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How the Lizard Brain Makes You Mediocre, How Experience Softens the Blow of Adversity, & How Intellectual Goals are the Cure for Boredom (Reading/Study Notes 6.3.18)

Resource: Quieting the lizard brain


Why we contradict ourselves:

“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.”

The Lizard Brain & 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.”

The Lizard Brain & Mediocrity:

The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because her lizard brain told her to. Want to know why so many companies can’t keep up with Apple? It’s because they compromise, have meetings, work to fit in, fear the critics and generally work to appease the lizard. Meetings are just one symptom of an organization run by the lizard brain. Late launches, middle of the road products and the rationalization that goes with them are others.”


Your lizard brain is the part of your brain that thinks in terms of fear. It’s there to protect you and keep you from getting into trouble. It’s an important part of us and it’s what got us to where we are today, but it’s also responsible for us holding ourselves back. When we think only in terms of fight or flight, we fail to innovate and experiment.

The closer you get to challenging yourself or doing something that makes you evolve, the louder your lizard brain screams.

Appeasing the lizard brain results in mediocrity. Hiding behind busyness, avoiding risks, striving to hard to fit in…these are some of the ways we get defeated by the Lizard Brain.

The Lizard brain cannot be destroyed or eliminated. It can only be tamed and negotiated.

Resource: Virginia Woolf on Why She Became a Writer and the Shock-Receiving Capacity Necessary for Being an Artist


“As one gets older one has a greater power through reason to provide an explanation; and that this explanation blunts the sledge-hammer force of the blow. I think this is true, because though I still have the peculiarity that I receive these sudden shocks, they are now always welcome; after the first surprise, I always feel instantly that they are particularly valuable. And so I go on to suppose that the shock-receiving capacity is what makes me a writer.”

“The compensation of growing old [is] that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it around, slowly, in the light.”

“I hazard the explanation that a shock is at once in my case followed by the desire to explain it. I feel that I have had a blow; but it is not, as I thought as a child, simply a blow from an enemy hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life; it is or will become a revelation of some order; it is a token of some real thing behind appearances; and I make it real by putting it into words. It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole; this wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt me; it gives me, perhaps because by doing so I take away the pain, a great delight to put the severed parts together. Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what; making a scene come right; making a character come together.”

“From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we — I mean all human beings — are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself. And I see this when I have a shock.”


One of the advantages of accumulating experience is the acquisition of the ability to process adversity in a way that softens the blow.

Writing is a way of taking our sorrows/sufferings and making them whole. When we put our feelings and experiences into words, we are engaging in an act of sensemaking that allows us to manufacture a quality of meaning that gives the power to persevere.

Resource: If Somebody Told Me to Pick a Husband at Age Twenty-Three, I’d Likely Be Waking Up Next to Some Guy Who Can’t Spell “Lemon.”


“Boredom is the devil, but most people don’t realize they’re bored. They’re busy working. They’re busy running. They’re busy doing ALL THE ERRANDS and keeping up with those fucksticks, The Jones’. It doesn’t feel like they’re bored, but they are. They’re bored with life. They’re bored with themselves. They’re bored with the very act of breathing. They’re so very busy, but they’re still bored. There’s confusion between “having a million things to do” and “having meaningful things to do.” Busyness doesn’t make you energized. It doesn’t delight you or engross you or exhilarate you or light you up. It just makes you busy. And bored. So very, very bored.”

“You know what the problem is? No intellectual goals. Nobody’s got any of those, anymore.”

“The good news is this: there’s an antidote. And that antidote is intellectual pursuit. Pick a thing you’re even mildly interested in and go learn about it. Go do the thing. Study the thing. Immerse yourself in the thing. Become an apprentice. Read a book. Get on that thing called the Internet and read. You don’t have to launch a whole new career out of every single thing you’re interested in—the point is to stimulate yourself (not like that, perv) and throw some neurons around because YOU ARE DYING OF BOREDOM so of course you’re feeling restless and unhappy: your brain is barely on life support. Because brains need input. They need stimulus and provocation and inspiration and refreshment. But we’re starving our brains, because we’ve got our heads so far up our “life journey” path, that we don’t even think to deviate. We don’t even think at all! Nobody’s doing any real thinking, anymore. They’re just doing a bunch of random shit on autopilot. Whatever they say, goes. Whatever I’m suppose to do, I’m going to do. Just gonna follow everybody else, on this one. Surely they know best. They do not know best. Nobody knows better than you.”

“Hobbies are awesome! Who cares if it helps you advance in your career? Who cares if it’s practical? Who cares if it’s going to cost some money, or some time, or some energy? Not doing anything at all is costing you your life. How embarrassing is that? To let your life expire like an old, moldy tomato.”

“We are human beings with rich, rich ideas and deep, deep feelings, and even more wonderful dreams—even if they’ve been tucked away for a while. It’s such a good thing, having ideas. In the past, people used to be persecuted for having their own ideas, but now you can have an original thought without going to jail. Take advantage of that! Be the kind of person you’re proud to know. Be the kind of person you’d look up to.”


Have some hobbies. Make the time.

The antidote to boredom is cultivating intellectual pursuits. Your mind needs stimulation.

Don’t equate busyness with meaningfulness.

Stop assuming that others have the answers. Develop your own ideas.

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