The Chimp Paradox part 2: dealing with the unruly Chimp and developing the Human
Updated: Jan 28
Yesterday, I mentioned how our emotions, particularly anger, can have a negative effect on our mental health.
Emotion, feeling and mental health are inextricably linked - I never really hear anyone talking about this - not in an understandable way anyway! That's why books like 'The Chimp Paradox' by Professor Steve Peters are so important because they make us appreciate and (try to) understand the mastery required to manage our own minds effectively, and become happier and more balanced individuals.
Learning how to manage my emotions through books like Steve's, plus the act of reading itself (bibliotherapy) was in part responsible for my survival and recovery from severe mental illness - bizarrely not one psychiatrist in twenty years ever recommended this approach! Oh dear! 🙈
Anyway, today, I’m going to discuss some of the take-out points from the book, specifically: how to manage anger and other emotions and get your mind to work for you rather than against you.
Chimp, Human and Computer
Professor Peters’ main premise is that the psychological mind is made up of three components which are as follows:
1. You are the Human
2. Your Chimp is an emotional thinking machine
3. Your Computer is a storage area and automatic functioning machine
What is the chimp paradox?
When the brain develops in the womb it forms two different parts which then form connections and start to communicate with each other.
Unfortunately, these two ‘brains’ have independent personalities with different agendas, ways of thinking, and modes of operating, which sometimes causes problems!
These two brains can be thought of as the ‘Human’ which is you, and the ‘Chimp’ which wants to be you! Unfortunately, the Chimp works five times faster than you do (Human), and since it responds from emotion, is all too happy to oblige in irrational thinking! This is something to be acutely aware of at all times!
“The Chimp is the emotional machine that we all possess. It thinks independently from us and can make decisions. It offers thoughts and feelings that can be very constructive or very destructive; it is not good or bad, it is a Chimp. The Chimp Paradox is that it can be your best friend and your worst enemy, even at the same time.”
Understanding the Chimp
The Chimp is the thing that upsets the apple cart and often behaves impulsively and irrationally!
When two people are having an argument, both of their chimps are going into overdrive which often leads to complete mayhem!
This is why it’s often pointless trying to resolve an argument in the heat of the moment – it’s far better to walk away, calm down, manage the Chimp, and sort the problem out later.
It makes so much sense because how many times have you felt really angry about something, walked away, done something else, and then looked back and thought –
“Why was I so angry? I’m just going to let it go and move on!”
Well, it was because you were unwittingly hijacked by your Chimp!
Managing the Chimp 🙈
It is important to note that you did not choose your Chimp (it is just part of your machinery), but you are responsible for MANAGING it.
Professor Peter’s explains that the route to avoiding a hijack (and becoming a victim of rage, anger and irrationality), is by understanding the Chimp’s emotional way of thinking. He explains that:
“The Chimp does not necessarily work with facts, but it works with what it believes is the truth or with a perception of what might be the truth. It is quick to form an impression on little, if any, evidence and usually won’t give way.”
Recognising this can be the difference between an out-of-control Chimp, and a rational, composed and effective Human – it really is very important!
Three ways to managing the Chimp and developing the Human
Professor Peters identifies three ways to managing the Chimp and controlling anger which I will now briefly discuss.
Exercise the Chimp
The first method involves letting the Chimp out and allowing it to rant and scream and do whatever it wants.
Professor Peters suggests that you let it out in a ‘locked compound’ - by which he means in an appropriate place and with the right person.
The right person will recognise that it is your Chimp misbehaving and not you, and therefore won’t react to what you say, get worried, or repeat things.
When you have exercised the Chimp fully, (and only then), you can now have a word with your Human and decide how to proceed in a rational mindset.
“When the Chimp has finished exercising you will feel better and can then allow your Chimp to go to sleep while you have a conversation that is human and calm. If someone interrupts the Chimp while it is exercising, it is not likely to listen but will just get more agitated. So, if you are listening to someone else’s Chimp then wait until it has finished exercising!”
For some people this can take quite a while!
Box the Chimp
Boxing the Chimp is only possible once you have exercised it sufficiently. When it is tired it is more likely to listen to reason from the Human and be more willing to accept the truth.
“Life is not fair.”
It is important to remember that life is not fair, (something that even adults need reminding of sometimes), and that there are going to be scenarios in life that you can’t win – unfortunately, this is something that the Chimp is not very adept at!
This is an example of how the Human can be developed so that it can take some control over the unruly Chimp!
“Boxing the Chimp is therefore telling it truths that it will accept in order to calm it down.”
Feed the Chimp bananas
You can feed your emotional Chimp bananas to appease it, either as a distraction technique or as a reward.
1. Distraction banana
An example of the distraction banana would be when you are fighting with your own mind when trying to get out of bed in the morning.
The Chimp says - “I’m warm, I’m tired, just five more minutes.” And the Human says - “You’re going to be late, hurry up, I really should get up now.”
You can distract the Chimp by telling it that:
“We don’t think before we our on our feet.”
By doing this you are not allowing the Chimp and its emotions to get involved in a mental ‘tug of war’.
I used to use a similar method designed by Mel Robbins when I was ‘dying to stay alive’ with depression and mixed state called The Five Second Rule or the 5,4,3,2,1 technique.
In this exercise you count yourself down ‘5,4,3,2,1’ before getting on with whatever job you’re about to procrastinate about doing.
Sometimes (not often I have to admit!) this even allowed me the chance to do perform tasks when I was severely depressed (like make a decision between strawberry or raspberry jam when stuck with a paralysed brain in Tesco).
This was because it allowed me to crush the depression for a split second so that I could temporarily get hold of the Human again.
The agitated or irritated Chimp (or depressed brain) can sometimes be distracted through reading and/or listening to music too – it allows for the time to access the present moment and temporarily halt the over-thinking mind.
2. Reward banana
This can either be through a physical reward or a psychological one such as praise, recognition or approval from others.
Just about everyone has tried the first one which goes something like:
“Once I’ve finished this article, I will allow myself to eat that Twix.”
or in my case ...
“Go and sit in nature and get some fresh air.”
This method can be quite effective, but you can also ‘trick’ the Chimp by rewarding it with praise or recognition. For example:
Your home needs tidying but you can’t be bothered to do it, so you invite a friend over and the fact that they’re coming makes you want the praise (and avoid the embarrassment), so you immediately tidy the house up!
Take-out points to remember
1. You are always responsible for your Chimp
2. The Chimp is five times stronger than you are
3. Nurture your Chimp before you try to manage it
4. Manage your Chimp don’t try to control it
5. There are three common ways to manage your Chimp: Exercise, Box and Bananas
Once again, I feel so much better about things for having straightened that out in my mind through writing it down this morning.
However, Professor Peters needs to make an addition to his book! Don’t just exercise, box and feed the Chimp bananas – you need to journal it into reason too!
I really think everyone should learn about mind management and personal development (not necessarily psychology) and take a more serious and considered approach when it comes to studying their own minds, behaviours, and emotions - the world would be a much happier place if they did!
If you would like to read The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, then you can find it here.
I have decided that I’m going to reread the whole book over the weekend (in between being glued to the tennis of course!)
I will be having a little break for a few days now, but will be back on Monday with more take-out points, discussions and educational insights from #dyingtostayalive! I will also be starting a new series of posts by my warrior friends and survivors of mental illness who wish to share their journeys and stories too.
I’m trying to think of a name for it…. ‘Guest blog’ is dull and generic! If anyone can come up with a suggestion, I’d love to hear it!
As usual please keep sharing me and sending me any interesting articles for discussion, and don't hesitate to contact me if you or anyone you know needs help or guidance.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,