The Chimp Paradox

Have there been times in your life when you:

  • Say things thoughtlessly in the heat of the moment and regret it later?
  • Wonder why you sometimes seem to be a different person from the one you want to be?
  • Try to diet, but can’t stop eating even though you want to?
  • Really want to get fit but then quickly give up?
  • Lose your temper while driving when someone cuts you up?

How often does something wind you up to the extent that you fly into a rage, ranting and raving for a few minutes, and then leaves you wondering where on earth it all came from?

Dr Steve Peters
According to Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters, these things happen because your ‘Inner Chimp’ is out of control. Dr Peters developed a mind management model in which he attempts to explain the neuroscience behind our behaviours in simple, easily accessible terms. He is the author of a book called “The Chimp Paradox” in which he argues there are three elements to the psychological mind.
He labels these ‘The Human’ (‘the ego’), ‘The Chimp’ (‘the id’) and ‘The Computer’ (‘the super-ego’). The Chimp Model explains how the mind can be seen as three teams all working for the benefit, protection and survival of the human being, but each with their own location and agenda:

  • The Human (you), is mainly based in the frontal lobe, and is associated with logical thinking. It works with facts and truth.
  • The Chimp, mainly based in the limbic system, is an independent emotional thinking machine. It works with feelings and impressions and acts without your permission.
  • The Human and Chimp are two separate thinking machines that independently interpret our experiences in very different ways. They can work together, but either of them can take control.

The Computer is spread throughout the brain and is a storage area for programmed thoughts and behaviours you input into it.
The Human and the Chimp can both input information into the Computer and the important thing is to store helpful information on the Computer. In this model, everyone has an inner Chimp. It thinks independently from you and it is not good or bad – It is just a Chimp.
“Whenever you have feelings, thoughts or behaviours that you do not want or welcome, then you are being hijacked by your Chimp.” Dr Steve Peters
The Chimp was beating me every time!
“About 35 years ago, before I learned all the techniques I now possess regarding managing my Chimp, I was working for a radio station and my Chimp was very much in control of my actions and reactions.
I remember a couple of occasions in Newcastle where I was working in a sales team for a radio station. I literally got out of my car and squared up to someone who had cut in front of me – this happened twice!
On both occasions, it didn’t lead to an actual fight, but we were standing toe to toe shouting at each other with a full fist fight only one swear word away. As I think back to these incidents, it makes me both laugh and cringe as I realise how ridiculous we must have looked to all the people watching this scene unfold. It could have come directly from a Fawlty Towers – how ridiculous.
The Red Mist
Yet at the time I couldn’t do a thing about it. The ‘Red Mist’ came down and I was out of the car like a shot. It was only when I had got back in the car and calmed down that I realised how stupid that was and felt really ashamed of my actions.
It was quite simply the Chimp responding to the aggression of the other driver with aggression – Tit for Tat. It seemed like the obvious thing for the Chimp to do, so all the chemicals kicked off in my body and the adrenaline pumped through my muscles and I was off.
You will see this very clearly on the football field when a normally calm player will suddenly lunge with a double footed tackle, or even fight with a player. The term ‘Red Mist’ is used for this, but it should be termed ‘Chimp Mist’. It is irrational, but because the Chimp is faster and stronger than the Human, it wins every time a sudden situation occurs – unless you put autopilots in place.
The Autopilot changed everything
When I came across the Chimp Paradox I had already created an autopilot for the computer because I didn’t want to lose my temper anymore. This was especially important now that I was with Julie who is a kind and gentle lady. Without knowing about the Chimp Paradox, I decided to repeat a phrase over and over until it became ingrained in my subconscious.
The phrase I created was, ‘Stuff happens and here it is.’ Without really knowing what I was doing, I was creating an autopilot in my computer which basically said that bad things will happen every day so get ready for them.
A liberating change
So when I was cut up the next time in my car by another driver my initial reaction for a split second was to hit the horn. But this time, that feeling instantly passed and the phrase came into my head, ‘Stuff happens and here it is.’
The first time this happened I was really surprised and thought maybe it was a one off, but then it happened again and again.
This is extremely liberating, and I recommend this highly. People say I’m a nice chap, but I used to have this snap temper where I would be fine for a long time, then I would blow like a volcano – not anymore!”
Thoughts for the week:           

  1. Do you find your Chimp winning quite often?
  2. Are you frustrated when you lose it or you don’t follow through on something?
  3. This week create an Autopilot for your Chimp and repeat it over and over.
  4. This needs to be something which kicks in to stop your Chimp exploding.
  5. Work on this and see if you can reduce the times you lose your temper.

That’s it for this week have a great weekend and stay relaxed.
Warm regards


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