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Blog93: Congregation2018: Beware The Lizard-Brain

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Blog93: Congregation2018: Beware The Lizard-Brain

26th November 2018

Paddy Delaney


Welcome back to Ireland’s award-winning Finance Blog where we are on a mission to share ideas that will have a lasting and positive impact for you. This week were are sharing something a little different, and hope that it hits the mark, that it perhaps gets you thinking and perhaps even encourages you to do something you want to do!

In November each year, for the past 6 years anyway, there has been an ‘unconference’ called Congregation happening in the small and lovely village of Cong in Mayo. It was created by and organised each year by one man, a guy by the name of Eoin Kennedy, who is a digital communicator, entrepreneur, trainer and all round good guy it seems! Not sure where he got the idea but he gets 80-100 people to Cong every year, from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds to present their thoughts, ideas and debate on various different topics. Unlike a typical conference where you sit and listen to a speaker Congregation revolved around the principal that everyone in attendance presents a piece during the day, and then the groups have an opportunity to discuss what was just said, share their views and get lots of different input from lots of different people. I always find it hard to explain it, indeed I was total at a loss when it was first explained to me by Alan O’Rourke from Bettystown who is a speaker, lecturer, marketer & writer.

Anyway, unlike a typical conference you can’t buy a ticket, you can only gain entry by submitting your thoughts on the given topic each year. This year it was ‘ideas’ so in order to get a spot you had to write, record, create a short piece about ‘ideas’, and then prepare to pitch that to the group on the day. Sounds daunting to some but this is the most familial, non-threatening and open gathering of interesting and smart people I have had the pleasure of attending in my 38 years! It is an eclectic mix of all-sorts; writers, CEO’s, farmers, coaches, teachers, entrepreneurs, educators, inventors, makers, doers and dreamers, and all in it to share ideas and hear from other interested folks, where would you get it!

My Piece

In order to gain entry you submit a piece and it is loaded to the congregation website, for all to see and share. The topic was ‘ideas’, but you could take any angle you wished on the topic. As a matter of interest if you were asked to write, or indeed talk about ‘ideas’, what way would you approach it!?

For me, I am really interested in our brains, how they work, how we are aware of so little of what is going-on in our own at any given point in time, and how we can benefit from knowing this stuff! In reading and studying the brain it is apparent that our brains are wired in such a way as to keep up alive, that is it’s most basic function, to avoid threats. This has a huge impact on how we interact with the world, including how we make decisions, and which obviously impacts what we do and don’t do when it comes to money. Here is my short piece which I submitted and which I presented to the group on Saturday.

‘Beware Your Lizard-Brain’

You have launched that business, ran that 5k, achieved that promotion, earned that income, lost that weight, painted that wall, made that speech, bought that house, found that soul-mate, or achieved or made progress on whatever your big outcome was. The fact that we apparently each have in the region of 30,000-80,000 thoughts per day and that for many of us approximately 70% of these are negative, makes it a minor miracle that we manage to do anything productive at all!

Ideas are frequent and regular, and more often than not we subconsciously try to sabotage ourselves with negative thought and internal dialogue that crushes these little sparkling ideas before they even get a chance to fly. Think about it, how many ideas have you had in the past week that, due to your own internal dialogue, never got to fly!?

Our lizard-brain (limbic cortex), that tiny part of our brains at the top of the spinal cord controls fight, flight, fear, freezing-up and fornication. It is said to be the most primitive part of our brains and the part that drives our most basic of instincts. It was designed to keep us alive when we were in danger of getting eaten 2million years ago as we pottered about in caves. Our environments have changed however we still carry the same thought-processes.

But you don’t live in a cave, you have achieved your goal or made progress on your outcome, so how did that happen? Well you may have been washing the dishes, driving your car, reading a book, on the verge of sleep, talking to someone, watching ‘Better Call Saul’ or doing any of a thousand other things when you were struck with a thought about something (we have 30,000 of them a day remember!). Your thought would have led to an idea about a desirable future state. Immediately and nigh-on uncontrollably your idea would then have been set-upon with great ferocity by your own negative and/or limiting internal dialogue. We all have that dialogue to one degree or another. That is our lizard-brain trying to strangle our idea, to convince us that the worst will happen, that it’ll be too hard, that we’re not good enough, that someone else will do it better, that we won’t have enough time, that now is not the right time!

However you have managed to ignore that lizard-brain thinking, and you kept the idea alive, you let it fly. That’s the first hurdle to jump. You would then have had to keep chewing on that idea, again overcoming fear, laziness and doubt, and remained focused on the great outcome you are aiming to achieve! But an idea alone will not make the outcome happen. For an idea to really be of value it gives rise to action. Those actions don’t have to be huge or public, action which turns that idea into something bigger is simple as putting pen to paper, taking those first steps, talking to someone, practicing those first words, beginning your research, save that €100 or say no to that extra donut.

The lizard-brain will love you not to take those first steps. Your lizard-brain loves when you don’t pursue that idea. Ideas need action to become something tangible, don’t let the lizard-brain strangle them.


It’s certainly no master-piece but it is intended to prompt myself and others to think about perhaps what they would love to do but have been talking themselves out of. Money is a resource which allows us to do things that we really value, that I guess is why I am interested in both topics of money and our behaviours. I see it all the time, people with more than enough money still not giving themselves the lee-way to do the things that they want to do. While they may come up with all sorts of other excuses; ‘now is not the time’, ‘it’s not ready’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘they won’t like it’ etc etc, it is generally fear, that lizard-brain which is preventing them from doing it……

I’m not suggesting that I am a qualified psychologist, far far from it, nor am I suggesting that we should follow-up on every idea that enters our heads but if we take the time to reflect on what is really important to us, to consider what it is that we have always wanted to do, then the truth will be pretty clear……it’s only then that we can tackle the lizard!

The piece was intended as a rally-call to myself as much as anything else to be honest! I have for years wanted to create and grow a business that I was passionate about, that would have a positive impact on the world, that would allow me to do things that I enjoy, to work with people I enjoy, and to create a business that will add value to society. That was, for me, a hugely scary goal, and one which I struggled and struggled with for years. It was a hugely rewarding journey to build that reality (still very much a work in progress!) but one which my lizard-brain tried to stop me from doing every step I took. I knew deep down it was the right thing, I was totally bough-in to the purpose and solid intent I had, however the resistance, as Seth Godin refers to as, was huge. I guess the bigger the goal the bigger the resistance, the greater the sense of satisfaction when you embrace it and do the thing anyway!

Your thing may or may not be related to money, I guess that part isn’t important, what perhaps is important is that you recognise what might have been holding you back, from doing THAT thing. It’s OK to feel the fear but its not OK to listen to it!

Thanks for reading.

Paddy Delaney

QFA | RPA | APA | Coach


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