Which are you – a lizard or a leader? Are you a lizard – someone who responds to situations instinctually and emotionally…with anger, for instance. Or are you a leader – in control of yourself…you choose when to respond emotionally. Do you wish you were in better control of your responses? Do you wish there was something you could do to increase your steadiness, your wisdom, your control, even your happiness?
Every one of us can improve our life by training our brain. And it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Your brain contains areas that are often referred to as ‘lizard brain’. The lizard brain protects us from threats and grasps at opportunities. For instance, your lizard brain decides whether you should run or fight when you meet a threatening figure in a dark alley. Your lizard brain drives you to seek out food, sex and shelter (not necessarily in that order). It can also lead you to blow up when your children test you or to withdraw or say things you wish you hadn’t when you are hurt.
Our lizard brain can save our life. But if that’s the only part of the brain we used, we’d be in deep trouble.
Fortunately, our instinctual lizard brain is balanced by the cooler, wiser leader brain. It’s also known as the prefrontal cortex. You can thank it for your ability to make decisions, reason, make judgments, plan, use critical thinking, and have empathy.
These two parts of our brain usually work together. But when the lizard brain is triggered by some threat or temptation, the leader brain takes a backseat. And our lizard brain often sabotages our best interests. It’s known as impulsiveness, willpower failure, or plain old immaturity.
Imagine yourself in a high stakes negotiation. Your poor lizard brain, still rooted in the savannah of our evolutionary past, can’t tell the difference between your negotiating counterpart and a lion eyeing you hungrily. They’re both threats. They can both result in death. Or so thinks your lizard brain. To protect you, your lizard brain activates the chemicals that will, among other things, reduce the ability of your prefrontal cortex to calmly reason. That’s right, just when you need it most!
Do you want more control over your lizard brain when you negotiate? I do.
Experts have developed many techniques to train our brains. Here are a few lizard brain hacks that work well in the negotiation context.
Breathe deeply and relax your body. Think of a memory that makes you feel happy – maybe a sense of being cared for by someone you love, maybe a time you achieved something that you were very proud of. Feel the good emotions. Let them wash through you. Enjoy them. Hold on to those good feelings and return to them through the negotiation.
You might also try focusing on your breath, or the feel of your toes in your shoes. Some people consciously relax their bellies and find their entire body relaxing.
The more often you practice, the more easily you can calm the lizard and support the leader.