“Managing your impulsive, emotional Chimp as an adult will be one of the biggest factors determining how successful you are in life”

Prof. Steve Peter, The Chimp Paradox, Chapter 2. The Divided Planet

Category

Self-improvement, Psychology

What it’s about

A very interesting book about mind management. Provides a brilliant insight into how different parts of our brain work in decision-making and communication. More importantly, Prof. Steve Peters writes about how we can manage these parts to control our emotions and ultimately act the way we want to.

Who’s it for

Anyone who wants to know more about how we can manage our thoughts and emotions in order to act in our best intentions.

What I like about it

Prof. Steve Peters uses a simple, but very effective analogy to talk about our complex brains, making it easy to understand. I also really like how there are so many case studies and examples.

Keep in mind

Although it is quite easy to understand, some aspects are quite repetitive.

Three Distinctive Parts of the Brain

Within the Chimp Management model, three of these brains- frontal, limbic and parietal- combine to form the ‘Psychological Mind’

Chapter 1. The Psychological Mind

The Chimp Paradox focuses on an analogy to illustrate these different parts of the brain, making it easier to understand their different personalities and how they work with each other. The Chimp represents the limbic, the Human represents the frontal, and the Computer represents the parietal. Below is a brief outline of their main characteristics.

Chimp

  • Emotion, impression and feelings-based
  • Close-minded: does not want to view the other person’s feelings
  • First to react
  • Five times more powerful than the human

Human

  • Evidence-based and rational
  • Always thinking in context and putting things into perspective
  • Might take longer to process things
  • Weaker than the Chimp

I wanted to focus on the Chimp and Human in this post, but here is a quick summary of the Computer part. Computer: storage space for information that the Chimp and Human have stored. The Chimp and Human can go back to this information in the Computer as a reference, or use it to act in an automatic way.

As you can see, there are two main components of our brain- the Chimp and Human- that work in different ways. The Chimp Paradox talks about these different parts in more detail, and how we can understand them better so that we can manage them.

The crux of the message is that although the Chimp is one of the more dominant parts of our brain, its wants and actions do not represent our true selves. Our Human part of the brain is really what defines us, and is a true representation of who we are. Thus, we have to learn how to understand both parts and how to manage our Chimp, in order to ultimately act in our best interests. 

Tips to Manage your Chimp

You are not responsible for the nature of your Chimp but you are responsible for managing it.

Chapter 1. The Psychological Mind
Remember that the Chimp is the first to react in situations

When we react to an event, remember that the chimp is the first one to react and process it. This is why when we come across a situation that really angers or stresses us out, we are a bit emotional at first. It’s easy to think the worst and jump to conclusions. But these initial thoughts come from the Chimp, which we know is not the most rational and reacts to feelings. Thus, it is important to understand that initial feelings and emotions towards an event are usually not the most accurate.

Takeaway: don’t act on impulse. When an instance occurs that angers/stresses you, take a breath and a few seconds to process what has happened. Hold yourself back from acting on impulse until your Human has the chance to process what has happened.

Remember that a lot of the every-day, frustrating, but minor instances that happen in our life (e.g. a family member taking the last piece of cake; a friend being late; someone spilling our coffee, etc.) are unintentional. Life is full of unfair occurrences that we must accept. Others might be responsible for their actions that might trigger your Chimp, but sometimes they really didn’t mean it. We must get over this or everything in life will annoy us.

Self-reflect and understand your Chimps habits

Try to improve your ability to recognise when your Chimp is hijacking you with thoughts, feelings and behaviours that you don’t want to have.

Chapter 1. The Psychological Mind

Takeaway: make a mental/physical note of typical instances that anger or stress you. Be very self-reflective and uncover the reasons for this anger. Ask yourself, “Do I have a right to be feeling this way?”, “Are these feelings really based on truth?”, “Do I want to have these feelings?”, “Are they worth it?”. If not, then you know that it’s just your Chimp in control and it’s your turn to manage it.

Prof. Steve Peter’s three ways to manage your Chimp

1. Excercise

When the chimp is stressed, the first thing is has to do is release this emotion. You should listen to it. Sometimes they just need 10 minutes to express their opinions- no matter how irrational- and then they will usually calm down and listen.

How: if something really gets to you, exercise your Chimp’s feelings in a quiet area for a bit of time. Let it verbally (but quietly) express its own feelings.

2. Box

When the chimp has calmed down, we can now reason with it by using “facts, truth and logic” (Chapter 3. The Divided Planet).

How: once you’ve let the Chimp express itself, carefully calm your mind and talk about the facts. It might be difficult at first to be unbiased towards the Chimp, but try your best. If possible, try asking a friend for a third person’s perspective. My sister is my go-to person for advice, especially in emotional situations. This has really helped me gain a logical perspective.

3. Banana

Give your Chimp a reward they will enjoy. When you want your Chimp to listen to you and change its habits, you can give it incentives like praise, to act in a different way. It is super important to note that your Chimp’s emotion and power does not always have to be negative. If managed properly, your Chimp can help you and motivate you in a good way.

How:  a good example of how you can feed your Chimp a Banana, is by giving them an incentive- like a coffee break- to work hard for half an hour. 

Other Interesting Nuggets

Female and Male Differences

Female brains have many more areas than male brains, called association centres, for working with language. In contrast, the male brain has an area for dealing with mathematics and map-reading that is around four times the size than in the female brain (whether it works better is another matter!). It does mean that it is likely, since the two brains typically show physical and physiological differences, that they will work differently and be better suited to the specific tasks of learning.

Chapter 4. The Guiding Moon.

The male and female brain parts have various differences between them. I just found it interesting that there’s some truth to the typical men/women stereotypes. Like Prof. Steve Peters mentions, “whether it works better is another matter”, but it sheds some insight on the physiological differences between them.

Why we get Nervous!

Anxiety typically occurs when you don’t make a decision.

Chapter 2. Th Divided Planet)

From an evolutionary perspective, it is nature ‘s way to tell us to make a decision because it feels like we are under threat. When we are anxious, it is usually our body’s way of telling us to make a decision. I found this so useful because I do get really get nervous sometimes- especially when I have to speak in front of a large crowd at work. And when I do get nervous, it has a physical effect on me- my heart beats really fast and I start getting read.

Knowing why my body reacts this way in certain situations has helped me a little bit in trying to calm down. Now that I know such feelings arise because of uncertainty, I can try convince myself of the facts and that it’s probably not a big deal. A reassuring and fake-it-till-you-make-it stance has helped me in my more anxious moments. 

I really enjoyed reading ‘The Chimp Paradox’, because I’ve always been into learning about how our minds work. As much as I try to keep open-minded all the time, I would say that I definitely have a strong Chimp. I often get emotional in certain situations and sometimes act in ways that I’ll regret later. We all do it. But after reading this, I definitely have a better understanding of my more irrational emotions and feelings. More importantly, I know how I can manage such emotions I can make better decisions.

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