Why You Need Your Reptile Brain

Written by
Michael Wells

Why You Need Your Reptile Brain

To Achieve Your Life Goals

Written by
Michael Wells

Why You Need Your Reptile Brain

To Achieve Your Life Goals

Written by
Michael Wells

This article is part of the series 


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This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

“I've always thought that successful and fulfilled people are those who have eradicated their reptile brains and have focused mainly on developing their mammalian and human brains. Do you agree with this perspective?
“Does this also mean that we have to aim to control/suppress the reptiles within us?”
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When a reader emailed me this question a few weeks ago, I felt ashamed.


Because when I read it, I realized that my approach to describing self-development has been a bit one-sided.

For many people I coach, these things are primary obstacles...

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Lust & distraction
  • Laziness & lack of motivation

I refer to these things collectively as “FALL” because in Maslow’s hierarchy, fear, anger, lust and laziness keep us stuck at the bottom of the pyramid.

Unmanaged, they can hold us back from becoming who we want to be, or even derail us from creating the lives we want to have.

  • Never reaching fitness goals ( laziness, lust )
  • Never meeting new people ( fear )
  • Never creating that great relationship, or that great career ( fear, laziness )
  • Destroying that great relationship ( lust, anger )

Every day, these are real problems for real people.

In fact, whole religions are based on this idea. Christianity has its seven deadly sins, which include lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. The first 6 are all basic reptilian-brain emotions.

So then the reptile brain is bad, right?

Nope, not one bit.

Why Our Reptile Brain is Essential

I've focused too much on conquering our reptilian-brain emotions, rather than understanding them and utilizing them.

It’s time to correct that. 

Here are 4 reasons why these emotions are essential to your life.

We wouldn't be alive without them

All of our reptile brain emotions are part of our fundamental survival strategy.

For hundreds of millions of years, they've kept our ancestors alive... Fear keeps us away from death. Anger protects what’s important to us. Lust drives us forward. Laziness keeps us from wasting energy.

As humans, what would happen if fundamental things like sex drive, hunger, and desire suddenly disappeared?

The sci-fi cult movie Serenity explores this. In the movie’s depiction,

“... an experimental chemical to suppress aggression had been added into Miranda's atmosphere. The population became so docile they stopped performing all activities of daily living and placidly died.”

I think the movie isn’t so far off. Remove those basic drives, and you cut the legs out from under everything else in our psychology.

There is no "bad" part of being a human

We are not part-good, and part-evil.

The classic angel on one shoulder and devil on the other is a good way to illustrate our constant sense of inner conflict- but it is inaccurate to depict this conflict as a struggle of good v. evil.

It is simply the natural result of having evolved several minds, which have several different objectives.

Sometimes we struggle between that pizza and those abs, or between protecting our relationship, and wanting to flirt with that cute barista.

It's important to see these motivations and choose our behaviors consciously... but it doesn't help anyone to see part of themselves as fundamentally bad.

How can your basic survival instincts be evil?

No wonder so many humans are a confused mess full of toxic-shame.

A house can't stand without a foundation

Your mammal and human minds are based on your reptile brain.

Without your reptile brain, they simply wouldn't work, in the same way a computer won't work if you throw away the motherboard.

If you look at jealousy, which is a mammal-brain emotion, it's based on fear, anger and desire, which are reptile brain emotions. If you look at romantic love, it's based in part on sexual desire. Even your human-brain ambitions to change the world or, travel to Mars or write a novel are connected to dopamine, which is simple reptile-brain lust.

Consider the jockey and the horse analogy. You might see the jockey as the most valuable part of that equation, but without the horse, that jockey will never win a race.

Don't kill the horse.

In those moments when we feel frustration, because the horse is running wild and dragging us along- it's not the horse that's at fault here. We've just never learned to ride it.

They are the source of our power

These emotions are our most fundamental motivators. 

A mind without these emotions is like a car without an engine. You might have great steering, but you’ll have no power under the hood. Conversely, all power and no steering is a hugely destructive situation, which is the situation we’re all too familiar with. 

You need both, to succeed in life. 

Let’s take boxing legend Mike Tyson as an example. 

We see a fearless martial arts powerhouse who can flatten opponents with ease. 

‍Although it may be hard to believe, Tyson was gripped by fear and embarrassment every time he stepped into the ring, and actually used it to motivate him during his matches. 

“That’s just how I deal with my pain and my pressure and everything, you know,” he said. “I sounded tough, I always said I wanted to kill him… but I’m always scared to death… That’s all I can remember about fighting—being afraid.”
“Fear is a great asset and a great exponent, so to speak,” he said. “In the fight game, in life in general, I think fear is a great exponent.”

Learning to Cooperate with Yourself

What's the lesson here?

The idea of conquering your emotions is a misdirected myth. If you think about all the people you know who are successful and happy with their lives- they did not abuse their emotions into submission.

They embraced them. They leveraged them, and redirected them to power them forward in life, towards their goals.

  • Fear is not bad. Don't do stupid shit. Take measured risks, that have a big payoff. Use it to inspire good research, and good decisions. Courage does not mean running into a dark room with your eyes closed. Keep those eyes open.
  • Anger is not bad. Use it to protect the things you love. Allow it to teach you what matters to you most. Organize your life to surround yourself with the people and situations that align with your values.
  • Lust is not bad. Direct it towards your long-term goals, instead of being distracted by instant gratifications. Aim for those abs, harder than you aim for that pizza. Deepen that romantic relationship, instead of lusting after porn. Save some of that party fund for that house you want, instead of spending it all on beer.
  • Laziness is not bad. Make sure to relax, and balance your life. Your energy is valuable... don't waste it where it's not needed. Work smart, and then hard, in that order.

If you can learn to use these emotions towards the things you want in life, you'll achieve more than you ever thought possible.


This article is part of the series 


No items found.

This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

First published on 
June 23, 2021
. Last updated on 
September 12, 2022

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