How I fought my lizard brain at Bernal’s Peak

Bernal's Peak In MexicoThere I was, up in a peak I has never seen. Gasping for air. The sun was burning me.

My whole brain told me I should quit. There was nothing to prove. I could just keep this as a secret.

I was trying to catch my breath, my head was pounding and my legs claimed I couldn’t move any further.

I heard a voice: “Should we stop?”

Every fiber in my body wanted to say yes, but I said: “No, we can go on.”

Wait, What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the first day of my vacations a couple of weeks ago, when I found a wonderful set of revelations while trying to hike “The Peña de Bernal”.

My family and I decided to hit the road and visit a couple of places here in Mexico. The Peña de Bernal (Bernal’s Peak) was our very first destination. I knew very little about the place.

When we arrived we were awed by the wonderful view. It was epic.

We started walking around the streets of the small town at the base, to be honest it’s more like hiking the streets, as most of them go up in a 40 degree or so angle. We reached the base of the peak soon enough.

My parents were checking the artisan’s stores while my brother and I were looking at the peak. We were totally unequipped for climbing the thing. I was wearing my usual boots and cargo pants, while he was wearing dress pants with shoes.

I’ll be honest with you, sanity is not exactly our best quality, in fact we do some crazy things from time to time.

The decision was made before we even told my parents what we were thing to do. We would climb as high as we could.

The moment of truth

My parents gracefully smiled and thought we were crazy. They told us they would wait there, as if it would only take us a couple of minutes to realize we wouldn’t be able to climb the whole damn thing.

We soon reached a registration point, a nice guard told us we had to register in order to count how many people go up and be sure everyone is back safely. It took us a couple of minutes to do it and then we started hiking the peak.

To be honest, I’m not really used to this kind of activity, last time I hiked was around 10 years ago, but I try to keep myself fit with a simple exercise routine and a good diet. Of course I would soon find out, my exercise habits weren’t enough.

The road was uneven, and it took considerable effort to move forward. Even so we were having a lot of fun. It was still unclear if we would reach the top but we were good to be moving forward.

We passed a lot of people who was resting in the shadows. The sun was truly killing us, but we figured the best way was to move forward relentlessly.

Then it started, something I have not felt for a long time, the presence of my lizard brain. I know it’s always there, whispering things. But that day it was screaming.

Alex vs. His lizard brain.

I stopped for a moment, my brother kept going on.

The sun was killing me, I felt out of air, but what really was giving me a hard time was my own thoughts.

I’m able to do a confidence exercise or something similar to get the lizard out of the way, but this time I was tired, I couldn’t think straight.

My lovely lizard brain was reminding me of all the things I knew, my legs were tired, I was thirsty, the sun was horrible, and the top was nowhere near. Then one idea: You should give up.

Those seconds felt like an hour, maybe more. The battle with my old friend.

Then I heard a voice, it was my brother’s who seemed to be completely fine even when he hasn’t been exercising for years. He said: “Should we stop?”

It was my prompt, the moment to kick my lizard brain back into it’s place.

We kept moving forward. The road may be harder, but my brother turned back from time to time to say something like: “Just a little bit more”.

We left more and more people behind who looked at us, the two guys wearing clothes for a city stroll instead of a hike. We didn’t try to prove anything, we were testing ourselves.

I was tired, but I remembered something important, if you honor the warrior beside you, he will save you one day. That day had come.

My own brother was helping me climb with his words and energy. He didn’t stop one second to lend me a hand to climb a rock or anything, he knew I didn’t need it. He was helping me win the battle inside my brain.

Reaching “the top”

We finally reached a point where we couldn’t go up without proper gear. We were not ready to climb the peak. I looked around, it was beautiful.

My brother was still trying to figure a way to keep moving, but it was pointless and we didn’t want to risk our vacations with some random injury.

He said: “I think this is as far as we can go”.

I felt good, not because we had stopped and my limbs enjoyed a bit of rest, my body was still screaming and I felt dizzy. But because I went outside of my comfort zone to do something I wouldn’t do otherwise. Because we found a way to keep moving even when everything was against us.

It was all about developing our warrior spirit, the exercise was a good bonus.

We were happy, we took the pictures below and decided to go down and reunite with our parents.

Alex Reyes

I’m trying hard to look happy and cool.

Pedro Reyes

My brother looking all cool.

3 crucial lessons I learned from this experience

I had a lot of time to think about this experience, and I found 3 crucial lessons I would love to share with you. I know you have to live your own experiences but if I can make the road easier for you by sharing this, I will.

  • If you want to go far, don’t go alone. If I tackled the challenge alone, I probably would reached half and returned in less time. My lizard brain would probably won the battle and I would feel bad about it all day. Just by being with a fellow warrior I was able to go beyond my own power. I apply the same thinking to Enso Journey as I work with Kym to make it better each day. If you really want to succeed and do some amazing things, join people who share your vision, honor them and you will reach farther than what you thought it was possible.
  • I grew complacent of my physical training. All skills require practice, from physical training, to arts and crafts. If you really want to improve you can’t let it slide or think you have already mastered it. That’s impossible. Instead you should start from a humble point of view and always be open to improve. I know that I’ll be working out more, because I want to improve.
  • Spot your lizard brain at work. You live with your lizard brain at every moment for your life, it’s in charge of keeping you alive. The problem is when it tries to slow you down and gets you in a difficult situation with yourself. This will require a bit of mindfulness to spot when your lizard brain is just going nuts over nothing and when it may be right (because he is mostly right about the dangers of bears, lions and snakes). Take a deep breath and allow yourself to view the thoughts coming from your lizard brain as a third person, then you will be able to better judge them.

These key lessons shone from my experience trying to reach the peak’s top. Now I just want to try it again once I’m better prepared, maybe I’ll be able to really reach the top with my brother and celebrate another accomplishment. Meanwhile I’ll be back, training in our warrior dojo everyday

Now it’s your turn, because even small deeds become great stories, share with me your warrior story. Have you faced a similar challenge? What lessons did you learn?

I sense a strong warrior In you!

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Alex Reyes (@EnsoJourney) is the co-founder of Enso Journey. He is a geek seeking to turn himself into a modern warrior. You can train with him by liking Enso Journey's Facebook Page or joining the Enso Journey Warrior Dojo for FREE.


  1. Love this Alex!!! I especially love “If you want to go far, don’t go alone.”
    Sandi Amorim recently posted..Rise Up and Choose

  2. The three lizard brain-fighting tips are right on. For me #3 is most powerful – if I can recognize that the wimpy voice is actually coming from lizard brain I can have a little talk with the lizard. And woo hoo! Congrats on making it the top!
    Sarah | Holistic Hot Sauce recently posted..A Bridge, A Bicycle, And A Baby Step Toward Facing Fear

  3. I really like the reminder of not going it alone. I tend to think I can do everything by myself. It is difficult for me to ask and accept help. I worry about someone taking my ideas (or not liking them) and I have a fear of being scammed. Lizzie and I better get to work on these two issues. Thanks Alex

  4. This is awesome!! So great to see you can have an awesome breakthrough without going to the brink of death!! I too love “If you want to go far, don’t go alone.”

    I have let my physical training suffer lately also… perhaps we should start a “bloggers get fit” movement together!!
    Kathy from Bliss Habits recently posted..Rediscovering Fun

  5. “If you honor the warrior beside you, he will save you one day.” This was my favorite sentence in this post, Alex, because it reminded me of the two people I went through chemotherapy with — Sarah and Darryll. They were each warriors in their own special way. Although neither one of them is alive today, they inspire me to honor their journeys by not taking my survival or my life for granted.
    Carol Hess recently posted..What’s in a Name Tag?

    • Carol, you really hit home with that point. honoring our fellow warriors, is one of the missions of those of us who are still ready to fight another day. I know Sarah and Darryll are grateful for your understanding and for honoring them with each breath you take.
      Also I know we can draw power and inspiration from those warriors who walked this land before us. I’m grateful because their lessons still hold true for us.
      You rock Carol, stay always strong and smiling, that’s the best way to honor our fellow warriors. :)
      Alejandro Reyes recently posted..Take action – A simple skill you need to build momentum

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