The Lizard Brain

I had a German speaking exam the other week and about half an hour before it started, the stress hit me. I had been surprisingly calm about it throughout the day, whilst doing other work, but I think I had just distracted myself until I listened to the German news as a final bit of preparation.

I felt waves of worry in my stomach before the exam, which I had not experienced before. I thought about how our bodies react to stressful situations. It was very much “fight or flight mode”. This is normal and okay, but also tells us something about our brains.

Our evolved brains perceive that we’re in “real” danger, and the sympathetic nervous system responds accordingly. It was only after the exam was over, my brain realised that there was no real, physical danger in a speaking exam. Stress, yes, and a challenging situation out of the normal comfort zone, but nothing physically dangerous.

This is the ancient Lizard Brain working and it is part of our human nature. Our perception of fear has so much influence on our lives. It’s why I haven’t gone and done an Open Mic night while at uni yet – after discussing it with a friend for over the past year and a half! It’s why we feel our heart rate increase when we have to stand up and speak in front of our class or at work. But if we acknowledge the Lizard Brain and see it working as part of our lives, then we can choose do the hard work of stepping out of our comfort zones. Because only there can we do great work.

I know I need to do an Open Mic night. What is the next thing you’ll do out of your comfort zone?

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