It sounded like a great idea, until we started the ride up to Boulder.HellYeah

I eagerly agreed to do a mountain bike skills clinic with a few other women, all similar beginners. My bike has traveled with me from college, around Boston, Calgary, and now Colorado. Yet my confidence going downhill, over rocks, around trees was nil. Given where we live in Colorado, I thought a few skills would build me up. Until my fear and nerves took control.

We started the clinic in the coach’s driveway with the potential to hit his pump track. After a few rounds, I felt I could hold my own. Lee spoke to looking ahead, not below at our feet. Our peripheral vision has an almost 180-degree view, so we will see what we need to see (including rattlesnakes?). He cautioned us to beware of our Lizard Brain. It would make us hesitate if we looked down. He was right.

Looking ahead at where we want to go gets us there. Safely. The Lizard Brain stops us. Makes us pause. Finds the loopholes in the plan so that we don’t reach our destination. On the bike, speed is our friend. Hesitation makes us fall over or jump off. (Which once out of Lee’s driveway, is a reasonable tactic, in my book.)

What is the Lizard Brain? It is the triune brain, in charge of fight, flight, fear, and freezing-up. It is a primitive part of the brain that formed to protect us from wild animals, dangerous berries, etc. Still today, even as the brain has tripled in size, its function remains the same. To protect us.

The voice inside your head that convinces you that you can’t do it, you’re not smart/strong/funny enough, that’s the Lizard Brain. It sometimes can serve a purpose – so we don’t do something truly unsafe. But it also is the voice that holds us back.

Have you noticed your Lizard Brain? Does it continually show up in the same situations? How do you deal with it? Noticing it is the first step. Then what?

  1. Distinguish the truth. Going off the edge of the cliff would hurt. YES
  2. Distinguish the lies. Riding my bike on a single track near a cliff’s edge will definitely end in being thrown off the bike, over the edge. NO
  3. Let the Lizard know you heard her. And then tell her to zip it. Acknowledge and then move past it.
  4. Push yourself into the discomfort zone. Not too far beyond comfort, but enough past total comfort. Ride your bike up the switchbacks, and down the steep gravel. Because you can. Push aside those thoughts, “I’m not good at this. I’m so much slower than everyone else. Everyone in Colorado is basically a professional athlete. What am I doing?” (Those were exactly my thoughts as I climbed the Cottonwood Canyon last week.)
  5. Notice your sense of accomplishment. Acknowledge the initial fear and discomfort. And then celebrate what you did. ‘Hell yeah!’ is one way…as Lee said more and more toward the end of the clinic.

Your Lizard Brain will be the first to encourage you to revert to your old behaviors (I’m scared; I can’t; I’m not in good shape, etc.) when you’re stressed or in a place of fear. Don’t succumb easily to her.

The Lizard Brain also showed up for my husband. The calm, level-headed Canadian (is that redundant?) has been spending so much time at the rink either at his games or coaching two kids’ teams, that his Lizard Brain had taken control. He stopped having fun, and started worrying about his game and skill, 20 years after his college career came to an end. Same thought process regarding the team he coaches of 12-year old boys. Last night, he skated looking around the rink with his head up, laughed on the bench and in the locker room. And remembered why he continues to love the game.

Success: I loved the clinic with Lee and my confidence grew tremendously. Two days later I took my new learning to the real world. And the Lizard Brain took control. Until I told her to back off.

Lesson Learned: Look ahead, not below. You will be calmer focusing on where you are going and what you want. Focusing on what’s below your feet will hold you there and not allow you to move forward. To climb that hill, over the boulders, and get where you want to be.