Money, The Lizard Brain, Big Change, and Me

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Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I sure did. And now I am awash with guilt and regret, just like every year. I spent too much, I ate too much, and now I don’t have enough cash flow to put gas in the car.

Some people call that the big holiday let-down. I call it the intersection of Over-Indulgence and Reality. I never see it until I get here, even though once I do see it I recognize it instantly. Because I’ve been here before. And how. And I’ll be here again in about a month, unless I take a different road!

Allow me to tell you my tale of money, the lizard brain, the Big Change, and me.

I was reading a great article in the November issue of Vanity Fair magazine, all about how California is the poster child for economic collapse. If you live in California and feel like having a big helping of hopeless, I highly recommend it. But anyway, the article introduced me to Dr. Peter Whybrow, a UCLA neuroscientist who applies the workings of the lizard brain to the context of American life.

The lizard brain is the amygdala, that most ancient part of the human brain. It’s the part of the brain that deals in danger, fear, and primitive impulses. It’s the brain we honed through many long years of scarcity, when we had to compete for every morsel of food, look for danger everywhere, and treat every other thing, living and not, as a threat to our very survival.

Dr. Whybrow says that we are well-equipped for scarcity, and ill-prepared for our present reality: abundance.

The lizard brain, confronted with the Thanksgiving groaning board, tells us to eat and eat and keep on eating long past the point where we are far more stuffed than the bird. We do this because we may not see food again for a very long time.

The lizard brain, on seeing gadgets, books, yarn, or (fill in your impulses here), convinces us that we must snap up all of these commodities NOW, while we still can, before they become extinct or before someone else snaps them up and becomes more powerful than we are.

The lizard brain believes hoarding and consuming are the pathways to survival, even if what we are hoarding and consuming is actually, by any rational, subjective measure, contraindicated for survival.

I love this quote from Dr. Whybrow:

If we refuse to regulate ourselves, the only regulators are our environment and the way it deprives us.

That, my dears, is what the big holiday let down is really about. The lizard brain, sated, goes back to sleep, and the “new” brain takes over the controls. Here lives our power for reason, abstract thought, and memory. This new brain is what separates us from the apes. It’s also what makes us feel icky.

“What a pig you are,” it says.

“More BOOKS?” it complains.

“Why, oh WHY, did you spend so damn much money?” it accuses.

Does this seem backwards to anyone else? Could we not have the new brain first, to set the boundaries of reason and feasibility, and then let the lizard brain graze inside the compound?

I guess not. Too easy.

Last week, in my interview with Scott and Jarett, the inventors of Big Change, one of them commented that the hardest part about making any change is taking the first step.

Right, because when the lizard brain is at the controls, it doesn’t like it when the rational brain tries to take over the bridge. The lizard brain will cling to power like Khadafi clung to Libya. laying waste to whatever gets in the way.

This explains why, as of now, I have installed Big Change, yes. I have read about Big Change, sure. I’ve been to the website for Big Change several times. I hung around the Facebook page, even.  I have promised, in print, to USE Big Change, and publish a review.

But I have not, as of yet, actually turned on Big Change.

Every time I think about doing it, my lizard brain, like the robot in Lost in Space, starts waving its arms wildly and shouting over and over, DANGER Will Robinson! DANGER.

Clearly, the lizard brain felt I must have Big Change, but not that I should actually use it.

So I am starting all over this week. As I noted, I have a month between now and the next intersection at Over-Indulgence and Reality. This gives me plenty of time to plan a different route. One that takes the bypass, or the fly-over, or the scenic route – anything to avoid that intersection.

Big Change, here I come.

How about you, World of Dreamers? Have a tale to share about money, the lizard brain, Big Change, and YOU? Leave a comment below.


  • Your posts are always so amazing and thoughtful. I can hear my own voice when you talk about your struggles and frustrations, fears and ah has! Thank you!!! xox Rem

  • Oh how I can relate to this story. I love your honesty and willingness to share your progress, or lack, thereof. In Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? he writes about the Lizard Brain and I love what he says about it,

    “We say we want one thing, then we do another. We say we want to be successful but we sabotage the job interview. We say we want a product to come to market, but we sandbag the shipping schedule. We say we want to be thin but we eat too much. We say we want to be smart but we skip class or don’t read that book the boss lent us.”

    “The contradictions never end. When someone shows up and acts without contradiction, we’re amazed. When an athlete just does the sport, or when a writer just writes the words, we can’t help but watch, astonished at the purity of their actions. Why is it so difficult to do what we say we’re going to do?”

    “The lizard brain.”

    “Or as Steven Pressfield describes it, the resistance. The resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. The resistance is writer’s block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn’t stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.”

    “The resistance grows in strength as we get closer to shipping, as we get closer to an insight, as we get closer to the truth of what we really want. That’s because the lizard hates change and achievement and risk.”