The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness

The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness

by Steve Peters

A deep dive into how impulsive human behavior and niggling self-doubt can negatively affect your life. The Chimp Paradox simplifies complex concepts by using memorable analogies to help you better understand the inner workings of your mind.  The book provides simple techniques that show you how to control your irrational emotional impulses, conquer your fears, and achieve greater focus, confidence, and success in your daily life. 

Summary Notes

The psychological mind

“You didn’t choose your Chimp, it was given to you and you need to accept it. It is a living machine that is built to serve a purpose, which is to ensure the next generation. It can run your life for you, usually not very well, but it can do it! It is an extremely powerful emotional machine”

The human brain is made up of seven regions that work together. Of these seven regions, three of them combine to form your “psychological mind.” These three psychological brains are the frontal (human), limbic (chimp) and parietal (computer) brains. They’re supposed to work together, but very frequently they fight each other to gain control, with the Chimp often winning this battle.

The Chimp is your emotional brain that thinks independently, has its own personality, and makes its own decisions. The Chimp Paradox is that your Chimp can be constructive but it can also cause a lot of chaos in your life. Your Human brain is rational and it’s supposed to help you make logical decisions and manage your Chimp. However, your Chimp is much stronger than your Human.

The Computer is a storage area for your thoughts and behaviors. It’s an automatic functioning machine, and its job is to store any information sent to it by your Chimp or Human. This information then serves as a reference point when your Chimp or Human wants to decide the future. By understanding the basic functioning of your psychological mind, you have a better chance of understanding yourself.

Actions to take

Understand and manage your Chimp

“You and your Chimp typically have an uneasy relationship that frequently involves compromise and conflict. It is often a battle for power between the two of you. As the Chimp is far stronger than you are, it is wise to understand it and then nurture and manage it”

Your brain is constantly receiving information. When your Chimp receives information, it interprets it with feelings and impressions. It uses emotional thinking to figure things out and create a plan of action. On the other hand, your Human interprets information by looking for facts and truth. It relies on logical thinking when it wants to form an action plan. When your Chimp and Human interpret information differently, the Chimp takes over and has its way. When your Chimp is in control, you tend to jump to conclusions, feel paranoid, imagine the worst, or make irrational decisions.

Your Chimp acts the way it does because it has a survival agenda. All it cares about is the perpetuation of the species and self-survival, which is why its priorities include sex, self-defense, food, shelter, establishing territory, and protecting offspring. Your Human’s agenda is to achieve self-fulfillment, build societies, establish ethical institutions, and find the meaning of life. These two agendas often clash, and this can lead to bad decisions if you fail to properly manage your Chimp.

Actions to take

Understand your Computer brain

“Potentially the Computer is more powerful than the Chimp and the Human because it is the reference source that both of them look to for help and guidance”

Your Computer brain acts as a mental stabilizer and plays two fundamental roles. The first is to think and act automatically by using programmed thoughts. The second is to act as a reference source for all your beliefs and values. You are born with an empty Computer, but over time, your Human and Chimp fill it with conscious and unconscious thoughts. If it’s filled with truthful and helpful input, it can help you make good decisions. But if filled with irrational or false inputs, it will mislead you.

The Computer makes decisions four times faster than your Chimp and 20 times faster than your Human. It’s composed of four aspects: the Autopilot, Gremlins, Goblins, and the Stone of Life. The Autopilot is a constructive belief; Goblins are destructive beliefs that are difficult to remove because they occurred before age 8; Gremlins are destructive beliefs that are removable because they form after the age of 8, and the Stone of Life contains the beliefs and values you live by. Your Chimp and Human rely on these four aspects when making decisions.

Therefore, to properly manage your Computer, you need to establish constructive thoughts and behaviors. You have to identify and replace any Gremlins with Autopilots even as you prevent any more Gremlins from entering your Computer. You also need to establish clear values and beliefs that you live by. Taking care of your Computer helps you develop a positive mindset that can improve your approach to life.

Actions to take

Your mind and personality

“Remember that this is what the Chimp and Human do every time they receive information. They first check with the Computer before reacting. This will happen so quickly that you may not even be aware that it has happened”

When your Chimp and Human are relaxed, your Computer automatically runs the show as you perform your daily tasks. But when you encounter an unusual or dangerous situation, your Chimp and Human wake up and take over. The Chimp is always the quickest to deal with danger. If the danger is familiar, the Chimp hands the problem over to the Human or Computer. But if the threat is extreme and unfamiliar, and the Computer doesn’t have any information on how to deal with it, the Chimp handles it emotionally. This is the default program of your brain.

One way of interrupting this default mechanism is to get your Human to intervene. Your Human can use logic to stop your Chimp from overreacting to a perceived threat. However, this can be emotionally exhausting. A better strategy is to use your Computer to interrupt your Chimp’s emotional thinking. This is possible by pre-programming your Computer with information on how to handle threatening situations. You can visualize situations that might happen, think through them, and then decide your preferred response so that your Computer can store that data for future reference.

This complex interaction between your Chimp, Human, and Computer is what defines your personality. Your Chimp and Human have distinct personalities, and they can be either pleasant or unpleasant personalities. Your Computer simply modifies these personalities and projects whatever constructive or destructive data has been programmed into it. Your Chimp and Human derive their personalities from your genetics, upbringing, and life experiences.

But you don’t have to let your Chimp and Computer hijack your mind and define who you are. You can take action to eliminate Gremlins from your Computer and manage your Chimp so that they don’t stop you from expressing the real you. Ultimately, your real personality is defined by the person you would like to be and the traits you want to flourish within you.

Actions to take

How to relate to other people

“It is up to you whether you want to try and understand others but it would ultimately be to your advantage to do so. Think about it. If you had a cat you wouldn’t throw sticks for it to fetch and then get frustrated with the cat for not responding. Who is being foolish here?”

If you’re genuinely interested in getting the best out of your relationships, then you have to examine the way you approach them and what you understand about them. People have unique personalities and needs, and by understanding the mind of the person in front of you, you can enjoy more harmonious relationships. But if you decide to approach people with your preconceived ideas and unrealistic expectations, you’ll struggle to relate to them.

Of course, you’ll encounter some people who have beliefs and behaviors that you simply cannot accept. They may refuse to manage their behavior and you may be unable to tolerate them. In such cases, you have the right to walk away because you’re unlikely to please them and they may never like you. Sometimes that’s just how life goes. The only person you can work on changing is yourself.

Actions to take

Find your troop

“We need a balance because…it would be unreasonable not to treat everyone with respect and some Human warmth. This balance can be struck by allowing your Human to make a rule to be personable and approachable to everybody. However, accept the Chimp’s rule that not everyone is in your troop, do not become personal with everybody and thereby protect yourself from emotional harm”

Your troop is a small network of people who support, nurture and develop you. They are individuals who you trust to stand by you and protect you when your back’s against the wall. Though both your Chimp and Human need a troop, they need them for different reasons. Your Chimp needs a troop for protection and survival, and thus will do anything to fit in with a group. Unfortunately, this causes your Chimp to input Gremlins into your Computer. These include “I must please everyone” and “I must prove myself all the time.” The human, however, realizes that though it’s fun to be part of a group, you shouldn’t worry about other people’s opinions.

This difference in thinking is what creates confusion when selecting members of your troop. The Human misleads the Chimp into believing that the world is a safe place and everyone can be part of your troop. This causes your Chimp to accept all kinds of people into your social circle, some of whom are not truly supportive of you, leaving you vulnerable to attack.

Once you’ve selected the right people for your troop, you need to maintain these relationships. Understand everyone’s needs and their roles in the troop so that nobody feels like they’re not being taken care of. You also don’t want someone to feel like they’re being asked to play a role they aren’t suited for. This process may take time, so be prepared to invest the necessary resources to create a functioning troop.

Actions to take

How to communicate effectively

“As people, we mainly use words to communicate. Words can be an offer of friendship or kindness but we also know that they can be the most severe of weapons. Make no mistake, an attack by words from one person to another is exactly the same as an attack from one chimpanzee to another, using teeth and fists, and the damage can be equally as savage”

When communicating with a person, you’re either communicating in Chimp mode or Human mode. If both of you are in Chimp mode, your communication is likely to be emotionally charged, irrational, and full of attacks. If you’re both in Human mode, your communication is going to be logical and with no emotional charge. If one of you is in Chimp mode and the other is in Human mode, then the conversation is unlikely to be helpful or fruitful. This is why it’s important to establish the right basis when communicating.

One of the reasons why we fail to establish the right basis for effective communication is a lack of assertiveness. Instead of being assertive and calmly explaining what we want, we speak aggressively toward others. As a result, we awaken their Chimp and this leads to a breakdown in communication. Yet all it takes to be assertive is to tell the person what you want, what you don’t want, and how you feel.

Actions to take

Manage your stress

“When it comes to dealing with problems and responsibilities in life, it is very important to make a distinction between problems that are your responsibility and problems that are the responsibility of others. If you start taking on other people’s problems and taking responsibility for them, then expect to become stressed”

Stress is a natural and healthy response to something that requires your attention. It can be your body’s way of warning you to take action to correct something sub-optimal. When you feel stressed, it’s your Chimp that reacts first, and this usually comes in the form of fighting, feeling, or freezing. Though these reactions can save your life, they are not the ideal way of handling stress.

The ideal scenario is one where you have a stress-management plan already stored in your Computer. Thus when your Chimp looks into the Computer, it will stop in its tracks because there’s an Autopilot already running. Remember that your Computer is 4 times faster than your Chimp, and having an Autopilot on standby denies your Chimp the chance to act emotionally.

It’s one thing to deal with immediate stress, but what about chronic stress? Chronic stress is stress that you’ve been dealing with for so long that you’ve adapted to it. In this case, you have to identify the root causes of the stress and address them one by one. As you seek solutions for your chronic stress, ask yourself whether your perceptions and attitudes are the cause of the problem. If you’re not the problem, then look closely at the circumstances and the other people involved. Don’t forget to ask for help from your troop when you need it.

Actions to take

Plan your success

“Remember there are two of you planning this journey: you and your Chimp. So you must consider your Chimp when you make the plans. The Chimp will have needs of its own, such as reassurance and rewards if it is to stay on your side. If you have no interference from the Chimp then you are likely to be very successful”

When you have ambitious dreams, having a structured plan is an effective way to optimize your chances of success. But before you start developing your plan, you need to understand the difference between a dream and a goal. A dream is something that you desire but is beyond your control. There are external influences that may or may not work in your favor. A goal, however, is something that you can set and achieve because you have total control of it. Therefore, goals help increase your chances of achieving your dreams.

It’s important to make this distinction because when your brain recognizes that it doesn’t have full control of something, it activates your Chimp. This creates anxiety, and your Chimp then takes charge of your thinking and planning process. But if your brain recognizes that you have complete control, your Chimp relaxes and your Human takes over the decision-making. Therefore, don’t confuse your dreams with goals.

Actions to take

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