My Arch Nemesis: The Amygdala

Have you ever had a wild idea, something that really excited you, then “BAM!” before you even begin working on it, you start talking yourself out of it. Have you wondered where all the self-sabotage came from? Who hasn’t, right?

It turns out there is actually a scientific explanation for this nasty response and it’s known as the amygdala. According to Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin, this part of the brain is completely responsible for keeping you alive (also known as “fight or flight”) and is the part that “takes over whenever you’re angry, afraid, aroused, hungry, or in search of revenge.”

In short, it’s completely capable of talking you out of doing anything and everything worthwhile or amazing. It doesn’t care if you finally take that trip, open that business, or write that book. It’s primitive and considers every risk a threat to your personal safety. It’s not concerned with the quality of your life or impressed you are chasing your dreams; it’s simply focused on keeping you alive.

So what can we do about the amygdala? Fight back by outsmarting it. Here are four ways I do just that.

Call Out The Lies For What They Are

There are a lot of different ways this can play out. In some cases, you may be able to shake it off silently to yourself. Or you can write down the lie and follow it up with truth statements. Then again, you can try asking a friend to help you speak truth back to it.  At worst, you will have to do what I have done once or twice…

For whatever reason (i.e. being made fun of in elementary school P.E.), I’ve never considered myself a runner. At 22, after much coaxing from a friend, I decided to train for a half marathon. While running one afternoon, I became really frustrated with the voices that were trying to convince me to quit. I’d been doing this for a year and knew I was capable of running multiple miles, yet the voices in my head didn’t want me to. Finally, while running around the park, I started to talk back – actually, cursing at them until they fell silent.

I hope you don’t ever have to go that far, but if you do, know you’re only as crazy as I am!

Get Uncomfortable!

Dreams do not reside within the comfort zone! You can’t learn to believe in yourself without stretching yourself. If you want to do the extraordinary, you have to intentionally pursue moments that make you uncomfortable: go volunteer somewhere new, introduce yourself to a stranger, read a book that addresses a viewpoint you aren’t familiar with, take risks.The closer you get to your dream, the more uncomfortable you are going to become. Don’t fight it, just embrace it.

Know Where The Lies Like To Hang Out And Cut Them Off

Whenever possible, eliminate opportunities for the lies to speak up. The more self aware you become, the better you’ll get at anticipating them.

Here’s another real life example.

I have a hard time viewing myself as a writer. My mom, on the other hand, is an English professor which is both a blessing and a curse. When I write, I can send it to her for free feedback and editing BUT sometimes the direction she gives can become a feeding ground for the overwhelming voices reminding me “I’m not a writer” and asking “why I even bother?”

During the launch of Sooner Not Later, I knew taking the time to get feedback from my mom on every email would open the floodgates for the voices, and so I eliminated the opportunity by purposefully foregoing the editing process and embracing the fact that my emails would have flaws. This decision led to adding this footer to my emails. 

Chase Your Dreams Sooner Not Later

Change The Way You Look At Failure

Every time you take a step in the direction of chasing your dreams, the amygdala is going to ask, “What if you fail?”  We can’t stop that from happening, but we can choose to respond differently to the threat by recognizing failure actually isn’t a bad thing but a sign of having fully lived. Once we embrace this belief, the amygdala loses its control over us.

As you work towards changing the way you view failure, you may find it helpful to have a prepared response to the “What if you fail?” question. Thomas Edison is known for having said, “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that do not work.” And I like to challenge back with “what if I don’t?”


Part of your brain may seriously be trying to sabotage you but that doesn’t mean you have to surrender to it. You are going to do great things–you just need to believe in yourself and start taking action.

I would love to hear from you! What lies is your amygdala telling you? Would you add anything to the tips above?  Please share in the comments below.

About the author: Catherine

Has one comment to “My Arch Nemesis: The Amygdala”

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  1. Nancy Carvette - February 22, 2015 at 10:00 pm Reply

    It’s wonderful hearing why you started running. I never knew that story. I guess another way of saying what you’ve already said is face your fears if you really want to do something. I love learning how much wisdom you have at such a young age. I’m proud of you.

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