Tune Out Your Lizard Brain for Big-Writing Success

Mindy McHorse

Take a quick inventory of all the writing opportunities you’ve ever gotten excited about.

From writing a book to writing case studies or emails or websites or sales letters …

How many of those have you started … but not followed through on? How many have you wanted to learn more about, but haven’t taken any action?

If I had a nickel for every time I threw my fist in the air with determination to try out a new path … and then went out and bought a new domain name for my new writing business idea …

Well, let’s just say I might come out even given what I’ve paid for unused domains over the years!

See, it’s easy to get stoked after reading true stories of other AWAI members having writing success. It can also be easy to take those first baby steps — like buying a domain name or brainstorming the business name you’ll put on your card.

Or perhaps writing the first few pages of your own book.

Or starting a new program.

But in the end … it all sits unfinished.

Seth Godin referred to this problem as “resistance” in a talk he gave for 99%, the think tank of Behance (Behance is a company that works to make creative ideas happen).

The essence of his talk was about following through on projects and powering past resistance.

He described the way most of us get started on projects that soon become big enough to launch our careers. But, as we get closer to completing those projects, we begin to feel a resistance.

The result?

We turn our backs on our superior human brains (the neo-cortex, in particular) and start listening to our “lizard brains.” Meaning, we tune in to cries of protest from the amygdala, the reptilian portion of our brains.

This lizard-like part of your brain powers your most primitive thoughts. It’s where you get your drive for survival. It’s the part of your brain that tells you when you’re hungry or scared, among other things.

And that means it’s the part of the brain that drives your fears.

As freelancers, we usually have plenty of those: fear of being laughed at, of tanking, of not surviving whatever venture it is we want to launch, and so on.

As Seth put it, these fears lead us to “thrash” at the end of our projects. I think it’s a great way to describe how some of us flail around, grabbing at excuses that save us from having to go through with something. You know the ones — the “what ifs,” followed by the persistent cry of “but, I haven’t done enough!” and “I think I could make it better if only I …”

The result is that we thrash at the end of our projects instead of “shipping.” That’s Seth’s term for sending your projects out into the world. Instead of shipping, you might prefer to keep those projects close at hand. This way, you avoid risk. There’s no embarrassment.

Of course, there’s also no success … income … or advancement in your writing career.

Seth’s message is to stop all that. Do you have to stop thrashing completely? Nah. Just do your thrashing at the beginning of a project. That’s when you can commit to the details and get early buy-in from anyone else involved. Then, once everything has been decided — follow through. Ship the sucker.

Don’t throw away your writing potential by thrashing at the end. Step up and write that novel. Finish that program. Follow-through and ship to completion.

I’ll be taking a personal inventory this week of passion projects I’ve started but never finished … what about you? Tell me below about something you’re newly committed to following through on.

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Published: February 16, 2016

29 Responses to “Tune Out Your Lizard Brain for Big-Writing Success”

  1. Mindy,

    Your post came at just the right moment for me. I have been a thrasher for years, beginning, but abandoning a program/course when I felt overwhelmed.

    I am fighting that now as I work though the Social Media Marketing Expert course. But after taking a breath I realized that I don't have to be amazing out of the gate, but that I can learn to be amazing if I remain persistent and consistent and follow through.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Stephen Wertzbaugher


  2. Thanks Mindy, I had no terms to express the process that I was going through. I knew that I had to push to drive through the taking action needed to get to any of my goals. I found no more excuses, but the resistance was still there. This is the best explanation I have found. I am pursuing the copywriting program and have been writing a novel. I have to eck out each step, but rest a good bit (pardon the excuse). Thanks again Tim

    Tim Adams

  3. Lizard brain! What a good description of how my brain acts when I get scared. But there comes a time when you just have to take a breath and hit send. Please tell me it gets easier with practice.

    Guest (Workerbee)

  4. Mindy your article is almost providential! I have a 1 panel Christian Cartoon that has several pages on my website, a blog, and I was preparing to write a series of books based on the perspective of the potential readers. Now what happened? I thrashed & crashed & thought of it no more. But just yesterday the whole concept resurfaced in a way that it hasn't in the past and now your letter is a confirmation - I need to get it together and finish this thing! Thanks!

    Guest (Lynda K)

  5. Timely advice indeed, Mindy. For so many years I've been the "lizard lounge" of procrastination, failing to follow through on this program, that course.....etc. But i know 2016 will be different because all past disappointments will not affect my future, i'm in a better frame of mind than ever before and i have a family who needs me around to take care of them. This is the year to move forward with every commitment. Thanks again.

    Guest (Tracy Dickerson)

  6. I have been writing a book on prayers. I know it's what God wanted me to do. I have taken breaks from it here and there while gathering material. Basically, it's prayers I have written out for various people. I have learned some things along the way. I don't have the money to front the printing and publishing of the book for a company to do it for me so...I guess I'll have to self-publish it and figure out how-to get it printed and sold. I'm learning as I go along.

    Guest (CATHY SNOVEL)

  7. Thanks so much for today's inspiration. My new commitment (since November 2015 - so it really is new) is to stick with AWAI until (and long after) I am an extremely successful highly compensated Arts, Entertainment and Media Copywriter. :)

    Guest (Sandra K Lynne)

  8. My commitment is to finish and publish my book about being groomed and then systematically defrauded by a socio pathic predator and his family

    Guest (Sand)

  9. Current projects to help a friend expand her business creating planted containers, include several paragraphs for her resume plus testimonials for her Facebook page, and a very brief newsletter/blog to showcase her talent, such as brief stories. The newsletter will also contain informative gardening articles aimed at the challenges of gardening in the Southeast's Zone 8. Right now the resume is going through its final revisions with an expected conclusion no later than one or two weeks. I expect the testimonials will involve the friend much more than me, but I plan to use them on Facebook and in the newsletter.

    Pat H

  10. Oh, I'm a thrasher, alright. Love the term. My self-definition is "spinning". Can't see around the corner. So either I whirl until I spin myself right out of whatever I was supposed to finish and couldn't or thought I couldn't, or thrash my way into new resistance. I am so grateful for this post. It lets me know how not alone I really am, and that other people, who are really good at what they do, have walked (danced, whirled) the same path...and beat it!

    Guest (Anne McDonald)

  11. Mindy, Great article.
    Very timely for me.
    I've been organizing a screenplay I've had on the shelf for the better part of a year during these last few days of vacation.
    It's ready to be "shipped" with just a bit of polish which I am committed to doing immediately after my return.
    I'm taking an additional week off to finish it and not returning to "work" until it's done!
    Trust me, with no money coming in, there'll be plenty of motivation.
    Thanks for the swift kick right when I needed it.
    Best, GP

    Guest (Greg Paul)

  12. Hi Mindy, Right now I'm really excited about finishing The Accelerated program...just waiting for my Exercise 20 to be reviewed so I can work on editing and move forward

    Brenda Drexler

  13. I am going to start a website. I have been a procrastinator all my life. Thrashing and being lizard like in most things that I have not completed. Thanks to AWAI this will no longer be. Thank you Mindy for your very timely articles. swak

    sylvia h

  14. Mindy, wow you do get excited, I can see why you're a writer. You are a blast furnace of words, I myself do follow thru on all of my project that's why I have so many books on amazon. And score of short stories. So in closing keep the word flow going... I bet I get a panking for this one, you go girl, and be good to yourself out there.

    Guest (come hold my hand)

  15. Synchronicity: Just today, thoughts of the amygdala came to mind 3 times: 1)hearing from a company for whom I wrote a high school psychology course; 2)pondering some physical reactions that my body has been experiencing that originate in the amygdala; 3)Your wonderful post.
    Instead of buying a new domain, I chose to start a new journal on an old domain. A message on Facebook to this effect got some likes. So I am committed to following through with putting quality content in this journal. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Jerry Waxman

  16. Thank you for your honesty. it helps to know that very successful writers also have unfinished projects.I have started a book, got a domain name, and dozens of ideas that never survive the discipline necessary to complete. However, I have promised myself to complete two AWAI courses this year and attend Bootcamp. Hopefully, my lizard brain will go to sleep.


  17. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm currently awaiting a publisher's decision on my manuscript. In the meantime, I'm committed to learning as much as possible about copywriting to allow me effort to support my family and pay our bills.


  18. This is all so true Mindy. I can certainly relate to this, with as you say more websites half finished or not too active.
    I have just written a whole host of reviews for Trip Advisor after a trip to South Africa and although no money passes hand, it motivated me to make that big leap into profitable writing. It just takes courage and conviction to jump that gap.


  19. Been dragging my heels big-time on the Accelerated course -- and many other things in life. I'm not in the habit of Making New Year resolutions, but this year I did: to set a weekly schedule for getting different things done. Well, I'm not perfect with that yet, but I have just committed to do the Web 2.0 course; I should have been asleep an hour ago, but have been making a start on the materials. Feels like I have the bit between my teeth now :)

    Duncan Waldron

  20. Hi, Mindy. I now have a name for the enemy! I can personally address 'lizard brain' when it is attempting to freeze me with fear.

    I am recommitting to finishing the B2B course.

    Guest (Judy)

  21. Wonderful article Mindy. Great timing and great motivation for me. I'm going to the dollar store and buy a rubber lizard to put on my desk as a reminder of what NOT to do. Thanks!

    Dave S

  22. Mindy, I know exactly what you are talking about! Proud to say that I recently backed my lizard brain into a corner, gagged him, and pushed 'send' on a bunch of prospecting emails for my copywriting business, and Lnkedin articles, even the ones that didn't sound 'exactly right.' Same with my information packet. Finally just said, "OK it's done and ready to share with the world." It feels liberating to walk around without the lizard in my gut.

    Joyce H

  23. Two years ago I had made up my mind -- choosing what I knew would be the winning site for President Obama's Presidential Library & Museum -- to design my own complex for him. Last year, having completed the task brilliantly, I "shipped it" to the White House without any hesitation whatsoever.

    Now, for about a year, THEY'VE been the "thrashers." Never for even a second, me. But what recourse does my more impassioned "first cut" now have over the others too thrashed to have been confidently shipped up front?

    Guest (Chris Morris)

  24. Thank Mindy, great motivating thoughts for me in the middle of writing that book,on family history, lizard brain gets me too often, thanks for the kick along, Dave E.

    Dave E Australia

  25. Urg, this is great! I even do this with complaint letters or reviews - write them so eloquently, then never send them off. I am pursuing writing a promotion for a theater I'm involved with (I've actually already written it) but when I didn't get an immediate response from the director, I was tempted to thrash, and let it wither unread in my google drive. Today I contacted him again. I won't back down until he tells me to!


  26. What Seth calls 'thrashing' is what I call 'storm clouds' which seem to form as I approach a certain stage in the development of an idea or project. Storm clouds result in turbulence which can cause wind, rain or snow, all metaphors for those obstacles we encounter. The lizard brain presents us with storm clouds when there's a conflict between what we want to do and what we're afraid to do. It's a conflict between our inner and outer perceptions. We must learn to read our own weather forecasts.

    Will Craig

  27. Overwhelmed is what I felt when trying to write my first e-book! So know I know the lizard brain must have took over.
    I kept saying I needed to add more, then realized I made it to long, then tried to shorten it and became bogged down!
    Now I definitely will revisit the project! Thanks for the boost, knowing it happens has given me more confidence!


  28. Perfect timing for finding this article. This describes me almost to a perfect "T" to how I am with almost all of the programs/ classes I start, some I have finished and then done nothing with and some start and then never finish...I am going to "tune out my lizard brain" and get through this and get a career I can be proud of and show my family and especially myself that I CAN do this!


  29. 1/24/2022 Mindy your message is VERY timely! I’m committed to getting clients this month! I know it’s nearly the end of the month. But I don’t care. I’m reaching out to a prospective client that asked for help with their emails this week. I’m committed to auditing my website so I don’t appear to be like a toothless dentist when I offer my auditing services. I’m committed to becoming a “Linchpin” so help me God! Committed to be self employed in 2022 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾

    Linda Beauty Marks

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