The Chimp Paradox starts with a simple premise, that within each of us, we have an internal struggle between two sides of ourselves between our human, who determines our rational behaviour and our inner chimp, who uncontrolled, dictates our emotional responses.
Written by Professor Steve Peters, a leading psychiatrist who has decades of experience working with elite sports stars and senior executives to help them improve their performance through better managing their behaviour, this book, first published in 2012 and now over 1 million copies sold, is considered must reading for anyone who wants to an applied model to understand how they think or act as they do.
Understanding how our behaviour is influenced starts with the simple rule that when we feel threatened our inner chimp looks to takes over, where the focus of the book is to help identify this and help with both self-awareness and control as a result.
To do this to start with he introduces some practical mechanisms we can use, where the key Is to treat the chimp (your inner emotional primate) as a different person who you need to respect and behave accordingly. As an example, if your inner chimp is raging, let it ‘exercise,’ expressing its concerns, but do so in a safe place and way. This segment of the book is full of useful insights to help us overall with this.
The next part of the book introduces us to the idea of our inner computer. The best way of understanding this is that over time we learn behaviour programmatically, where as a result, in certain instances which we are programmed in, our response is a default. Key to this is understanding that both positive and negative behaviours can be learned programmatically.
Positive behaviours which have been learned programmatically, he refers to operating on auto-pilot, where negative programmatic behaviours are described as either goblins or gremlins. An example of a programmatic autopilot would be riding a bike or being staying calm when something goes wrong.
In contrast, goblins and gremlins are unhelpful or destructive, where the distinction is mainly about the age the behaviour is learned. Goblins are typically formed at an early age, so are hard-wired into the computer, whereas gremlins are soft-wired, so can be removed. Even then, either way, once detected, these negative behaviours can be managed.
Another key insight the book gives is when it analyses our behaviour within the context of groups and why our inner human and chimp look to engage with people around us differently. Our inner human is fundamentally logical and rational, so engages widely whereas our inner chimp sees threats everywhere, so instead looks to have a troop or tribe to be a part of. With this, the troop then has the ability to influence our behaviour, where we then have to manage this, to avoid gremlins being written into our computer.
Indeed, the whole book is full of insights and well worth reading. He spends a lot of time outlining causes of stress, how they influence our behaviour and what we can do to reverse this, both in terms of causes and the symptoms of it. However, the final chapters are my favourites as he outlines a roadmap for how we need to manage ourselves emotionally and engage with others in order to maximise our success and happiness.
This is truly a must-read book.