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The Chimp Paradox

Steve Peters

Brain has 3 components: Human, Chimp and Computer. The Chimp is an emotional machine, the Human is the thinker. We are aware of this - we know we are two different people, one when we are in control and thinking rationally, the other when we are out of control and acting emotionally (anger, rage, sorrow, shame, despair). In the heat of the moment, we say or do things that we later regret. We overeat or make excuses to avoid exercise even though we know it's in our best interest.

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Having a Chimp is like owning a dog. You can't be responsible for its nature, but you are responsible for managing it and keeping it well behaved. Just as you would a dog, you figure out how to control it by understanding how it behaves, and why it thinks and acts the way it does.

The Chimp acts on its gut feelings. It makes guesses and fills in detail by assumptions that are typically based on hunches, paranoid feelings or defensive thoughts. The Human tries to interpret information by searching for the facts. Then it uses logic to put the facts together and establish the truth.

This dual system is fine as long as you both agree. But if disagree, it is usually the Chimp who is most powerful and who gets control of outcome - unless you have strategies in place to stop that happening.

The Chimp will say things like "But I feel..." or "I don't feel like ...." and Human needs to counter with "It has to be done, it's not about feeling."

Chimp forms black-and-white opinions on first impressions and then seeks out info to confirm, twisting facts to fit and getting upset if challenged. This is pretty much how we act as children. Adults learn to see shades of grey.

The Chimp thinks it is still in the jungle. When under perceived threat it will Fight, Flee or Freeze. But not so useful if you're walking into a cocktail party of strangers, or having to make a speech.

Human attributes of honesty, compassion, conscience and above all, self-control. Chimps go by how they feel and what they want right now; Humans consider what they need to do, and how they will feel looking back on what they've done.

When you have feelings or thoughts or behaviors you do not want, you are being hijacked by your Chimp. If you can say "I don't want these feelings.." "I don't want to be doing this..." then you're in Chimp mode.

Can't arm-wrestle the Chimp - he is far stronger than you. If the Chimp disagrees with what your Human willpower wants, he wins. Road Rage the classic example.

To control Chimp, first have to nurture, to make him calm and happy. Then you can manage him. The Chimp protects his territory from encroachments, he needs praise and recognition to stroke his ego, Exercise your Chimp. Let him sound off when he's upset, but choose time and place - either a trusted listener, or if that isn't available, write down your angry thoughts. Sometimes it's useful to just let the Chimp ramble on and on until it gets exhausted and sick of the sound of his own whining.

The Computer is our stored programs for auto behavior to get us through the day - the routine tasks we do without thinking. Two types of programme: Goblins and Gremlins. Goblins are the things hard-wired in early on in our lives. The Fridge Door Goblin is one of the most common. Kid brings home a masterpiece from kindy and parent goes "Wow! You're so clever. I'm going to put this up for all to admire." So hard-wiring in the message that you get measured by your achievement, and that depends on what others think of you.

Gremlins tend to be habits like over-eating, binge-drinking, self-criticism, procrastination. They can be rewritten. You can replace them with Autopilots by replaying situations where you felt negative emotions, and then create an alternative, positive script for the next time you are in that situation. For instance, you might find yourself getting angry who hasn't done something you expected of them. Instead of letting your chimp off it's leash, you can ask yourself 1) Is this the end of the world? (in a year's time will I still be worrying about today?) 2) Is there an alternative way I can handle this 'crisis'>

Some useful truths:

Life is not fair.

The goalposts move

There are no guarantees

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