Some people name their Chimps. That’s not for me. I don’t use nicknames, or name my car, so I haven’t named my Chimp. ‘Chimp’ seems perfect to me.
Frothy Chimp banana
My Chimp is male, although I am female. He’s a big boy, powerfully built, but a bit out of shape. He’s not going grey yet, and if you think you spot a grey, he will tell you that it’s blonde. Honest.
I’ve often wondered why he’s a he, or why I perceive him this way. He’s strong, confident and often aggressive, which I probably associate more as male traits. And perhaps by seeing him as a male, I feel more affectionate towards him, as I would a partner.
And it is rather like a marriage, albeit an arranged one. Dr Peters says in the The Chimp Paradox* ‘you didn’t choose your Chimp, it was given to you [at birth] and you need to accept it.’ The secret to success and happiness, therefore, is to learn to live with your Chimp and not get bitten or attacked by it. Not exactly my ideal life partner, but as divorce isn’t an option, we’d better try to live with each other.
It doesn’t mean to say that he exhibits the typical traits of a male Chimp. On the contrary, he is, in many ways, as female as they come. Dr Peters writes that male and female Humans do not differ much at all, however they are influenced by their inner Chimps. My Chimp is often anxious, worried and catastrophises some of the smallest worries. In nature, this constant awareness of potential dangers would be beneficial to a female chimp in the protection of her young. However as a woman, it is perhaps not useful to spend too much time worrying that the person who wanted the last remaining pack of organic tomatoes that I bought in the supermarket, has secretly followed me home and is going to murder me in my bed.
And yes, I know he’s not a real Chimp. He’s actually the part of my brain that’s responsible for emotional drivers. In the Chimp Management model, the Psychological Mind is made up of your Chimp, Human and Computer, located in the limbic, frontal and parietal areas of the brain respectively. Although a simplified model for understanding your mind, it is backed up by real science stuff.
Scientific studies show how blood flows between these regions depending on which area is being used. So as I’m writing this I’m quite calm and logical (Human), which I assume would show blood flowing to my frontal area, and, as using words is an automatic skill, perhaps there is also flow to my parietal area (Computer). When my Chimp is worrying about the enraged organic tomato shopper, I’m sure blood is rushing to my limbic region!
Although I can appreciate that the brain is a machine, and really I’m learning how to better manage these blood flows, the personalisation of the Chimp is one of the ways that Dr Peters’ model works so well. Giving an identifiable personality to this powerful part of the brain helps you to dissociate unwelcome behaviours from your true self. It’s then easier to view and address them impartially and to deflect the, often inevitable, self criticism.
Disassociating unpleasant behaviour is one thing, but that doesn’t mean you can step back and say ‘it wasn’t me’. As Dr Peters says in the book, although you’re not responsible for the nature of your Chimp (you were born with it), you are responsible for managing it. He gives the example of dog, you can’t change it’s nature but you are responsible for managing its behaviour.
Rather like having a pet, Chimps need caring for. The book tells us that looking after, or ‘nurturing’ your Chimp is an important step before trying to manage it. I imagine that if you had a dog that is untrained, unloved and un-exercised, you wouldn’t have to be Barbara Woodhouse to predict that it’s likely to be unhappy, potentially aggressive and highly likely to disgrace itself by leaving a steaming pile of whoopsie on someone’s carpet.
Also, a neglected dog is probably not going to thank you for suddenly starting to give it attention by trying to manage its behaviour, so I guess neither is a Chimp. A Chimp that’s well looked after, and feels that it’s needs are being met (or at least recognised) is likely to respond better to management. A poor, neglected Chimp will probably tell you exactly where you can put your chimp management, as mine did in a variety of noisy and creative ways.
My view of my Chimp has evolved over time. At first I viewed him as aggressive, often unpleasant, and he made me do things I didn’t want to do. I associated him with negative traits, and so he was a ‘problem’ to be be managed. Over time however, I’ve come to recognise more positive aspects. He’s caring, naturally happy and very inquisitive. You’ve got to love him for that.
I also realised that I could hardly blame him for his behaviour when I’d ignored most of what he needed for a long time. Of course he’d been trying to communicate with me but I’d just ignored him, poor soul.
So, how to start nurturing my Chimp? Just recognising he was there and attempting to understand him was a significant nurturing step. At first I started to work through the initial parts of the book, complimented by doing more things that made him happy. We spent a very nice Sunday reading the Chimp Paradox in a spa. A great big, fluffy-robed Chimp banana (rewarding your Chimp can be a useful way to manage him in the short-term, but probably not a long-term probably solver).
Luckily, we also did chimp management study without spending gazillions on perfumed pampering. Dr Peters advocates setting aside regular ‘development time’ to help make it a habit. On working days, I’d arrive at work and instead of going straight in, I’d pop down to the coffee shop for ten minutes over a flat white, and when I wanted to spend more time, I’d take myself to lunch, and study over a Caesar salad.
Don’t think it was all fun, fun, fun. Boy, did he give me a bad time. Stirring up all sorts of things, for days on end he would be enraged, shouting how awful I was, how I’d fail at this like I failed at everything. Gut-twisting, emotionally draining stuff. If I stopped working on it, he’d go quiet, happier with no risk to the status quo where at least he knew we’d survived for many years. Better the devil you know, he said. Ensuring our survival is the main aim of our Chimps, so he was only doing his job.
So, we are learning to appreciate each other, my Chimp and I. There’s much more to understanding your Chimp, but I will save that for other blog posts.
And as a reward for sitting quietly through writing this, I’ve promised my Chimp a walk to the coffee shop for a flat white. But I’ve told him he can’t have a cake, as it’s against our health goals. The Chimp Paradox in action? Watch this space.
*The Chimp Paradox, By Dr Steve Peters. http://www.chimpparadox.co.uk/index.php