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The Chimp Paradox


August 21, 2017

I’ve never done a book review before. So please bear with me and let me tell you about this wondrous book that I have had the pleasure to listen to via Audio.

The Chimp Paradox is a simple mind model. The purpose of it is to help people get a better grip of their emotional responses to things and to behave in ways that are more under control.

If you have any interest in neuroscience, you will know that our brain structure features a set of components that some call the limbic system. Dr Steve Peter’s calls it your chimp. It is a primal system which serves to keep you alive and away from the bottom of the food chain. No chimp, no survival of the species.

We also have a frontal lobe where many executive functions have their origin. Dr Steve calls this your human. It is a more recent development which serves to help us understand and rationalise the world. No human, no civilisation.

Regrettably, the Great Architect (our creator- who/whatever form that may be) didn’t take the time to deprogram the chimp when s/he decided that we were all to be thinking creatures living in centrally heated towns and going to the opera of a weekend. Which means, mes lecteurs, that we are evil, teeth-baring, arse-wiping, chest-thumping, windscreen wiper-ripping, tree-swinging, banana-munching machines of pure unadulterated force and muscle, all wrapped up in floral dresses and sensible heels/cheap suits and shiny shoes. What could ever go wrong?!

Steve Peters argues that what goes wrong is that our chimps are constantly on patrol and looking for danger. Everything in the world that passes through our heads gets chimpspected first. The Chimp has oversight of everything. Sometimes it’s a bit dozy and lets things go; other times it’s too preoccupied with delousing itself to spot a danger and lets it through the system. But most of the time, it is on high alert and if it senses a threat, it will stand up, beat its chest and get you into hot water. If the human tries to interject, the chimp will remind it that chimps are five times stronger than a human. The end result, we end up with feelings that we don’t want and actions that we later come to regret. How do you know when the chimp is in charge? Well, says Dr P, you can ask yourself, “Do I want to feel this way? Do I want to be doing what I am doing?” If the answer is, “No. Not really,” the hands pulling the strings are simian.

We can’t get rid of the chimp. Nor should we want to. It has its function which is to keep us alive and out of danger. But we don’t want it acting like it’s in the jungle when really it’s in a staffroom or a classroom or a car or a house. Dr P tells us that while we cannot free ourselves from the monkey menace, we are still responsible for controlling it and this is within our reach.

This is where the human needs to establish awareness and appropriate systems to deal with monkey madness. Dr Peters calls this part of the mid model the computer. The computer is basically a set of strategies and programmed behaviour that helps us to control the chimp. He also sets out a number of steps that we can use to manage the chimp: we exercise it, we box it in and we reward it.

The book includes advice on how to overcome the need to be perfect; how to deal with stress; how to overcome other people’s weird inexplicable behaviour towards you; how to understand why others clearly think/know that you are an arsehole; how to enjoy challenges; how to go through life without succumbing to stress-induced breakdowns, either physically or mentally.

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