Earlier this week I finished reading The Chimp Paradox, so naturally here’s everything that I learnt. Actually, it was just mainly this one concept — here’s all about it.
You may recall id, ego, and super-ego as the three key components involved in the psychic model as defined by Sigmund Freud. That’s exactly what The Chimp Paradox is all about — essentially our human brain contains two opposing centres for thought/action: the Chimp and the Human. Their roles:
- The Chimp (id) — takes actions impulsively.
- The Human (ego & super-ego) — takes actions logically and is able to reason.
Medically, the Chimp is your limbic system whilst the Human is referring to your prefrontal cortex.
I want to be clear and say that the Chimp is not a negative entity, and truthfully chimpanzees in real-life are incredibly smart animals. There are just some primordial traits to the chimpanzee that helps to narrate this concept.
The Chimp is an emotional machine that will hijack you, if you allow it to. It is not good or bad: it is a Chimp. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. This is The Chimp Paradox.
So basically, you have this wild animal romping around inside your brain. It is impulsive, does what it wants, and lacks insight. Everyone has one, it’s your limbic system. It allows you to make rapid decisions in emergency situations, such as flight or fight reactions, which makes it great. But it also sometimes makes you act irrationally e.g. lashing out unnecessarily or over-indulging.
Your job is to control your inner Chimp. This isn’t easy and cannot be accomplished overnight. Some people naturally have better control than others — that’s multifactorial. Maybe your genetics helped, maybe your upbringing shaped you. But, we can all work on our current baseline. That’s where the Human comes into play.
Part of the problem is that most people don’t realise that the Chimp is merely making an offer and not a command. You do not have to follow your emotions; you have a choice.
The Human, or the prefrontal cortex, is logical as much as you train it. The Human learns from past experiences and education. It is the rational component able to make decisions that are morally and ethically acceptable within society, unlike the Chimp. So, it is up to the Human to take control of the Chimp.
The problem: the Chimp is 5x stronger than the Human, so it will easily overpower any attempt to control it. The art is in (a) acknowledging the very existence of the Chimp and (b) therefore managing your impulsive, emotional Chimp. This is easier said than done but as the author, Steve Peters, describes it: the greater the time you spend reflecting on how your mind is operating, the more likely it is that you will improve your future functioning.
The One Thing I Learnt
Humans don’t always get it right and Chimps don’t always get it wrong.
In order to implement changes in your life it is important to recognise the differences between the Chimp and the Human, in terms of agendas, thinking and operating methods.
In order to make better decisions, here’s what we can do: realise the very existence of the Chimp, nourish it with insights from the Human, and then work towards removing the Chimp as the default operator. This all takes a long time and does not happen overnight.
What do you think? Let me know, hit me up on socials. 👋🏾
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