Taming your L.I.O.N and Steering your S.E.A.L

Posted on November 7, 2013. Filed under: Our Leaders Say |

Clare Edwards is a highly motivated organisational development professional and a current Diploma of the Neuroscience of Leadership student.  With an intuitive ability to empower individuals and teams to perform at a higher level, she offers her own lively take on Linda Ray‘s strategies for self-regulation.



Easy-to-Remember Strategies for Self-Regulation 

“Roll up, roll up, the circus has come to town!”  Well, not exactly.

In this case, our animal friends are metaphorical representations of two self-regulation strategies that neuroleadership pioneer Linda Ray has come up with.  (So you can heave a sigh of relief that no animals have been harmed during the writing of this article.)

Our brains — the pre frontal cortex (PFC)  in particular — love information to be memorable and easy to recall, which is why pictures and visuals are critical in the learning environment. Acronyms also fall into this category as we are able to make associations, form context, and store the information (thanks to our hippocampus) in ways that make it easy to retrieve at a moment’s notice.

L.I.O.N. and S.E.A.L. are two strategies related to self-regulation and, since we sometimes need to be call on them at a moment’s notice, having them neatly packaged as acronyms comes in handy. These strategies relate to action we can take to reduce limbic activity as well as to increase processing in the PFC when we are faced with situations that cause us to ‘go limbic’.

Taming your L.I.O.N.

Lion Tamer Female ThreeDo you remember the story of the ‘Wizard of the Oz’? What was it the lion believed he lacked? Courage! As with the other key characters, this film is a superb metaphor for helping us see that we already have all the resources within us to survive and succeed.

When faced with a threat (in whatever form), we sometimes sense that we lack courage, but thanks to Linda Ray  we now have access to a simple yet powerful self-regulation strategy that we can summon instantly.  I’ve taken Linda’s system and rearranged it to fit with the LION  acronym.

Let’s go through the steps first:-

Step 1 – Label (Name it to Tame it)

Once you label an emotion, it dampens down the limbic system and transfers resources to your pre frontal cortex, which operates as the ‘executive function’ of your brain. You will begin to think more clearly and your body will calm down.  Remember, however, you only want to name what you’re feeling without going into detail. Simply identify that you’re scared, nervous, or stressed — then stop.

Step 2 – Interest (Get curious)

Instead of panicking, tell yourself, “That’s interesting, ah it’s just my brain again”. Curiosity is a form of dissociation and helps us to become the observer, which in turn helps to dampen down the limbic system and activate the rational and logical processing of the PFC.

Step 3 – Origin (Explore where this has come from in terms of S.C.A.R.F.)

Building on steps 1 and 2, identifying the origin of your emotion helps your brain to make sense of the reaction and allows you to process reactions in a way that supports you to gain some perspective. Consider the social need that is being threatened. An easy way to do this is to use David Rock’s S.C.A.R.F.® model of core social needs. Ask yourself, What past experiences or memories might be affecting this response? Again, we don’t need to analyse in detail, just to be able to form connections to the origin. I recently used LION when about to present a talk and found that the origin of my fear was related to having had to sing solo a verse of a hymn in grade 8 and being laughed at. (It’s okay – I’m over it now!)

Step 4 – New meaning (Reappraise and look for the gift in the challenge)

Ask yourself, “Is there a different way of viewing this? How is this an opportunity? What can I take away from this? How can I turn this into a positive?” We will have retrieved a memory in order to complete step 3, and we are now able to give that memory a different more resourceful form and meaning through reappraisal.  Our memories, like our brains, are plastic.

You can learn to tame your L.I.O.N. in a very short period of time. I used it most recently when preparing to present to a group of professional speaking peers for the first time and took myself through the process silently while being introduced. This made the difference between me not needing to revert back to my notes and having the courage to deliver with confidence.

We know from neuroscience that the best way to embed learning is to teach, and I recently taught L.I.O.N. in a workshop that unpacks and addresses the fear of public speaking. This little process was so effective with the participants that they created a little roar to employ just as they were to speak — it became an instant reappraisal!

Steering your S.E.A.L.  

Male fur seals on the beach of the Antarctic.

The elite US Navy SEALS have learned effective self-control in high stress situations and are able to reduce the time it takes to transfer processing from the limbic system to the PFC.  The SEALs (which stands for Sea, Air and Land fighting) undergo rigorous training continually confronted with situations that range from no threat to extreme threat. They have no idea which type of situation they will be confronted with and have to make instantaneous decisions regarding how they respond.

The success of this training has led to increased pass rates from 25% to 33%. The good news is that we too can learn from the SEAL’s mental training which includes four steps: -goal setting, mental rehearsal, self talk, and arousal control.

Because of our preference to have information memorable and easily retrievable, I created an acronym from the word SEAL:

    • Self-talk
    • Envision success
    • Arousal Control
    • Little goals

Let’s look at each one briefly.


When faced with a threat, real or imagined, talking positively to yourself can really make a difference. Positive self-talk has been used successfully for years with sports psychologists and athletes. It can also work for us. Simple phrases such as “This too shall pass”, “Onwards and upwards” or “Come on, let’s do it” involve sending our brain positive commands which our subconscious will follow. This reminds me of Henry Ford’s famous quote

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.

Envision Success

Again, we turn to the field of sports psychology for evidence of success. Dr Denis Waitley first worked with NASA astronauts, then elite athletes in perfecting motor visual rehearsal, where the athlete runs the race in their mind first, then instinctively follows through on the rehearsal with the real thing. Usain Bolt has already run, and won, the 100 metres well before he’s off the blocks! With the navy SEALs, one of the most frightening challenges they face is having their breathing equipment tampered with when undergoing underwater training, something that invokes an immediate and high limbic response. By visualising a successful outcome in advance of the training, the SEALs were able to stay calm and pass this toughest of tests.

Arousal Control

The most effective use of arousal control is breathing. Remember when your older relatives used to say, “Take a deep breath and count to ten”? Well, there’s wisdom in this, as the act of breathing also dampens the limbic system and helps decrease the production of adrenaline and cortisol so that we can think more clearly. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Jewish psychologist who survived three years in the concentration camps sums it up exquisitely: 

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Little Goals

How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time! The SEALs use extremely short-term goal setting as a key survival skill. “What can I do to make it to the next hour?” is a little, yet potentially life-saving goal. We too can adapt this to challenging situations and take them on one step at a time. This form of goal setting also helps us stay mindful, present, and 100% focussed on the task at hand.

So there you have it!  You’ve tamed your L.I.O.N. and steered your S.E.A.L. for effective self-regulation! A final brain-friendly tip: It’s often best to practise just one technique and keep practising until it’s embedded firmly in your basal ganglia before moving on to the next.

Good luck, go well, and look after your animals!



For a look at the brain science behind how the Navy SEALs stay motivated:



Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 3.02.30 PMClare Edwards is a highly motivated organisational development professional with extensive experience in the hospitality industry and corporate business. Her particular strengths lie in her intuitive ability to sense challenges and opportunities in inter-team dynamics, to help organisations create or enhance their culture, and to empower individuals and teams to perform at a higher level.

An energised, enthusiastic and authentic speaker and facilitator, Clare combines her knowledge, skills and experience to engage her audiences on a number of topics including Thriving in Change, Brainsmart Leadership, Emotional Resilience, Personality Type, and Storytelling for Leadership.

Clare spent 16 years working at senior management level with International Organisations (McGraw Hill, SAP, XO Communications) before transitioning into people development. In 2005, Clare relocated to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where she consults and facilitates various programs for her corporate, not for profit, and public sector clients locally and inter-state.

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