I’ve just finished reading the Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters which I really enjoyed and it made so much sense to me! It gave me great insights into why I behave the way I do sometimes so I would like to share my aha! moments with you in this blog!
The book explains how our brain is made up of 3 distinct systems and they are usually running in combination with each other but one system can take over as and when necessary. They are:-
- The limbic brain – the chimp
- The frontal lobe – the human
- The unconscious – the computer
The chimp resides in our limbic system which is the emotional part of our brain. It’s where our fight or flight and survival instincts reside and it’s primary function is to keep you safe and ensure the survival of the species through reproduction.
The characteristics of your chimp include:-
- It’s highly emotional and reactive and is only concerned with how thing feel emotionally
- It creates worst outcome scenarios which tend to be catastrophic in nature!
- It’s judgemental and makes a lot of assumptions based on how it feels rather than facts
- It likes to be part of a group and will tend to do anything to fit in and please the group
- It’s territorial and lives by jungle rules
- It will refuse to do things and procrastinate if they don’t feel good! It likes instant gratification!
You should definitely recognise some of those tendencies in yourself. I know I certainly do! There is no shame in it either as can’t help the way your chimp is! It’s biologically built into you but you can help to control your chimp so you don’t lash out or react in a way you will later regret, which usually happens when your chimp has taken over.
Your chimp can either be your best friend or worst enemy and that is the paradox according to the book.
The human resides in the frontal lobe and is the logical and rational part of your brain. It’s primary function is to be part of a society where everybody is equal and is treated fairly.
The characteristic of your human include:-
- It’s concerned with facts and not emotions
- It’s calm, rational and logical
- It’s compassionate
- It wants a fair, just and inclusive society
- It follows the rules of society
- It needs a purpose which will contribute to the society
Your human (or you!) can help control your chimp but you are not as strong as your chimp so it tends to be overpowered by it a lot which explains why we act in ways we don’t want to and then later wonder why we acted like that.
The computer is your unconscious mind which runs autopilots and takes in and stores input from your chimp and human. It’s where your memories, beliefs and values are held. Your human and chimp will also check with your computer to see what your beliefs are and if anything similar is stored there and create associations with it. It runs:-
- Helpful and constructive automatic beliefs and behaviours he calls ‘autopilots’
- Unhelpful and destructive automatic beliefs that he calls ‘gremlins’
- Unhelpful and destructive automatic beliefs and behaviours that are not removable that he calls ‘Goblins’.
You want to take out as many gremlins as you can and replace them with the ‘autopilots’!
domesticating your chimp
Your chimp will take over when it feels unsafe, especially when you are stretching yourself out of your comfort zone! It will do what it needs to do in order to feel safe again which is to fight, flight or freeze. You can tell if your chimp has taken over if you:-
- Have unwelcome thoughts and feelings
- Struggle to live life the way you want to
- Sabotage your own happiness and success
- Act impulsively and regret it later
- Procrastinate or can’t stick to resolutions
Understanding that you have this side of you and becoming aware when it takes over is the key to controlling it. The best way to tame your chimp instantly is to slow down your thinking and just breathe! I do yoga and the breath is really important for getting into your body and also cultivating the observer inside you.
I can tell you that when I started to notice my thoughts more through yoga, I felt like it got really noisy in my head and I had so many different voices and conflicting thoughts and wondered if that was normal – which it totally is by the way! The reality was this it wasn’t any louder, it was just that I was noticing it more. My chimp is sill there and always will be but I notice, acknowledge it and calm it down with some breathing and a whole lot of kindness towards it!
When your chimp starts chattering away and you feel anxious, bring yourself out of your head and back into the moment with some deep and full breaths and tell your chimp it will be ok! I also like to say the mantra in my mind ‘breathe in calm’ on the inhale and ‘breathe out anxiety’ on the exhale. It’s very soothing.
Talk to your chimp as you would a distressed child and don’t believe the worst case scenarios it’s telling you will happen. Ask yourself how likely they are to happen and come up with a plan of how you would handle it if it did, as this will also calm your chimp down. Keeping perspective and having a plan is key.
Above all be gentle with yourself! When you are going after the things you really want in life, your chimp will become active, want to keep you safe and start chattering away to you to stop you from doing the things that are making it feel uncomfortable but expect this. Calm it down with deep breaths or anything that quietens your mind and do the mindset work required to get those helpful beliefs on autopilot so your chimp will be happy and so will you!
Have you read the book? If so what did you think of it? I’d love to know in the comments section.