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Leave Your Lizard Brain Behind

Here’s an emergency: you’re in the jungle, and you see a tiger. Obviously, you should not stop and think, “Hmm, big animal with orange and black stripes, sharp claws, huge teeth…” If you do that, then you’re going to be lunch for that tiger. Deliberate, considered thought is not what you need when there’s an emergency.  Rather, you need to use a more primitive part of your brain that developed early during evolution — your “lizard brain,” as it’s often called — to respond quickly to danger.  Your lizard brain will then put you in “fight-or-flight” mode, rather than the think-deeply-about-your-options mode that’s going to end badly.

The decision about what to eat is not an emergency. The decision about how to deal with a unpleasant person or situation is not an emergency. The decision about how to respond to unhappiness is not an emergency. These are the circumstances where you want to use the thinking and reasoning part of your brain – your cerebral cortex – and leave the lizard brain behind.

As we explained on the “About EWS” page, pressing pause is in many ways the most important element of our success in losing weight. This applied to sustaining our weight loss, and more importantly becoming happier, calmer, and more effective people. As the brilliant psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach puts it:

Mindfulness is a pause – the space between stimulus and response; that’s where choice lies.”

When you slow down, or “press pause,” you then shift from reacting to responding.  Reaction is urgent, less thought out.  Response is considered and makes use of the cerebral cortex. When there is no pause after a stimulus, then you react with the primitive lizard brain – the part that is always on the lookout for danger and acts first, thinks later.  

In future posts, we’ll be talking a lot about that space between stimulus and response. It is the space where we have both found strength and calm.