Taming your Inner Chimp
The Chimp Paradox – what is it?
“The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help you Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness” is a best-selling book written by Dr. Steve Peters and first published in January 2012. Dr. Peters is a psychiatrist, sport enthusiast, and now, self-development guru.
It would have been just another book in the self-help section of our local bookstore, except that it has sold over 500,000 copies in the UK alone. The Chimp Paradox expresses the mind management philosophy and model which Peters has used in all of his twenty plus years of university lectures given to medical students. Using the imagery of a Chimp, he explains in a simplified, concise but insightful way, how the brain works.
The Chimp Paradox isn’t a new psychoanalytical theory or approach, but it explains the neuroscience behind the complex working of the human brain that determines action and behaviour. Indeed, the inner Chimp sounds much like Freud’s Id. The Chimp also resembles the automatic negative thoughts described in Beck’s Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. What sets the book apart from other self-help or mind development books in the market, however, is that Peters’ model has been proven to work. Peters has worked with gold-medal sport celebrities like Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, the GB Cycling Team for the 2012 Olympics, and also the GB football team.
What’s a Chimp got to do with Success, Confidence and Happiness?
According to Peters, we all have an inner Chimp, which inhabits the limbic system of the human brain. Furthermore, Peters believes that the human brain isn’t just one brain – but six brains! These six brains all work interdependently. The turmoil and conflict we experience between our rational thoughts, our emotional reactions, and our actions are the result of two dominant parts of the brain wrestling for control over the others.
A rational human inhabits our brain. The rational human is motivated by the social agenda to get along with others. It searches out truth and facts, considers consequences, formulates plans, and uses logic to reach a conclusion. However, the rational human is roommates with a Chimp – and both are locked in combat for dominance over the other parts of our brain.
The four other parts of the brain work like apps on a smartphone or computer: they are filing systems composed of memories, learned beliefs, behaviours, values, and preferences. These apps store information and use that information to establish perceptions, make choices, and predict outcomes. Whoever controls the computer, does the thinking.
The Chimp is called a “Chimp” because it is near-human, but not quite human. It is a primitive part of who we all are and is made up of our most primitive instincts, drives and reflexes. Our inner Chimp is invariably impulsive, riddled by self-doubt and fear, and needing instant gratification and pleasure. Whenever we are faced with a choice, or with a chore or task we need to do, the Chimp chatters away with unwanted thoughts and overwhelms the rational part of us with strong almost-irresistible emotions tending towards aggression, self-preservation, or self-indulgence. It has no regard for society, rules, ethics or morals.
The inner Chimp has two basic near-uncontrollable drives for procreation and survival. It has no capacity to think long-term, no capacity for foresight, and doesn’t think about the consequences of actions. The inner Chimp interprets events using feelings and impressions. Thus, the inner Chimp is the poster figure of emotional thinking.
I see my Inner Chimp – now, what should I do with it?
We cannot get rid of the Chimp inside our heads – it is part of who we are. We must learn to recognise who the Chimp is, what it does, and acknowledge when it is the inner Chimp who is doing the thinking. We need to develop the skill of handing over control of the computer to the rational human being inside our head.
In addition, we need to take care of the Chimp; the Chimp helps us survive. It senses danger and has enormous strength to get us as far away from danger as possible, or, when unable to run away from the danger, to face it head on. However, when there is no danger, and the Chimp is allowed to rule our thinking, we self-destruct: we destroy our valued relationships by saying and doing things that we want without realising that it hurts others. It also refuses to do work and apply itself. It would rather play and enjoy itself, especially when the task at hand is bothersome. It keeps us from trying things that are new or things that involve risk even when there are benefits that outweigh the risks. Even when the logical human is in control, the Chimp often keeps a running commentary of gloom and doom.
The Chimp must be trained, tamed, and boxed at times – to keep it sabotaging our efforts to achieve success, confidence and happiness.
That, in sum, is The Chimp Paradox.