March 19, 2012
Dr Steve Peters has a theory and he calls it the Chimp Paradox. As advisor to the British Cycling Team, as well as many other sports stars and senior business people, Peters has proved himself and his techniques in many areas of life. The Chimp Paradox looks at the way in which self-doubt and irrational, impulsive behaviour can have a negative impact on our personal and professional lives. Peters argues there are three elements to the psychological mind. He labels these the chimp, the human and the computer. The chimp is the area of the mind that is driven by feeling, impressions, emotional thinking and gut instincts. The chimp quickly jumps to opinions and thinks in black and white terms. It can be paranoid and its behaviour can be catastrophic, irrational and emotive. Its primary motivator is survival and it goes back to a very primitive and essential part of our human development. The human part of the mind, on the other hand, is rational, evidence-based, thinks in shades of grey and operates a balanced judgement. It is driven by self-fulfilment i.e. having a real, greater purpose in life rather than the moment-to -moment survival instinct of the chimp. The chimp has an ability to hijack us and take over our reactions to situations rendering us irrational, emotional and out of control in a way which we regret afterwards. You cannot bypass the chimp part of your nature, nor can you control it with willpower. You need to acknowledge it and have what Peters calls a “management plan” to release powerful emotions, work through them and eventually “box the chimp” i.e. put it in a place where it cannot cause destruction or damage. Running alongside these two aspects of our nature is the computer. An empty hard drive at birth, the computer is the repository of all our experience; a reference source which both the chimp and the human look to for guidance when reacting to situations. The computer is only as good as the information it contains. The computer has all our stored beliefs, some of which are positive, some negative, some deeply hard-wired and tough to change and some easier to reprogramme. Our personalities are formed, Peters argues, by a combination of the chimp, the human and the computer. Together they form who we are and how we behave.