How to train your reptile brain

Friday 20th January 2023

About eight years ago two apparently unconnected events manifested in my life that would significantly change my life, and the way I work as a coach. In retrospect this is definitely an example of a Carl Jung synchronicity. It can change your life too

Thanks to Paul McKenna

The first event started when my friend Paul Mckenna contacted me to ask if I would join his training team for a high-profile event in London. This was to be the UK rollout of the relatively new psychosensory technique called Havening.

Paul had mentioned this to me about two years previously and I had done some research but not taken it any further. I pointed out that I had never actually used this technique. He reassured me that he and Dr Ron Ruden would explain everything the evening before the gig.


The second element of the synchronicity was that I had been offered the part of Charles Darwin in a TV documentary series. More about this later so let’s return to the London event.

In a nutshell the Havening technique involves stroking the upper arms of the client whilst performing tapping movements, guided eye movements, stroking parts of the face, and singing songs. By the end of the weekend I had no doubts that this was a very powerful technique, particularly for treating post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD.

Good but with some reservations

Whilst I started to use this technique with clients I did feel a little uncomfortable with some parts of the technique. There was nothing wrong with them but they just didn’t resonate with me.

Back to the filming. We were shooting scenes in the sand dunes on the Kent coast. Apparently the budget did not extend to being on location in the Galapagos Islands. Apart from meeting Annie the dragon lizard the only thing I can really remember is that it was bitingly cold and I was wearing a thin tropical outfit.

Two men in white coats arrive and ask for me

Halfway through the shoot a large white van appeared and two zookeepers approached the producer and asked which actor would be working with Annie. They then escorted me to the van and opened the rear doors.

Inside was a large wire cage containing a large dragon lizard complete with long and sharp claws. One of the keepers explained that Annie would only work with me if she liked me. I asked how we would find out about her feelings for me?

Trust me I’m a zookeeper

He explained that on top of the cage was a small flap which I should open and then reach inside with one hand and stroke Annie’s cheek. If she liked me she would close her eye. This left me with a big question.

“What happens if she doesn’t like me?” I asked.

The head keeper replied.

“That’s why there’s two of us here today,” he said with an ominous grin.

Annie steals the limelight

With considerable trepidation I reached inside the cage and stroked Annie as directed. I was mightily relieved when she closed her eye. We worked at very close quarters for the rest of the day. Without question Annie was the star of the show. She had a natural ability to know which camera to look at during the close-ups.


The epiphany moment

It took me a few days to work out how these two apparently separate events were connected. It started with the recognition that the face stroking of the Lizard was another example of a psychosensory technique. I named it the reptilian relaxation reflex for want of better words. I wondered what its evolutionary significance was, because nothing happens in nature by accident.

I linked this to the arm stroking component of the Havening technique and recognised that this was nothing new either. This was also an evolutionary instinct or reflex as with the lizard. An example of this reflex would be how we would all reach out to stroke the arm of a child who was distressed. Just as we put our arms around or hug an adult. Chimpanzees and other primates do the same.

Simple is best and less is more

From that moment of realisation and synchronicity I ditched all the paraphernalia of the Havening technique. I found that the arm stroking alone provides at least as good results. I have made several videos on this subject and this is an example we can all use on others or ourselves.

Comments and questions will be welcome as always.