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The Chimp, the Gorilla, the Dog and the Human

The Chimp, the Gorilla, the Dog and the Human

by Guest contributor Paul Jenkins on August 23, 2013

Recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook of The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters, and I’ve found it very interesting and useful (more of that later).

Professor Peters was the resident psychiatrist behind the unstoppable rise of Britain’s cyclists in recent years.

The book comes recommended by Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and even Ronnie O’Sullivan – and by Dave (actually now Sir David) Brailsford CBE, performance director of British cycling, general manager of Team Sky and a man who knows a thing or two about building winning teams.

The purpose of Steve Peters’ book is to help the rest of us to become happy, confident and more successful

He explains that there is a daily struggle that takes place inside us, and he offers a mind management model to help people understand how the mind works, control their emotions and manage themselves to achieve more success in their lives.

The Chimp Paradox uses a simple analogy to explain the working of the brain, which Peters sees as made up of three parts – The Chimp, The Human and The Computer

  • The Chimp is the wild, emotional part that can let rip and wreak havoc, or be a best friend, if properly managed.
  • The Human is the rational part, adapted to living in a civilised society
  • The Computer is the part that stores and applies experience and knowledge.

Steve Peters says The Chimp is five times stronger than The Human and is always the first to respond to situations.

The Chimp was raised in the jungle – a far more dangerous place than most of our towns and suburbs – and its reactions are always likely to be more extreme and based on fight or flight.

But The Chimp can be paranoid, too, seeing danger where it does not exist.

The mind management model in The Chimp Paradox gives The Human lots of tools and strategies for managing The Chimp and responding appropriately to situations

But that’s not to say that The Chimp is always bad and The Human is always good. The Chimp can only think emotionally and mostly relies on gut instinct. Sometimes The Chimp is right to trust its intuition, but The Human is ultimately responsible for managing The Chimp.

Both The Chimp and The Human refer to The Computer when they’re making decisions.

The Computer works 20 times faster than The Chimp and 100 times faster than The Human.

The Computer stores knowledge and experience and both The Chimp and The Human are quite happy to allow The Computer to make decisions on autopilot.

Running on autopilot is all about coming up with the habitual responses to regular occurrences.

Let me give you a personal example of The Chimp, The Human and The Computer in action – one that shows how managing The Chimp led me to a better outcome

I’m a creature of habit. Before I go to bed, I like to take a look at my mail. Last week a very unwelcome message arrived.

In an earlier email, I had explained to a colleague of mine that I was struggling to provide some information he wanted.

His late night reply was smouldering in my inbox: “Just how f***ing difficult can this be?”

I was tired, but my Chimp leapt straight out of his box

My Chimp was screaming some choice expletives of his own. He was urging me to hit “reply” and tell my colleague just what we thought of his email and what he could do with his job.

With instinctive energy, my Chimp dragged up a whole load of stuff from the past to throw back at him.

I told my wife about the email.

Now, if I have a Chimp, my wife has a 400 pound Gorilla

And this mighty beast is very protective of her family. Soon her Gorilla was joining my Chimp and telling me exactly how I should respond to my colleague.

I took a deep breath and my Human put my Chimp and my wife’s Gorilla firmly back in their boxes.

I said we should all go to sleep and refer to The Computer in the morning.

Another habit of mine is getting up early.

Round about 6 every morning, I take my dog for a walk. No, this is not another analogy. It’s a real live hairy dog called Dexter.

I do my best thinking when Dexter’s taking me for his morning walk across the fields

When I woke up, my Chimp was still screaming its advice about what I should do. But I managed to put him back in his box again and refer to The Computer.

The Computer reminded me of a time when I myself had been tired and a little worse for wear and I’d made the mistake of sending a late night email to my team, moaning about their performance. It was pretty explicit. But it wasn’t big and it was far from clever. Perhaps my colleague had made a similar mistake.

I knew his email was still unprofessional and unacceptable, but being reminded by The Computer of my own mistake made it a little more understandable.

The issue still had to be dealt with, but now it was being handled by my Human, not by my Chimp

When I got to my office, the top item in my inbox was a fulsome apology from my colleague. It had been a long day, it seems. He had been tired and, ahem, a little worse for wear. He said that his email was unforgivable and it would never would be repeated.

I wrote back and said his email was unacceptable, but that he was wrong on one count. It was forgivable. And forgiving it was what I was going to do.

We’ve moved on. I’m happy, my Chimp is happy and a new experience has been stored in my Computer.

If you’ve ever felt that things are out of control and you’re not getting the results you want or the life you’ve dreamed of, maybe your Chimp is in charge.

Take a look at The Chimp Paradox and learn the techniques Steve Peters can offer to gain control of your emotions and lead a happier, more successful life.


Guest contributor Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a coach, speaker and trainer who helps good, experienced people who are struggling to find work to get the job they want and deserve.

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