Overriding Lizard Brain: 5 Ways to Go Beyond Fear, Anger and Negativity

Editor’s Note: This post is written by yoga teacher and life coach Lindsey Lewis who blogs at www.libreliving.com.


The mind has a way of taking control. Scientists and life coaches call our Amygdala—the region of our brain pretty much in charge of feelings of anxiety, fear, anger and negativity—our “lizard brain.” Why lizard brain? Because this area of our brain evolved a loooong time ago, back when our primal lizard-ish concerns were much more prevalent. This is why our biological stress response to, say, a looming deadline, is still as dramatic as it was when we were facing, say, a looming tiger.

The Amygdala, two small organs in the brain each about the size of a small almond, can become overstimulated by ongoing stressors and begin to run the show—our lives. The more we feel the stress response, the more the Amygdala are activated. The more the Amygdala stay activated, the more we begin to feel that this state is normal. Fear, anger and negativity become our primary modus operandus. The lizard brain takes over.


Life Coach revolutionary Martha Beck teaches clients to not only identify their inner lizards, but to name them. Queen B, Mack, Merv and Miss Thang. Just some options to get you thinking about what you might call yours. Where’s the benefit in naming your lizard? We work with thoughts and label them as “planning” “rehashing” “fantasizing” or “imagining” in order to help us remember we are separate from our thoughts and don’t have to jump on board with them all the time. Naming our lizards helps us let them do their thing, so we can continue to do ours.

And what’s ours? Finding our freedom. Living our dreams.

Examples? You got it.
“You might not make any difference as a life coach.” (This is what my inner lizard says)

Here’s some examples from other people’s lizards that I’ve heard them report along the way:
“If you quit the job you hate you’ll be poor and living in a box on the street.”
“You can’t start your own business. It will ruin you.”
“Saying ‘no’ to that invitation will make that person stop asking you.”
“If you act as smart as you are, people won’t like you.”
“If you rest, your competition will pass you by.”

5 Ways to Work With Your Inner Lizard Brain

  1. Name him or her. Giving your lizard a name helps us to remember these thoughts are coming from an area of our brain, not our whole self. They are not necessarily “Truths.”
  2. Treat them with compassion. Compassion is the only way through. Resistance breads persistence. Treating our lizards with love and compassion helps them feel they can calm down—and maybe take a nap long enough for us to do what we really wanted to, anyway.
  3. Witness what they have to say. From the compassionate place, we can witness and hear what our inner lizards have to say.
  4. Breathe deeply. Our breath is the greatest connection we have to our nervous system. Breathing deeper is the fastest, quickest, scientifically-proven way to get our nervous system back into a place of balance; and help ourselves come back to a place of less stress, anxiety, anger and negativity and more neutrality.
  5. Act. Practice doing it anyway. Act as if the fear, anger or negativity your inner lizard is feeling about whatever it is you want to do was never there. You haven’t ignored it. You’re not pretending you don’t feel it. You’re simply acknowledging its presence, and taking the leap anyway.


  1. Thank you for this insight! My daughter was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis 2 1/2 years ago and it really got my old “LIZARD BRAIN” activated – I really appreciate that there is some physiological evidence behind my reaction and coping… and while I am on the right track in the grieving process, I really appreciate having some more tools!

  2. Thanks. I shall name my inner lizards some really cool names . Starting with the one I am feeling right now. Witchy!

  3. Hi there, I’ve written extensively on the reptilian brain (and its relation to yoga) at my blog -http://bodydivineyoga.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/yoga-and-the-biology-of-transcendence-part-one-awakening-our-highest-potential/

  4. Thank you. The only issue with this approach is that by labeling it biological/evolutional we remove ourselves from responsibility. Though I agree your solutions are viable the source is related to our experiences and our Social relatives before us (karma); that is they are patterns of learned behavior, samskara. Though as long as the individual is motivated to recognize the patterns (swadhayaya), this is the most important step and it corresponds to your ideas but I fear that often we allow ourselves to be unnecessarly limited (avidya) by abdicating to ideas (all to often scientific) that places change from being out of our choice.

  5. No, this is not about abdicating responsibility at all – but working with evolutionary processes to fulfill our true potential. In essence it is the exercise of discipline that helps us transcend reptilian brain processes – e.g. as I write in Part Two “Yamas, through the practice of non-violence, (ahimsa) teach us to control fear (abhinivesha) and thus overcome the flight and fight signal. By controlling our sexual impulses (brahacarya) and our tendency to hoard beyond what we need (aparigrahah) we curb the reflexes of reptilian brain. By not lying (satya) or stealing (asteya) and behaving ethically, (Niyama) we train ourselves through the pre-frontal cortex, to tame our primitive behaviours…

  6. this is great info for me since there are times when I over react and then feel like an idiot later. Naming my drama queen is the first step.

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