Martha Beck - Wizard vs. Lizard: The Battle for Your Brain

The world is re-created in every instant of time, and this moment is always your life's beginning. No matter how many years have been stolen from you by your own ignorance, by cruel fate, or by the acts of others, you have a clean, broad slate before you. In this instant - this one now - you can begin steering by starlight, and if you do, the rest of creation will conspire to guide, teach, and help you. —Martha Beck, Steering by Starlight

Martha Beck is one of my ALL TIME favorite authors - she is sharp, hilarious, insightful, and I also find her story fascinating. Beck exhausted herself for years pursuing three Harvard degrees (including a Ph.D) while raising three kids (this after leaving the Mormon church and her family behind), then realized she wanted to become a life coach to save others from the physical and emotional misery she endured for so long. She's been featured on Oprah, and now runs her own coach training program (which I discovered through fellow coaches Pam Slim and Cath Duncan).

I can honestly say that two of her books - Finding Your North Star and The Four-Day Win - changed my life. The former helped me navigate an emotionally turbulent time in my life, and the latter will forever change the way I think about food and health. Curious about what other gems of wisdom Martha had to share, I read Steering by Starlight over the holidays. The following are excerpts from the chapter on "lizard brain" fears that hold us back.

Excerpts from Chapter 2: Wizard vs. Lizard: The Battle for Your Brain Steering by Starlight by Martha Beck

  • The entire purpose of your reptilian brain is to continuously broadcast survival fears - alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild.
  • These fears fall into two categories: lack and attack. On one hand, our reptilian brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: We don't have enough love, time, money, everything. On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen.
  • [Focusing on lack-and-attack fear] ruins your relationships, your body, your life - and it doesn't protect you from anything. In fact, it often creates what it fears.
  • When we're taken over by intense, high-adrenaline lizard fears about lack and attack, the people around us become anxious as well. They respond to our jitters by getting jittery, our defensiveness becomes defensive. Sociologists call this "social contagion."
  • Psychologists call it projection and reaction formation: Each person responds to the other by projecting her own sense of fear and grasping, then reacting violently against signs of fear (which come across as aggression) in the other. Your hideously controlling boss is so dictatorial that his employees really do want to rise up and depose him. The clingy friend who often shows up unannounced or refuses to leave, hoping to get every possible moment of your time? You avoid that person like the plague.
  • A Catholic priest once told me the only thing the Devil can't stand is being laughed at. This maxim suggests that learning to laugh at our fears is one of the best ways to conquer our own evil tendencies. This is ironic because most of the time, we unconsciously worship our fears, holding them deeply sacred.
  • Don't wait for your lizard fears to go away; they never will, as long as you have a brain. If you do nothing more than choose whatever feels most "shackles off" (freeing) to you, moment by moment, you will fulfill your best destiny.
  • Freedom is available at any time, to anyone - and so is captivity. Moving away from fear is not nearly as realistic or productive as moving toward freedom.
  • You will never realize your best destiny through the avoidance of fear. Rather, you will realize it through the exercise of courage, which means taking whatever action is most liberating to the soul, even when you are afraid.


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