Working with Your Inner Lobster


I remember, not that long ago, in an acting class with some twenty students, we were all assigned numbers by our instructor. None of us knew exactly what our number was, but it was meant to be representative of our social status in the group. And while we all walked around the room, interacting with each other - post-its firmly affixed to our foreheads - we had to guess what our status was based on how others treated us. Were you a lowly 3, or a dominant 18? The game went on for a while, and one by one, we all changed our behavior in relation to each other. Some became more downtrodden, others far more confident. When our instructor told us to stop and pull the post-its from our heads, we finally understood why. 

Social status is deeply engrained in who we are as not only human beings, but as creatures in general. As Jordan B. Peterson points out in his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote To Chaos, this dominance hierarchy goes back some 350 million years. In fact, it predates trees. But to truly understand this obsession with status and position, we must turn to the not-so-humble lobster and our eerily similar brain chemistries. 

You see, while a lobster may have a relatively simple nervous system, its brain is governed by the same chemicals which govern ours: serotonin and octopamine. And whether you're a human or a lobster, low serotonin levels generate a defeated posture and worldview. This is very unfortunate if you're a lobster trying to find the best shelter or mate for molting season, and even worse if you're a solo entrepreneur trying to be taken seriously in the digital space. Why? Because your fellow lobsters can smell your weakness, or at the very least, they can see it. 

It's in your drooping shoulders, the way you stare at your toes, and the anxiety buzzing in your mind. It's the way you feel threatened or weak as you speak to someone else who may have a higher number on their forehead than you. It's in how nothing ever seems to be going your way, or why you reach for instant gratification over long-term solutions. And it's in the way that you don't say no, or embrace a cycle of oppression.

This defeated posture quickly becomes a downward spiral that makes you less happy, more anxious, and terribly unhealthy. (It's not good for business either.) 

And others see it when they size you up, just as the baddest lobster on the ocean floor senses it in his or her opponent. 

But emotions are party bodily expression, meaning that this "inner lobster" of yours responds to movement. Through changing your posture and habits, you can actually increase your serotonin levels, and earn a higher number on your post-it note. 

Start by waking up at the same time every day. 
Eat breakfast. 
Stand up straight with your shoulders back. 
Speak your mind. 
Walk tall. 
And act like the number you think you are. 

People will treat you differently if you do. 
(Ask the guy who thought he was a 4 and ended up being number 20.)