Chimp or Human?

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?

Learned Optimism

Have you ever given up?

What makes a person resilient?  Why does one person buckle under a challenge, and another find the resources within to push through to a successful conclusion?

In his book, Learned Optimism’, Martin Seligman gives us at least part of the answer: it’s down to the way we explain success and failure.  There are two explanatory styles.  The pessimistic style looks at the event – let’s say the failure to hit a particular sales target – and says one of three things –

  • I’ll never be able to do this
  • I’m not good at this sort of thing
  • It’s my fault

In other words, the pessimist assumptions are that a failure is permanent; that it affects a whole larger area of life, and that she (and she alone) is responsible for this failure.  Likewise, when a pessimist succeeds against the odds, he’ll probably end up saying something like:

  • I’ll never be able to do that again
  • That was a fluke
  • I got lucky

These kinds of reaction are common enough – we’ve probably all said at least two or three of these six statements.  But contrast them with the reactions of an optimist to failure:

  • I failed this time – I wonder what this teaches me?
  • I can do lots of similar things- I wonder why not this?
  • There are loads of reasons why: it wasn’t all my fault

And to success:

  • How can I find an opportunity to do this again?
  • I worked for that
  • I know what I did to make this happen

The key thing is the effect that explanatory style has on us.  It doesn’t take a huge leap to realise that the pessimistic style can stop us even trying, and the optimistic one encourages confidence.

Optimism isn’t like extraversion – it’s not inborn, it’s learned.  And we can learn it, no matter how pessimistic our explanatory style.

Sell Your Self

We are all in selling now.

‘Always Be Closing’ – as Dan Pink explains in his thought-provoking book ‘To Sell is Human’, a generation of salesmen and women were taught this mantra.  Always Be Closing – in other words, everything you do and say in a conversation with a customer or client should be pushing towards the Close, the clinching of the sale, when the money changes hands.  That is the defining moment of the sales person’s life and work.  After that, the salesman can walk away in the knowledge of a job well done, with an assurance that his commission has been earned.

No wonder selling has had such a bad press.  As Pink points out, such a model of selling could only succeed in an age when the saleswoman could occupy the place of expert – only she had the product, or information about it, and selling was therefore a challenge to show the customer the necessity of parting with her cash to purchase this product (and this one only).  But we’re in a new age, when we can google the details of most products and services, and we can all be experts.  What has become of the salesman?

Pink shows that the salesperson hasn’t gone away.  In fact we are all salesmen and women.  ‘Selling’ in the traditional sense of persuading a person to part with hard-earned income for a product you or your company has created, has now been replaced with the much bigger and all-pervasive need to ‘move’ other people to make decisions.

The teacher has to move the recalcitrant student to complete his Film Studies coursework; the doctor must move the patient to change her lifestyle; the minister must move that nice man on the PCC to become  churchwarden; and yes, the marketing manager or the salesman must move his clients to give his company’s product a try.  We are all in selling in this sense – even in families, when we long to move our children to tidy their rooms or empty the dishwasher.

So in place of Always Be Closing, Pink offers us a new ABC – attunement, buoyancy and clarity.  Attunement: we make a relationship with the person, understand what will move her; we are so attuned, in fact, that we won’t sell her what is actually wrong for her.  Buoyancy: we develop resilience, so that when we fail to move someone we are not destroyed by the experience; we learn to value ourselves and whatever it is we are offering sufficiently, independent of our success in moving others.  Clarity: we ask questions to discover what it is that the person we are talking to actually does want, and how we (or someone else) may be able to meet his needs.

What are you selling?  A vision of the future of your firm, to your staff?  The need to keep on top of school work, to a student?  A product or service you provide?  A new way of looking at your marriage, to your partner?  A great new interest you have discovered, to a friend?  The value of reading a particular book, to a client, or reader?

We are all in selling, and it’s not about the Close, it’s about the relationship and the process.  How can you focus on those this week?

10 Top Tips about Extraverts

1 – sometimes we prefer to be introverts.  When you see us organizing facts, savouring experiences, developing ourselves, thinking stuff through, dreaming dreams – we are working in the inside world, and that’s introversion

2 – the most important thing about us is usually something we show you quite quickly.  Because we prefer the outer world, you can often see what makes us tick.  That can be confusing if you think that the inner world is more important

3 – conversely, there are things you don’t see which are also important to us.  Just because we prefer the outer world doesn’t mean we don’t have a rich inner life

4 – you won’t get the best out of us if you don’t engage with us in the moment.  We love to know what you think and/or feel – don’t hold back!  We can take it…

5 – when we’re noisy, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re hassling you.  We may just be trying to discover what we think by talking.  And we expect you to come right back at us – we won’t (usually!) be offended

6 – we like introverts.  We appreciate your depth, and want to find out what’s in it; although sometimes we may need you to be a bit quicker to tell us

7 – we sometimes feel worried about being extraverts.  Are we too noisy?  Did we say that out loud?  They’re not saying anything – did I upset them?

8 – we don’t think we’re better than introverts.  But we do know that sometimes you need what we have, and we want you to appreciate our contribution

9 – too much time on our own depletes our energy.  We need time to think (well, most of us do) but we gain hugely from being with others and getting their input

10 – once you get really close to us, you may be surprised at how hidden our deep places are.  But we need you to listen carefully to all that we say and understand that some of it is really personal and important to us

10 Top Tips about Introverts

1 – sometimes we prefer to be extraverts.  When you see us gathering facts, having experiences, making relationships, making plans, talking about possibilities – we are working in the outside world, and that’s extraversion

2 – the most important thing about us is usually hidden from you to start with.  Because we prefer the inner world, you may not be able to see what makes us tick.  That can be confusing if you think the outer world is more important

3 – conversely, the thing you see first might not be that important to us.  Because we prefer the inner world, what we do in the outer one usually matters less to us in the end

4 – you won’t get the best out of us if you don’t give us time to think and process information.  It doesn’t need to be long – just a few seconds silence might be enough.  Tell us clearly when you need the response by and you’ll get it

5 – when we’re quiet, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re holding out on you.  We may just be trying to find the space to understand what we think.  Or we may be a bit worried about how you’ll react to what we want to say

6 – we like extraverts.  We appreciate your energy, and feed off it; although sometimes we may need it in smaller doses

7 – we sometimes feel guilty about being introverts.  In a world in which the media presents human beings as essentially extravert (partying, paragliding and falling in love), it sometimes seems wrong to be ‘us’ (reading, looking at the view, being on our own)

8 – we don’t think we’re better than extraverts.  But we do know that sometimes you need what we have, and we want you to ask for our contribution

9 – too much people stuff tires us out.  We like people (well, most of us do) but to regain a sense of balance and to really be able to contribute well we need to retreat afterwards

10 – once we’ve let you into our world, you may be surprised at how open (and extravert) we can be with you.  But it takes time and trust to let you in