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The Chimp Paradox

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

This was one of the first books I read outside of university law textbooks and I found it fascinating. It sparked my deep interest in human psychology and gave me a better understanding of the human mind and how it functions.


About the Author

Steve is a medical doctor; he specialises in mental health and the functioning of the human mind and has dedicated his working life to helping people get the best out of themselves and to be in a good place. His current and past experiences include clinical director of Mental Health Services within the NHS at a district hospital, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist and Undergraduate Dean at Sheffield Medical School. He has spent 20 years as an examination panel member at the Royal College of Psychiatry and has been an expert advisor to World Anti-doping Agency.

The Premise of the Book

Use the Chimp Management Model to learn how to control our emotions and manage stress to reduce stress and improve mental health. According to Dr Peters, the secret to happiness, confidence and healthy relationships is to control our inner Chimp.

The Book in a Nutshell

  • The book outlines 7 areas that make up the human psyche which determines how we view and interact with the world. These 7 areas are compared to planets, revolving around the sun - when the planets are in order the sun shines brightly which represents our ideal state.

  • To explain the Chimp Paradox the book breaks down the inner mind into 3 parts:

    1. The Chimp - Controlled by our limbic lobe

    2. The Human - Controlled by our frontal lobe

    3. The Computer - Controlled by our parietal lobe

  • The aim is to understand how these separate areas function and to learn to manage them effectively to reduce tension and promote wellbeing, which allows us to live healthier and happier lives.

Key Ideas

  1. 7 Planets of the Human Psyche

    1. Planet 1 - Your psychological mind

    2. Planet 2 - Other people

    3. Planet 3 - Communication

    4. Planet 4 - Your world

    5. Planet 5 - Health

    6. Planet 6 - Success

    7. Planet 7 - Happiness

2. Your Psychological Mind

  • The Chimp

Makes decisions emotionally and irrationally because its primary aims are:

  1. Perpetuating the species - Our chimp wants to produce the next generation which means it has biological drives and instincts which influence its behaviour

  2. Self-survival - Our chimp is alert to any danger to protect itself from harm

Making decisions based on emotion can be positive or negative. Positive when you follow our "gut feeling" about a situation and it is right. However, our gut isn't always right and sometimes it can make decisions based on previous negative experiences or wrong assumptions which can result in poor outcomes.

  • The Human

Makes decisions rationally based on facts, logic or thoughts. It is a counterbalance to our Chimp which makes emotional decisions. The human has different aims than the chimp which can come into conflict:

  1. Self-fulfilment - Our human strives for continuous development and to achieve meaningful success

  2. Societal Harmony - Our human is a social creature that wants to coexist with other humans through rules and laws

  • The Computer

Responsible for automatic functions based on learned patterns. Automation is essential for proper human function. Our computer has 4 primary aims:

  1. Autopilots - These are positive beliefs or habits that guide us to act properly

  2. Goblins - These are negative beliefs or habits that are very hard to remove because they've been incorporated into our subconscious since childhood

  3. Gremlins - These are negative beliefs or habits which are easily replaced with positive autopilots

  4. Stone of Life - A record of the values and beliefs we live by that determine what we see our life's purpose to be

3. Learn to Live With Our Chimp

Rather than fighting against it as this is a biological fight we simply cannot win due to the limbic system (Chimp) power within our brain.

4. Happiness is a Choice

Make the decision to be happy, pursue it and begin celebrating our wins.

My Favourite Quotes

“Remember: you can’t use your Chimp as an excuse. If you had a dog and it bit someone, you couldn’t just say, ‘Sorry but it was the dog, not me.’ You are responsible for the dog and its actions. Likewise, you are totally responsible for your Chimp and its actions. So no excuses”
“Stress is a very individual response because we all have different things that stress us. These individual stresses are nearly always related to the way in which you perceive the situation and the beliefs that you are holding”
“The very simple question, therefore, is to begin with ‘Do I want…’ and then finish the sentence. For example: ‘Do I want these feelings?’ or ‘Do I want these thoughts?’ or ‘Do I want to be behaving this way?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then you are in Chimp mode and if the answer is ‘yes’ then you are in Human mode”

Actionable Takeaways

  1. Golden Rule

To understand people and their situations, always try to establish the facts before we make our assessment. This provides clarity to ensure our Chimp doesn't make a wrong emotional decision based on wrong assumptions or misinformation.

2. Managing Our Chimp

  • Distract our Chimp (short-term solution) - Either count to 10 before responding to a situation as it prevents the Chimp from taking hold or bargain with our Chimp by saying for example "once I've finished this essay I can watch TV".

  • Exercise and then Box the Chimp (long-term solution) - When our Chimp begins to react negatively to a situation you need to exercise it in an appropriate location. Let the Chimp unload how they feel about the situation. After they do the Chimp will tire themselves out then our Human can step in and "box" the chimp with the facts and truth to counter the emotional point of view. For example, if we are out and someone pours a drink over us. Take ourselves to one side to air our frustrations and then box our Chimp by explaining that it could have been an accident or mistake.

3. Updating Our Computer

  • Replace Gremlins with Autopilots - Start paying attention to the mind and begin to spot negative thought patterns so that we can begin to replace them with positive substitutes.

  • Prevent more Gremlins from entering the Computer - When we have experiences we need to interpret them mindfully to ensure that we are not creating negative thoughts or feelings around the situation.

Impact Statement

“Managing your emotions and thoughts is a skill. You must be willing to dedicate time to acquire emotional skills and also dedicate time to maintain them”




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