Squelching the Lizard Brain

A couple weeks ago (my, how time flies!) I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Seth Godin speak at the Harris Theatre.

I’ll admit I wasn’t all that familiar with Godin prior to this session. I knew who he was, and I’d bits of Tribes and Linchpin. I thought I knew some of his basic concepts. He’s the guy who talks about innovation and marketing, right?

I was blown away.

The timing was perfect, just days before I began my graduate program in integrated marketing communications. Godin does talk a lot about how marketing has evolved and how the rules have changed. But really, it’s so much more than that. It’s a complete shift in mindset.

Technology has completely revolutionized the very core of our society. We now own the means of publication and promotion, of ideas.

So why are we wasting it on following processes and procedures, policies and pabulum? True revolution and change doesn’t reward such compliance. Instead, we are at our best when we accept challenges and take risks.

Godin talked extensively about the “lizard brain,” the evolutionary holdover that controls our most primal emotions: fear, anger, revenge and reproduction. The lizard brain is that voice that tells you something’s too hard, or too out-of-the-ordinary, or too daring. Godin essentially advised using the lizard brain as a sort of compass – and then doing the opposite. When something seems scary, embrace it and do it.

So how do you trick your primal lizard brain? Godin advised to play by its rules and schedule time into your day – the lizard brain embraces such structure and scheduling – but use that time to start with a blank sheet of paper and work out ideas.

Of course, they won’t all be winners. For every good idea, there are dozens, scores, hundreds of bad ones! (We talked about this in class the other night – how about Maxwell House ready-to-drink coffee – just heat and serve – or Frito Lay Lemonade?)

But he’s right about the blank sheet of paper. For years – since high school, maybe longer – I’ve struggled to start writing anything. I’ve always found comfort in having something, anything on the page before I have to start adding to it, whether it’s copying and pasting the assignment or outline onto the virtual page or scribbling down notes. And really, it’s been a crutch that has limited my writing. Rather than coming up with something completely original, it grows based on what I planted on the page. While this is fine and dandy for mundane tasks, such as a summary or to-do, what happens when you start with blank paper?

Go on, try it. (But finish reading this first!) Open up a new Word doc (or Symphony – pick your poison) and maximize the window so it fills your entire screen. If you can full screen it so you can’t see the clock or taskbar, or email notifications, even better. Turn off your wifi, if you can.

Now write the first thing that comes to your mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad or half-baked. Just get the idea out there. Poke that little speck of an idea and see what happens.

I spend so much of my time flipping between multiple tasks that my brain never really settles on anything long enough to make a real impact. In between thoughts, I flip to Twitter or my email, as if concentrating on that will help tease out the idea on the tip of my brain. No matter how “focused” I am, the ding of a new email sends me rushing to my inbox, where I delete yet another newsletter.

The day after I saw Godin speak, I hopped a plane to New York for a friend’s wedding. 30,000 feet up, with no internet, no phone, no texts, no Twitter, no distractions, I wrote like I haven’t in a long time, and it felt magical.

I’ve toyed with the idea of having one “unplugged” day per week, with no internet time. No hours of browsing, no checking my friends’ Facebook statuses. I’ve been inconsistent with it, but now I think it’s an even better idea. It clears the head and shakes loose all the clutter so, in theory, the good stuff rises to the top. (I think I’ve embraced running for this reason – it’s time to process things without interruptions.)

So thank you, Jenn, for the ticket to see Godin. I can’t even imagine where I’ll go from here. Though maybe some blank paper time will reveal a direction…

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2 responses to “Squelching the Lizard Brain

  1. Thanks for writing such a great summary post – so glad you could join me to see Seth! I feel like I spend too much time struggling with the organizational lizard…I’m pushing to try some new things with online marketing this year, and some I may just try out on my own, and see what happens.

    I think your point about the unplugged day is fabulous. I really need to do that, too, to let my brain recharge…DOING it is the hard part! Ha!

    • A whole day is really hard! But I’ve found even if I can muster up most of a day (ie, “No internet from the time I wake up until 5 PM Saturday”), or even just a morning, it does help recharge the batteries a bit. On those days, though, I find the DailyMile is the lure that tries to haul me back! So I sketch out my route on a post-it until I can go back online 🙂

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