Tag Archives: chimp paradox

When the chips are down…Chimps take over

I saw a man unleash his inner Chimp on two young women, and it wasn’t pretty.

Whilst walking on the coast near Bournemouth (my Chimp loves a trip to the seaside) I saw a man approach two young women walking dogs. It started off quietly enough with the man asking why they couldn’t have had their dogs on leads earlier. The women looked confused. His voice rose and went on to say that he had an eleven-year-old son and they had RUINED his son’s birthday.


Exhibit from the crime scene

It turned out that the angry man and his family had been eating fish and chips on the beach when one of the women’s dogs had run up, stuck his nose in the birthday boy’s deep fried portion, and run off again. I had much sympathy for the hungry hound. I often find the scent of chips overpoweringly alluring, but then I am from the North, so it’s practically genetic.

The woman holding the chip-sniffing pooch was now apologising profusely.

Unfortunately the man’s Chimp was well in control. This had RUINED his son’s WHOLE day…(the man’s Chimp was building up steam now)…WHY couldn’t they keep the dog on a lead? Can’t they UNDERSTAND how upset the boy was? He was in TEARS. WHY couldn’t they keep it on a lead? WHY, he shouted? And so it went on.

The woman kept saying sorry but she stood no chance.

My own Chimp’s ‘parental’ drive was now a bit agitated and decided to walk towards the group, with visions of saving the day (a bit of Chimp ego thrown in there too). By this time, a couple were also approaching, so the shouting man issued a few farewell expletives and stormed off, leaving two shaking women in his wake.

I wonder if the family see the father’s Chimp regularly? On his return, would his family feel the same way as him, or be in distress at another Angry Dad incident? (My Chimp is inquisitive with a tendency to catastrophise.)

We do have a tendency to judge someone’s behaviour at face value. Who knows if there were other factors? Maybe he hadn’t slept well (it’s very difficult to manage your Chimp if you’re sleep deprived), he’d just lost his job, his wife had left him for the milkman…etc.

I was lucky in my own childhood. We would have laughed it off and it would have gone down in the annals of family history as ‘The Day Our Chips Were Gobbled By A Dog’. Right alongside the entries for ‘When Dad Fell Off The Breakwater’ and ‘The Time We Got Norovirus In The Caravan’. (Although it wasn’t called Norovirus in the olden days, I’ve changed the words so as not to offend those with a sensitive disposition).

Now I know a little about ‘the inner Chimp’, I see Chimps everywhere and wish everyone knew about their Chimps, and the pain that an unmanaged Chimp can inflict on themselves and those around them.

I might make up some cards. On one side ‘I saw your Chimp today’, and on the other ‘you can be happy’ and a link to Dr Peters’ book*. It’s a nice positive thought to end on.

*The Chimp Paradox, By Dr Steve Peters. http://www.chimpparadox.co.uk/index.php

Meet my Chimp

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

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

Deeply Chimpressed

My Chimp and I were introduced on 10th October 2013. Although we had, it turned out, been living with each other for 42 years.

I was at a conference for marketing, HR, finance and IT types. An unlikely mix, and a fascinating study of what happens when ‘those who know how to party hard’, meet ‘they who haven’t been out for years’. So it gets messy. Oh, and there’s some interesting business stuff too.

In the second row of a velvet-upholstered lecture theatre, I was awaiting the arrival of the next keynote speaker – the man who helped Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton win their gold medals. Dr something-or-other.

My Chimp (although I didn’t know it was him then) loves meeting people, so had started up a conversation with the person next to me, extolling the virtues of a sturdy walk for the overtired conference-goer. I was also earwigging two suited gentlemen standing to my right, the first obviously one of the organisers, and the other a quietly-spoken, fellow northerner.

The latter’s soft tone of voice and calm demeanour gave no clue that in the next hour he was going to have me completely under his spell. Feeling wonder, joy, shock, nausea, but emerging with a feeling of hope so strong that I was gripped by it for many months to come. (You’ll notice my Chimp can be a tad over-dramatic).

I was about to listen to Dr Steve Peters, psychiatrist and author of The Chimp Paradox*. His model for understanding and managing your mind is based on the science of how a brain functions, but is simplified into a model that’s easy to understand, fun and accessible for anyone.

Basically we have a system of seven ‘brains’ working together, all with different jobs to do. Dr Peters’ model (which he acknowledges is a dramatic simplification) focusses on three areas of the brain – the frontal, limbic and parietal – which combine into the The Psychological Mind.

Many years ago, ostensibly to simplify things for his lackadaisical medical students (although by the impish twinkle in his eye, it’s likely also for his enjoyment), Dr Peters created the Chimp Management model to aid in the understanding of how these three brains interrelate.

So, the model comprises:

  • Your Human, residing in your frontal lobe, is the real you; calm, rational, logical
  • Your Chimp lives in the limbic region and is your emotional thinking machine, out to make sure you survive
  • The Computer is a storage repository for thoughts and behaviour and is housed in the parietal.

Although these three areas can work together, they often battle against each other, and unfortunately logic and sense don’t always prevail! Unless you manage your Chimp, Dr Peters warns, it is likely to misbehave, hijack you and make you miserable. How do you know when Chimp is in control? If you ever say or do something you later regret, that’s your Chimp. The values you want to live by, the person you want to be, or feel you are when you’re ‘on form’, is the real you – your Human.

Dr Peters spoke about his work with Ronnie O’Sullivan and Craig Bellamy, whose Chimps have been well documented on TV, often seemingly sabotaging their attempts to fulfil their ambitions. I realise that my own Chimp has been around a lot as well, I just haven’t known it was him (and yes, he’s male and I’m female).

Dr Peters invited us to read a slide that he would come back to at the end. It was headed ‘The Olympian’ and went on to ask what would you think of the Olympian who was reluctant to train, thought their failure was everyone’s fault, wasn’t focussed etc. Later in the session, Peters came back to the slide, but this time it was headed ‘The Business Professional’. The same slide content; reluctant to work, doesn’t take accountability, blames others, etc. Oh dear, this was me.

My stomach sank, and I felt sorry for my colleagues who’d had to put up with me. All the time I’d wasted ‘stewing’ over small injustices, lamenting my coworkers’ behaviours, licking my perceived wounds. When, all along, I should have been looking inward for the source of my unhappiness.

Happily, before I beat myself up too much about it, I learn that it wasn’t ‘me’ (or rather my true Human self) but it was my Chimp, just doing what he thought was best for my survival. So perhaps I’m not a useless sack of spuds after all (which of course I’d later learn was a pesky Gremlin; an unhelpful belief in my Computer).

There were many more ‘penny drop’ moments during that precious hour (and lots more since). For me, it was like Dr Peters held up a mirror and invited those of us who were willing, to look into it. I did, and saw myself with a clarity that I’d never had before, and saw my poor Chimp, much neglected over many years and truly miserable.

Luckily, with these realisations came the offer of a way to understand your mind, manage yourself better and be happy. The Chimp Paradox. I bought it. You could too.

*The Chimp Paradox, By Dr Steve Peters