“The lizard brain is … fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same things.” – Seth Godin
Neuroscience has demonstrated over the years that the human brain is hardwired for maximum complacency. It turns out we humans tend to freeze up when faced with important decisions, not because we are necessarily lazy, but because biology has wired our brains for the here and now. As a result, the human gray matter has a tough time concerning itself with future events.
Part of the limbic system, the almond-shaped set of neurons located in the temporal lobe, is known as the “amygdala.” It is a critical player in the processing of emotions and the part of the brain that gives us the so-called fight or flight response.
Ignoring the potential rewards of delayed gratification in favor of instant thrills, the amygdala, also called the “lizard brain,” can interfere with our decision-making processes.
That’s one reason why so many of us make regrettable financial choices that can wind up destroying our retirement plans.
Rationally, we realize that life doesn’t go on forever; we need to get rid of debt and plan for the day when we can no longer work. But, unfortunately, that pesky lizard brain can and does trip us up, no matter how rational and disciplined we imagine ourselves to be.
Understanding how the amygdala sabotages us enables us to see why retirement planning is an uphill battle for most people. It isn’t that we are fighting the future because we are having trouble even seeing it. Instead, fear of risk, fear of loss, fear of missing out all emanate from that area of the brain that is most resistant to change. Those fears can cause even the most intelligent people to do crazy things with their money or, in the case of many folks, do nothing at all.
The good news is that you can train your brain with a little practice so that it doesn’t wind up running the show. You will then be able to avoid financial mistakes from which you will never have time to recover.
How to Calm the Lizard Within and Create a More Prosperous, Successful Retirement
Write down a set of specific goals and focus on them. Scientists have discovered that people who overcome the fear generated by their reptilian brain do so by focusing on a goal or goals. You can see this principle at work in stories about people who perform extraordinary acts of courage, such as running into a burning home to rescue a baby or dragging wounded comrades off the battlefield.
Execute systems to reach your goals. It isn’t enough to list your goals and cross your fingers. You need to develop and execute systems that will enable you to reach your goals and overcome the power of the amygdala. In tackling financial issues, you should enlist a trained professional who can design and customize systems that will work in your situation. Do-it-yourself planning is not as efficient as partnering with an expert. A competent financial professional will have the mindset, tools, and skills to help you clarify your goals and design a blueprint for retirement success.
Satisfy the “WIFM” your brain is craving.
The lizard brain is all about the “WIFM.” (What’s in it for me?) Use the language of persuasion to show the amygdala the potential rewards of reducing debt, saving and investing money, and planning for the long term. Getting your brain to imagine life without work and think about the great things you’ll do in retirement will reduce the fears that hold you back. Since the optic nerve connects directly to the reptilian part of the brain, using visuals to create a retirement wall or journal can help. You should include photos of things you’ll do when you have enough retirement income (traveling, outdoor activities, starting a new business, etc.)
Creating a satisfying, successful retirement takes a little work, especially with that lizard brain continually attempting to distract and derail you. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a psychologist to discover techniques to help you overcome procrastination and create a better financial future.
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