Don’t freak out, but I’m here to tell you you’ve got a reptilian brain. No, I’m not confirming any lizard-people conspiracies.
I’m talking about the physiology of our brains.
As evolution has gone on, our brains have gotten bigger, grown new areas, and we’ve learnt how to do more stuff.
But, we still have that instinctive animal part of us that’s just thinking about survival, and wants to look out for itself. This is your reptilian brain.
It’s important to understand how our brain works, because it’s literally the foundation of how we think and behave as human beings.
What is the reptilian brain?
To give you some context, the Triune Brain theory was developed in the 60’s, and it refers to three layers of your brain.
First, you’ve got the reptilian brain- which is actually your brain stem and basal ganglia.
This is the first part of the brain that was developed, and some animals like- you guessed it- reptiles only have this area of the brain.
This is the survival part of the brain, and basically it just processes information, then determines if something is a threat or an opportunity. It wants to defend territory, eat food, fight, f**k- may as well be called a teenage brain.
Layered on top of this, we have the paleomammalian brain, which you can basically think of as mammal brain.
The paleomammalian brain is very keen on the herd, and it thinks a lot about social order, hierarchy, and the meaning of different social interactions.
Then we have our neomammalian brain which is our neocortex. This allows us to think of complex stuff like gratitude, empathy, planning, compromise, problem solving.
Our thought process goes through each area of the brain- first through the reptilian brain, then mammal brain, then our neocortex.
When we’re processing information or responding to a situation, our reptilian brain produces instincts, our mammal brain processes our emotions, then our neocortex analyses the best way to proceed.
How does this affect your life?
Well, I don’t need to tell you that reacting impulsively to every single situation is definitely not the best idea.
If you’ve ever snapped at a partner and gotten all defensive and started a fight- there’s a good chance that was your reptilian brain.
When we get all worked up, our frontal cortex literally disconnects- we literally flip our lids and think only with our reptilian brain.
That part of your brain is constantly scanning the environment for threats.
If it processes a piece of information and does determine it’s a threat- that information doesn’t actually go up the chain to our mammal brain and neo-cortex. It goes to a different section of the brain called the amygdala which basically judges if you’re gonna fight, flight, or freeze.
So, if someone close to you slights you, your reptilian brain might determine that as a threat to your ego, therefore to your survival, so it’s gotta go on the attack… and your partner is super confused because they were only running 15 minutes late.
Let’s apply this to another situation, like parenting.
You know those adorable little hell-raising tantrums kids love to throw? Perfect example of the reptilian brain.
If they see a chocolate bar while you’re out grocery shopping and you tell them no, they can’t have it- their brain is automatically thinking “F**k me, I’m gonna starve! I can’t believe I’m never allowed to eat again! That’s the only source of food on the planet and I need it NOWWWWWWW!”. When you get this it becomes a whole lot easier to remain calm as a parent during meltdowns which is crucial.
Understanding the reptilian brain can also improve your sales and marketing strategy. You just need to be aware that all the messages you’re putting out there, need to pass through this threat/opportunity filter in the reptilian brain.
Your marketing material should appeal to people’s sense of survival- people want to pursue opportunities, not run away from threats. Make it exciting, beneficial, risk-free.
If you’re confused as to why someone’s getting cold-feet or being a bit flaky on a business deal, there’s a good chance their reptilian brain is telling them that something’s a threat.
And I’ll tell you something for free- when you’re making a sale, the easiest way is to tap into someone’s reptilian brain motivation.
The reptilian brain is not a bad thing- by any means. It’s always a good idea to show a little bit of self awareness, understand how people think, and be conscious of your own behaviour.
When we understand our thought process, we can make better choices. And isn’t that all we’re ever trying to do?