Managing your “Chimp” to make more rational decisions

Because we know emotions drive our decisions, it’s useful to find tools to help manage this. Recently a friend recommended a book written by the Sports Psychologist of Team Sky, Dr. Steve Peters. If you don’t know already, Team Sky is the winningest Pro Cycling team of the last decade.

The book is called the Chimp Paradox. It’s written to help people make good decisions by understanding that most of the decisions we all make are based on emotions, and not reason.

What I like about the book is its simplicity. In the book the author suggests we develop a skill to prevent making emotional decisions. We have a choice. How we manage our emotions affects the outcome.

He breaks down the brain into three parts: the human, the chimp, and the computer. You are the rational thinking human. The chimp is the part of you that acts emotionally. The computer is the storage device with automatic mechanisms determining who makes what decisions.

Instead of delusionally believing you can dominate your chimp it’s important to understand that instead, you are not responsible for the nature of your chimp. The chimp behaves the way it does for a reason.

But you are responsible for managing your chimp.

The agenda of your human and your chimp are not the same. This causes different behavior to fulfill the agenda. Your human and chimp have different values. It’s important to understand that certain events will trigger the chimp into action. You can’t manage your chimp unless you realize this and work to resolve it without fighting the chimp.

Your chimp is five times more powerful than your human. This means when you try to dominate your chimp you will lose. Instead you must nurture your chimp. There are three ways you can nurture your chimp to make it happy, so you can manage it. First, you can exercise the chimp; the chimp is much easier to manage after well exercised. Your chimp needs to vent but in an appropriate place and at an appropriate time (it might mean you and your chimp retreat at first). Second, you can box the chimp by feeding it facts. The chimp can learn when it sees the negative consequences of its actions. This is much easier after the chimp has exercised. Finally, you can feed your chimp bananas. Bananas allow you to pacify the chimp temporarily so you can move forward. For example, the chimp is impatient, if you want to get up earlier than the chimp likes you can challenge the chimp with a 5 second countdown to get out of bed, for example.

The point here is that you have nurture your chimp if you want to manage it. If you don’t the chimp will run the show. I find it fun to observe chimps running unmanaged … there’s been a lot of that lately.

The computer is the memory bank of your brain. Your computer stores your human and chimp memory. Historical experiences program the computer. When these experiences were negative, they create gremlins, which trigger the chimp into action (which the human would never choose). When experiences were positive, the computer creates an autopilot leading to helpful outcomes. These are based around ourselves, other people, or the world where we live.

A gremlin is often created by unsuspecting parents, in children under 8, who, when presented with a pretty drawing from school immediately put the drawing on the refrigerator after telling the child what a nice drawing. The better reaction would be to tell the child they like the drawing before putting it on the refrigerator. The gremlin is created because the child learned that their love is conditional on their performance. I am, inadvertently, guilty of having done this with my children.

There are three systems working together: human, chimp (5x faster) and computer (100x faster). The world sees what the human, chimp and computer present to them.

To manage the computer, you must detect the gremlins, stop them from getting in, and establish constructive autopilots to replace them. Dr. Peters suggests we create a “stone of life” to anchor us containing the values and truths we want to live by.

Remember, we are a combination of human, chimp, and computer. The chimp can hijack us. If we can understand others, who they are and what is their machine, we can have better relationships with them. We can then realize when the other persons’ chimp is begin presented and understand that we need to deal with their human instead of allowing our own chimps to interact with their chimps. This is never good unless the chimps have the same agenda.

This is a very brief summary of The Chimp Paradox, by Dr. Steve Peters. Support the author by purchasing the book if you would like to dive deeper.

I will write another blog on the role of persuasion and how you can use your chimp constructively to affect positive change.

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