Thoughts From Our Heads

Thoughts From Our Heads


How’s Your Chimp Doing?

Tuesday 28th July 2020

When you consider your "emotional self" - How can you accept what has gone on?

  • How would you like to be?
  • How would you like to think?
  • How would you like to feel?
  • How would you like to behave?
In Steven Peters widely acclaimed book the Chimp Paradox he gives us a simple and powerful way of understanding our brain and why we often have thoughts and emotions that are counter-productive to our end goals. It Is a great metaphor of explaining the way we are emotionally (chimp) and rationally (human). Peters simplifies the brain into three main components, the human, the chimp and the computer.

The chimp brain is the emotional side of your brain, it responds based on instinct and is driven often by fear; the human brain is much more level-headed and calculated and works on logic and reason, and the computer brain works as a repository for memories and pre-learned actions. You will have heard of 'fight', 'flight' and 'freeze' - these are all possible consequences when we 'react' like a chimp… rather than 'respond' like a human (more time, more consideration etc.) In the book, we see this explained as being "hijacked" by your chimp (when "they" take over) or even sabotaged (having good/rational Intentions and instead of responding emotionally…. ever broken a diet?)

Your chimp has needs and if those needs are not met or are threatened your chimp can cause you to react in unpredictable and unhelpful ways. For example, the needs of your chimp could include safety and security, love and belonging, acceptance, success and validation. Depending on the nature of your chimp and its specific needs different events can cause you to respond in different ways. If your chimp has a high need for validation and your manager ignores your recent hard work on a project this may cause your chimp to sulk and lead you to be unproductive for the rest of the day. If your chimp is looking for safety and security it may become fearful if redundancies are happening in your business and result in you being rude to colleagues or shutting off communication entirely.


Get to Know your Chimp

Who is your chimp?… What is their name?... What are they like? What are their drivers? Do you know the situations and behaviours that cause your chimp to raise its head? What makes it mad, happy and frustrated? The better you know the answers to these questions the more chance you have of managing your chimp and nurturing them. Knowing the situations that trigger your chimp is crucial because you can prepare for the moments that your chimp doesn’t like and build in more moments that make your chimp happy. The better you know yourself the more insights you will gain into your chimp. Identifying your core values is one way to accelerate this process. Once you know your values you can see where your chimp’s triggers may be. For example, if you value honesty, someone concealing information from you is a sure-fire way to trigger your chimp. If you value work-life balance, your boss asking you to stay late on a Thursday so complete non-essential work will wake your chimp up right away.

So this brings me back to the question, how is your chimp doing?

How is your chimp coping amidst a global pandemic, disruption to the workplace and schooling, travel dilemmas and financial pressures? This is peak territory for your chimp to be out of control. How do you know if your chimp is taking over? The golden rule that Peters offers is that ‘anytime you have a thought or feeling that you do not want to think or feel it belongs to your chimp and not your human’.

You are your human, not your chimp. The chimp thinks independently from you. It is not good or bad, it is just a chimp.

You are not responsible for the nature of your chimp but you are responsible for managing it.

You are the human part of your brain, the rational, reasonable person who can see both sides of a situation and is not motivated by fear and ego. Your chimp is important, it can help motivate you to act, to overcome injustice and remove yourself from a threatening situation. But it can also be unhelpful and lead you to regret behaviours later. That is why it is important to get to know your chimp and figure out how to manage it.

Manage Your Chimp

You can take steps to pro-actively manage your chimp so that it stays on the side and helps you rather than hinders you. Here are some things you can do –

1.    Know what it likes and do more of it. Does your chimp like to win, look good or socialize with others? Give your chimp opportunities to shine and it will be happier and less prone to negative outbursts.

2.    Express it safely. It is important that you don’t try to eliminate or diminish your chimp, the chimp is stronger than you and you will not win the battle. So let your chimp have its say in a safe forum. This could mean a rant to a close friend or a candid discussion with a close colleague.

3.    Meet your Values. Check-in with your values every now and again and ensure that you are living in alignment with them. If you are not, this will anger your chimp and could lead to anxiety, sadness and low motivation.

4.    Look After Yourself. Your chimp will be more prone to derail you when you are tired, hungry and sad. Make sure you pay attention to every part of your personal well-being. Get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat a good diet and do things that make you happy.

5.    Reason with Logic. Remember your chimp is emotional and your human is rational. You can talk to your chimp and reason with it. When your chimp is out of control, ask yourself questions like – Is this response reasonable? Am I considering the full situation? Are there any facts I am overlooking? What would I think of someone else thinking this way or acting this way? What is the other person side of this story? What is the outcome I want to gain here? These questions force you to slow down and engage the human part of your brain over the chimp brain and can help to calm your chimp down.

You cannot control your chimp… you can only understand It better, nurture it and then effectively manage it. We have all met people whose chimp is out of control and ends up running their life! This leads to many problems including damaged relationships, limited success at work and general frustration and unhappiness. Self-awareness, a desire to change and personal development will ensure this doesn’t become your destiny.


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