can be anything from a tiger about to eat you to your partner keeping their mouth open when they’re eating. The problem is that your amygdala is a diva and overreacts to everything so treats these “threats” the same! 

When you focus on you or someone else’s weaknesses or limitations; when you focus on what’s wrong, it reinforces fear, which lights up your amygdala.

When you get stuck in these repetitive cycles of negativity with your partner, (or your sister, friend or boss), you keep your amygdala activated, so your brain basically gets hijacked. When your Limbic System is turned on you can’t reason, think things through or hear suggestions. This is why, when you’re in an argument, you can’t remember all the great tools you learned in therapy or in that great online course! 

The good news: You can change this! The first step is to recognize which way you usually respond. 

I’m going to outline the characteristics and behaviors in each of the categories.

1) The Fight Response:
If you’re a Fighter, you’re focused on arguing your point and being right. You dig in your heels and some people might even call you stubborn. You get defensive and stand by your beliefs first and foremost. It’s possible you’ve lost your temper before and then feel bad about it later, but justify your reasons. Have you ever been in an argument with someone and they said they were done with you and left the room but then you chased them down? If so, you’re a fighter!

When your sibling, friend or partner (insert difficult person here) is talking to you, you’re already thinking of your response and often misunderstand what they’re saying due to your impatience to say what you want to say. The longer the argument or situation goes on, the more rigid you’re likely to become. 

You might have a hard time calming down and it might take you a few days to see reason or “come around.” Even after the other person apologizes, you find yourself still feeling angry and not able to accept their apology and move on quickly. 

You might notice that you actually look forward to fighting in a way. You feel “right” and can’t wait to express your opinion and you feel almost “high” or an out of body experience when you’re “in it.” If you “see red” and feel like you can’t calm yourself once you get going, you’re likely a Fighter. 

2) The Flight or Flee Response:
The person who flees can look different depending on the situation. The obvious forms of flight are physically leaving a room or an argument because you’ve “had enough,” avoiding conflict or fights altogether, or someone who abandons their family or relationship. 

But there are other ways fleeing shows up that you might not recognize as readily: Avoiding “endings” of things, such as not showing up for your last day of work, your last session with your therapist, or at a farewell party for a friend. Maybe you call in sick when things are difficult at work or don’t say good-bye when you’re leaving a dinner gathering. 

Getting engrossed or lost in social media, emails, the internet, video games, or your smartphone are also forms of escape or fleeing. Some fleeing can, of course, be helpful. Taking a 10-minute break from work or the kids while playing a game on your iPhone is a great way to give your mind a little break. But, other escaping is not as healthy. Doing these activities compulsively or in larger chunks adds up to avoidance (I mean, are you really supposed to be trolling Facebook at work? Do you really have a job where they pay you for that?). 

With the advent of smartphones and these technologies being made to be so addictive these types of behaviors are things many people do, but if you also do the other behaviors I’m listing here, you’re likely someone who flees when they get scared or feel threatened. 

Lastly, other types of escape include things like using drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, exercise or sex as a means to avoid or not deal with a situation or feeling. 

3) The Freeze Response:
If you’re a Freezer, you mainly try to stay under the radar. Basically, you’re hoping that if you lay low, whatever danger is around will pass on by. Consistent procrastination, certain types of avoidance and taking no actions, are all things the Freezer can do. Maybe making no decision is how you make your decisions. You spin and spin on things that are bothering you but don’t take action to make changes. Instead, you get into “analysis paralysis” and stay stuck.

Maybe you need to call a work colleague back but you didn’t finish the project you were supposed to have done so you avoid meeting. You then keep procrastinating and make the situation worse. Or you might be someone who makes an appointment for something inconsequential like getting your nails done or your oil changed, but when you realize you can’t make it, you feel anxious and upset about cancelling and don’t do it; instead you avoid it and get your nails done or your oil changed somewhere else next time. 

The Bottom Line:
When you’re acting in one of these fear-based modes, whether you fight, flee or freeze, you can’t remember any of the great communication tools you’ve learned or the tips or strategies you’ve been practicing because you can’t access the part of the brain where that stuff is saved! 

What you want to do is switch from your Amygdala (Reptile Brain) to another part of your brain called the Prefrontal Cortex.
The Prefrontal Cortex is where your problem-solving, rational thinking, long-term planning, values and judgment all live. 

The goal is to get out of the negative emotion of the amygdala and into the compassionate, open and problem-solving prefrontal cortex. If you want to get out of the fighting, frustration and anger you’ve got to engage that Prefrontal Cortex so you can get into connection, peace and fulfillment. 

Specific Strategies for Shutting Down Your Lizard Response
Now that you know how you predominantly act when you’re in fight, flight or freeze mode, what should you do about it? I’m going to give you specific tools and strategies for each category, but first I’m going to give you one tool that everyone needs to master, regardless of your category.

That one strategy is: Self Awareness.
I could give you 100 effective and awesome strategies and tools, but if you don’t remember to use them in those difficult moments, they’re useless.

You know this from previous experience. You’ve read books, articles, watched videos and maybe even gone to counseling and workshops. But, you keep falling back into the same old habits and you “forget” to use the great tools you’ve learned. It’s because, first and foremost, you’re not self-aware when you need to be. 

If you haven’t checked it out already, please listen to my podcast titled: Why Self Awareness is the Most Important Thing in Your Relationship. I give lots of information and tools in that one so I won’t spend time here on that. You’ll see that when you incorporate these self-awareness tips and strategies you’ll get yourself out of the fear-based amygdala and into the open and problem-solving prefrontal cortex.

For now, here’s a quick tool I didn’t mention in that podcast:

I call it: Wake Up Right
Researchers at the University of Tier, Germany found that we get stressed right at the beginning of our day, just by waking up. Within minutes of waking up in the morning, you release a bunch of stress hormones because you start thinking of the day you have ahead of you which triggers this fight/flight/freeze response we’ve been talking about. This, in turn, releases a stress hormone called cortisol into your bloodstream. 

To combat this, you want to start your day with self-awareness. Wake up and bring your attention to your breathing. Just feel yourself sitting on the bed and bring your awareness to the here and now. Set a positive intention such as: I’m relaxed and happy; today is going to be a great day or I’m energized and capable of taking on this new day. This, literally, takes about 20 seconds (I timed myself this morning when I did it). 

Now I’m going to come at you with some INDIVIDUAL STRATEGIES FOR each of the categories: Fight, Flight, and Freeze

If You’re a Fighter
If you’re a Fighter, your job is to cool yourself down. Your goal is to act, not react as much as possible. How do you accomplish this magical feat? Here are two effective things you can do:

  1. Take 3 cleansing breaths. A cleansing breath is a simple, but special kind of breath. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of five and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Research has shown that this calms your Amygdala and wakes up your Prefrontal Cortex. 
  2. Identify a wake up word and start using it with your partner regularly.

If You Take Flight
If you tend to flee, you want to work on staying put. Your goal is to make yourself available to have conversations with your partner. Here are three effective tools to stop fleeing and start staying. 

Tip #1:
For one week, keep a log of how you feel when you have the urge to escape in some way (alcohol, drugs, sex, physically leaving an argument, shopping, etc). Notice the time of day and any other defining characteristics. You can do this on your Smartphone, jot thoughts in a little notebook or create a spreadsheet on your computer; whatever works for you. At the end of the week, look for patterns of when you escape in unhealthy ways. Do you always need a drink when you get home from work? Do you need a smoke break every time your boss has issues with you? Did you leave your coworkers farewell party without saying good bye? If you regularly leave the house to exercise, that’s fine. However, make sure it’s not instead of talking things out. 

Tip #2:
If there’s an issue with your partner, make a commitment for a specific time to speak. This way, you can’t avoid the conversation (or at least not as easily).

Tip #3:
Do a Grounding Exercise. These exercises do just that – they help you reorient to the present reality or here and now.

    1. For example, if you’re upset you could remind yourself that “Feelings aren’t Facts.” Make this your mantra for a moment and feel yourself in the moment  – let the anxiety slip away and get into the reality of right now. 
    2. Another Grounding Exercise is to eat or drink something slowly and examine it. Is it sour, sweet, bitter or salty? Is it hot or cold? What’s the texture like? 
    3. Lastly, you could simply breathe and literally feel your feet on the ground. Wiggle your toes and feel all the points that your feet are in contact with the floor or your shoe. Bring yourself fully to the moment as you ground yourself with the floor.

If You’re a Freezer:
If you’re someone who freezes in stressful situations, your goal is to be loud and proud. You want to make decisions and stop fretting over them. Tell folks what you want and what you need (you might need to figure that out for yourself first). You want to make commitments when you’re not scared so you’ll follow through when you are. Put safeguards into place to follow-up so you can’t back out. Here are three best practices to turn yourself around: 

  1. Success is scheduled. “To Do” lists suck the soul out of you. Even those of you who “like” them, don’t really. You like to check off the things you like to do and ignore or procrastinate on the things you don’t like. Hence, “cleaning the garage” or “meeting with the tax lady” go on your “To Do” list week after week (or even month after month). Eventually, the pain gets too great and you have to do it or you let it drop off the list incomplete.  The answer? Take everything off your “To Do” list and find a home for it in your schedule. Yes, schedule out your day, hour to hour. Maybe “cleaning the dog poop” won’t get done until Saturday because you have no time during the week, but it wasn’t going to happen anyway, and now it’s held somewhere. Folks often fight me on this one, until they do it. Then I hear how it absolutely transformed their lives!
  2. Eat the Frog. This is an old Mark Twain quote that motivational speaker Brian Tracy made famous. Basically, what it means is that you want to schedule your day (see tip #1) and then you want to tackle the most annoying and dreaded thing on your “To Do” list first. Whatever you schedule first every day, should be the thing you dislike the most. The good news is that, once it’s done, the rest of your day will feel awesome without it hanging over your head. Also, you have the most willpower and energy first thing, so your chances of doing a good job with the sucky thing are really good! The key is to not think about it. You become a Nike ad and “just do it.” 
  3. You first. The last strategy for you Freezers is to say your opinion first in every discussion. Put yourself out there right away. Stop waiting for everyone else to say what they want so you can change your response to fit. Instead, you be the first opinion out there.

Resources and Links:

Research says our minds wander 47% of the time

Mindfulness based relationship enhancement: (when I say it helps couples)

Research on high cortisol levels after waking up

Rick Hanson, Buddha’s Brain

Self Awareness Podcast Episode

If you’d like to be one of the first to get my new book, “The 10 Keys to Being Happily Married, Even If Your Partner Won’t Do a Thing” you can get on the wait list HERE


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