3 Lessons From ‘The Chimp Paradox’
How To Deal With Stress
We all have to deal with stress on a regular basis. Stresses, both small and large, accost us daily.
Imagine, for example, a very typical scenario.
You get paid your monthly wages. You’ve earned enough to finally get you out of debt, and now you are excited to start saving. But the next thing you know your laptop dies! You bring it to the shop and they tell you it will cost £500 to repair. That’s practically all of your excess wages! So much for starting to build your nest egg! Darn!! If only you’d been more gentle with your laptop! Fiddlesticks!!
Have you ever experienced a stressful situation like this and let it get you down? Have you ever found yourself racked with painful emotions of anger, regret, rage, or acute frustration when you suffer a setback?
Wouldn’t you prefer to be able to take stresses and strains in your stride? And to not get overly emotional when life throws you a curveball?
You can become a great deal happier, calmer, and less stressed by reading ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters.
A Simple Book on Human Psychology
Professor Steve Peters is a consultant psychiatrist for Liverpool FC and the England football team. He has written a very simple and straightforward book. But it’s a book that contains some incredibly powerful wisdom.
Initially ‘The Chimp Paradox’ seems almost too simple. It is written in extremely plain English that even a 12-year-old could understand. ‘Civilisation and Its Discontents’…. it is not!
But it is its simplicity that makes ‘The Chimp Paradox’ so impactful.
Here are 3 lessons from ‘The Chimp Paradox’.
There is a ‘Human’ and a ‘Chimp’ in Your Brain
There is a human and a chimp inside your mind. And each is vying for control.
Your ‘human’ refers to your prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your brain that allows you to be logical and rational, to make sense of the world. To judge things accurately and unemotionally.
Your ‘chimp’ refers to your limbic system and the more ancient features of your brain. The parts that chimpanzees also have. (Hell, some of these parts are so old that even lobsters have them!)
The human and the chimp are separate entities. They have different priorities, desires, and needs. You need to see this distinction. You need to recognise these two forces in your mind if you want to avoid being wracked by constant, inexplicable inner conflict.
If you can understand the inherent conflicts that arise between your chimp and your human, you can become much happier and more effective in the world.
Your chimp tends to be emotional, reactive, paranoid, defensive, scared, horny, aggressive, glutinous, jealous, illogical.
Your human tends to be creative, fearless, rational, fair-minded, understanding, motivated.
It’s tempting to think we would be better off without our inner chimp!
The Chimp is There to Keep Us Safe
But you must not deny your chimp. You must embrace your chimp. Do not rage against your chimp, or wish it wasn’t there, or attempt to punish it.
Instead, you need to manage the chimp.
Your chimp exists for good reason. You chimp is on your team! Your chimp exists to keep you safe. In the environment in which we evolved, we all needed a wild, emotionally-reactive inner chimp to take rapid action and keep us alive when danger struck.
Love your chimp. But see its limitations and the ways in which it can prevent your human from doing what your human most wants to do. The chimp will always be there. So accept it. Care for it. Listen to it.
Manage and love your chimp. Give it what it needs. Once you let your chimp have its say, fully and unreservedly, then your human can rationally find solutions to its fears.
So, ‘exercise your chimp’. This is best done by talking to someone you can trust or by writing. The idea is to get everything that you are worried about off your chest. Your chimp is emotional and worried, so let you chimp vent all its worries! Once your chimp has completely vented, it will be calmer. And this is when your human can rationally reply to the chimp’s (almost always irrational and overblown) fears.
Your chimp is there to help you. So you must support it and let it be what it is. Don’t deny your strong emotions.
The human can (and must) manage the chimp.
Everybody Else Has a Chimp in Their Mind Too!
Remembering that every person on Earth has a wild chimp in their mind allows you to be more empathetic and understanding. Whenever somebody behaves in an angry, aggressive, selfish, jealous or otherwise emotionally irresponsible way, you can know that at that moment their chimp is in charge.
This means you can have sympathy for the person. Or at least not get too offended or hurt by their chimp-ish behaviour.
Knowing about every person’s inner chimp will make you much more sympathetic, understanding, and kind – to other people, and to yourself.