A client recently recommended Steve Peters’ book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ to me, and I’ve been reading it for the last week or so. Dr Peters is well known as a psychologist in the sports world, working with Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Liverpool FC and many others.
The key idea of the book is to think of our minds as having three essential components – the chimp (a personalisation of the limbic brain) the human (the frontal area of the brain) and the computer (the parietal). The chimp acts and reacts emotionally, driven by the need to survive and replicate its genes; the human considers and acts logically, looking to achieve fulfilment; the computer simply stores material (both facts and patterns and automatic reactions) which the chimp and human use.
His key distinction is this: if you experience an emotion which you don’t welcome, it is the chimp playing up. So when we are angry, upset, anxious and so on, we recognise that we are dealing with a primitive drive within us. But, he says, you yourself are the human – you are the rational being you would like to be. You are not the chimp. You are a human, and it is your job to control the chimp within, much as a dog owner has to control a dog.
Of course, this is just a model – I expect the line between chimp and human is pretty grey in reality. But it is a hugely useful model. It enables us to create a dialogue within ourselves, and it empowers us to deal with the feelings and behaviours we don’t like.
So – do you want to be a chimp, or a human?