Managing my Chimp – Understanding and managing emotions, thinking and behaviour for children and adults.
Schools are wonderful places with a buzz of excitement and an energy that can’t be quite replicated. They are a melting pot of children, families and staff whose collective priority is the wellbeing and education of children. During the school day, we can witness a variety of emotions, thinking and behaviour from all members of our school community. Be it a parent, child or member of staff, we have all behaved or reacted in a way which was probably not appropriate to the situation, then doubted ourselves or mentally ‘beat ourselves up’ over what, invariably, was a minor matter.
My personal experiences at previous schools and at MCM have stimulated an interest in mind management models for gaining insight into the interactions, emotions and behaviour of myself and others.
One particular mind management model is the Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, who is a Psychiatrist and has worked in elite sporting environments, including the Great British Cycling Team. The model is a simple representation of our conscious mind with the intention of helping ourselves become a happy, confident, healthy and more successful person. In this blog, I am going to provide a brief summary of the Chimp Paradox model and how we can utilise it in a school environment.
The Chimp Paradox model simplifies our conscious mind into three separate parts; You (the Human), the Chimp and the Computer. The Chimp Paradox describes how all these areas work together and sometimes conflict, affecting our behaviour and emotions.
(1) You (The Human)
The Human (You) is where conscious thinking occurs and relies on facts and truth to make choices and deductions using logical thinking. In short, the Human is the ideal you and who we want to be. “The person that you want to be is the person you really are.” (Steve Peters, 2012)
(2) The Chimp
The Chimp, is an independent thinking brain that is not under our control. It works with feelings and impressions and then puts the ‘information’ together using emotional thinking. Our Chimp isn’t good or bad but it’s irrational and wants to keep us alive. The behaviour can be both a benefit and a hindrance to us, hence the Chimp Paradox.
(3) The Computer
The Computer is where automatic behaviours, beliefs and values are stored. The Human and Chimp are able to put information into it for reference and memory. These can be positive or negative automatic behaviours and reactions as they are based on our previous experiences.
In summary, the Chimp will interpret a situation through feelings, impressions and emotional thinking, resulting in a reaction which may not be suitable. Whereas, the Human will interpret a situation through facts, truth and logical thinking to plan an action or response. When decision making, it is either us or the Chimp making decisions, the Computer is a storage area of previous experiences, core beliefs and values. If the computer has automatic behaviours or reactions we do not desire, it will require reprogramming to ensure that there are new behaviours.
If the Human and Chimp agree, there is peace within the mind. However, if the Human does not agree with the Chimp this can result in the Chimp hijacking our emotions and actions due to its strength. Although, if we recognise our Chimp and have strategies to manage it, we can gain control of our thinking in a logical manner.
The Order of Decision Making
When we are experiencing a situation or trigger, the Chimp is first to interpret the information to decide if it has anything to worry about. There are three options:
- If there is an extreme danger or threat the chimp will react on impulse using either fight, flight or freeze.
- If there is no severe danger the Computer will gather information on our core beliefs, values and experiences to choose who will react to the situation.
- If there is no danger the Human will refer to the Computer and decide an action from the Human or store this information in the computer.
It is important to acknowledge we all have a ‘Chimp’ and that everyone’s Chimp differs in personality and desires. One person’s Chimp might want to react in an aggressive way as a form of revenge; however, someone else’s may react by being withdrawn. We can all recognise or remember a time where our Chimp has thought for us, such as reassuring us, had internal battles or carried out behaviours that we know at the time we do not want.
“Having a Chimp is like owning a dog. You are not responsible for the nature of the dog but you are responsible for managing it and keeping it under control”
(Steve Peters, 2012).
Example of both types of thinking
You’re driving on your way to school and another driver dangerously swerves into your lane, cutting across you in the road, almost causing an accident.
Your Chimp’s reaction
Due to its instinct to survive and protect, the Chimp hijacks the brain and acts on emotion. This allows you to become ‘fired up’ and angry. As a result, you may start to shout, scream and you might seek revenge by driving extremely close to the car flashing your lights.
For the rest of your day you are still thinking about the situation and feeling these emotions, therefore compromising your ability to be you.
After several hours of these emotions, your Chimp is now exhausted and allows your Human (you) to use logical thinking to overcome the incident.
Your Human’s reaction
The Human part of our brain uses perspective and logical thinking. For example, understanding that this was just a small mistake from the other driver or maybe the other driver was incredibly late for work, therefore they’re driving recklessly.
The Human part of our brain acknowledges an accident wasn’t caused and that reacting back in an aggressive manner or stewing over the situation for the rest of the day could have much greater consequences.
You remain calm and continue to drive safely and calmly to school without the situation impacting your day.
We do not have to follow our emotions; we have a choice and this is achieved by understanding how our Chimp thinks and behaves.
We can manage our Chimp in three ways:
- Exercise your Chimp – We exercise our chimp by releasing its emotions or opinions in an appropriate environment (not in public), this might be at home to yourself or to a loved one. It is important for this person to understand that it is your Chimp and not you! It is important that the Chimp is not interrupted as it will become more agitated. Exercising your Chimp takes approximately 10 minutes and the aim of this is to calm your Chimp to listen to reason and go to sleep.
- Box your Chimp – Address your Chimp by addressing it’s fears and concerns, use truths and facts to reason with the Chimp.
- Feed your Chimp ‘Bananas’ – This is not a very powerful way to solve problems but can be effective in certain situations. You could use:
Distraction ‘Bananas’ which doesn’t give your Chimp time to talk to you, for example, getting up in the morning straight away without time to think or act.
Reward ‘Bananas’ can also be used, by engineering situations where your chimp will get praise and recognition. For example, you’re trying to eat healthily during the week, however your Chimp wants cake. You could reward the chimp by having cake at the weekend.
How can this be used in our school community?
The Chimp Paradox can help us as individuals to understand our thought processes and why we have acted in a particular way. This understanding can also help us to understand why people behave and react in a particular way, allowing us to be more understanding of the behaviours of other people and ourselves. If you are a student, parent or member of staff, understanding this thought process will allow you to manage your emotions and understand why others react the way they do.
On a personal note, this approach to mind management has allowed me to manage my Chimp and emotions during difficult situations, but has also allowed me to be more understanding of how other people have reacted or behaved (both adults and children).
Key Take away points
- Everybody has their own Chimp!
- Remember that your Chimp is providing a suggestion, not a command.
- Acknowledge that outbursts can happen from time to time, this unwanted behaviour is not the you that you want to be.
- The Chimp is not an excuse for unwanted behaviours.
- Managing your Chimp will take time and repetition.
- You are responsible for managing your Chimp!
Mr J Hobdell | Pre-Prep Form Tutor
- Chimp Paradox website
- Optimising the Performance of the Human Mind: Steve Peters – Video
- How to Control your emotions and manage your inner chimp – Video
- My Hidden Chimp – An educational book for parents and teachers to help develop healthy habits for life.
Reference and Acknowledgment
- The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness