(Drawing on the book The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters)
Last time we talked about being at your absolute best and getting ‘in the zone of flow’. I talk about this a lot with clients and the point is we can’t be at our best all the time; we wouldn’t be human.If you want to know what gets in the way of being on top form the simple answer is ‘life’, certainly life in the kitchen! You might well ask yourself ‘why do I react in a way that takes me out of the Zone?’
You may remember from the Olympics top cyclists like Sir Chris Hoy referring on TV to managing his chimp! Here’s what he meant (after talking to Steve Peters).
There are three key elements to our human brains that I will refer to although Peters goes on to add a few more later in his book.
As humans we were all born with a human inside us and the good news is that this human is the kind of person you aspire to be right now; it has all the potential you could hope for.The thing is, as a human you also inherited your very own chimpanzee which is also a fundamental part of all of us. They both have your best interests at heart but have different roles to play. They both think and react in the present moment, focused on the here and now. However, the chimp reacts very rapidly and processes information based on emotional responses, whilst your human uses facts and logic but therefore takes longer to process the same information.
The third element you have is an enormously powerful computer which will store information from the past so the human and chimp can access this to take account of any lessons they learned in the past that are relevant to what’s happening now.
When something happens (e.g. someone criticises your work) your chimp will almost always process the information first and fastest; waking up to assess any threat and ‘kicking off’ in the way chimps do! Meanwhile your human will be processing the same incoming using facts and logic to make sense of it before deciding what to do.Both will look into the computer to see what they’ve put in there in the past that form rules of how to react. but the chimp usually puts in Gremlins in the form of rules like “all criticism is an attempt to score points off you!” – which of course affects the way it reacts now.
Your human slowly counteracts these Gremlins with rules of its own, based remember, on logic and facts, which are called Autopilots. In this case it might read something like, “even criticism can be useful feedback”.
Now it must be said your chimp is neither good nor bad – it’s just being a chimp and your human is tasked with managing this chimp, because let’s face it, reacting fast on intuition can be very useful at times when there really is a threat. Also when you need sheer grit and determination chimps can be really stubborn!
So a couple of guidelines on managing your chimp:
- Chimps are 5 times stronger than humans so the rule is ‘never arm wrestle your chimp – you’ll lose’!
- Chimps need exercise to burn energy or let off steam and this is best done in a safe environment (like with a trusted friend or my office!). NEVER exercise your chimp at the office – it can cause all sorts of damage!
Its always best to manage your chimp when appropriate by giving it bananas as rewards. The bananas can be used to distract them before they have time to kick off – like forming an automatic routine to listen to criticism, walk away and only decide on its validity when you’ve asked a 3rd party. (You can work on whatever distraction banana manages your chimp).
Another banana might be offered as a reward such as “let’s get though this meeting without one negative comment and then I’ll let you kick off about it all when I phone Mike / trusted friend”.
So there you are: I bet you never thought of using metaphorical bananas at the office before!