The Chimp Paradox

Following my review of The Hard Thing About Hard Things, I wanted to discuss The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. The book focuses on how to change your way of thinking in order to achieve greater confidence, success and general happiness. Although it can sound a bit pop science throughout, the author does have extensive qualifications across various branches of science and medicine. Along with this, he has also worked with some impressive names such as Liverpool FC and the Sky Cycling team.

What does a Chimp have to do with my mind?

Professor Peters goes about breaking this vast subject down is through a series of metaphors centering on your brain being controlled by two forces – a Human and a Chimp. Now admittedly I know some people who eschew the Human element altogether, but having read around the subject this broadly aligns with other scientific papers. Not only that, but it makes the subject a lot more accessible for the casual reader rather than diving into the biology.

The Chimp is an emotional machine that thinks independently from us. It is not good or bad, it is just a Chimp

The premise is that these two forces are in conflict for control. The Chimp plays the emotional and reactionary side of the equation, and the Human plays the thoughtful and logical side. Once this is explained in more detail, he then delves into how these can be controlled and used in more productive manners. He brings in various other metaphors to describe the different ways in which our brains are shaped, from the Moon of Confidence to even more bizarre Planet of Shadows. Each chapter builds upon the previous and layers an extra element in order to paint a full picture. Whilst the metaphors are a good idea, they feel a bit forced and tired towards the end of the book and I found myself having to flick back in order to remember what they all represent.

Don’t panic, you can train your Chimp

So did I take anything away from this? Well in short yes, a fair bit. Each chapter has a nice summary and practical exercise you can try at home, such as writing a journal of conflicts you had in the day. Various tips are scattered throughout the prose along with prompts to aid you. As I read through, I found myself thinking about how I was acting more and more in daily conversations. Did my spilt coffee really need to make me annoyed? Was that person being rude or was it my mental model of the world which was misaligned. Once you are able to identify these things, you are able to start training your Chimp. Again, he goes through various exercise about how you can re-write your mind in order to act more positively.

Make sure that your dreams excite you, as you are more likely to achieve them

The book focuses your mind and makes you question your motivations in life. What do you really enjoy and what makes you happy? What are your values and beliefs? Until you fully understand these questions and answers, it is stressed, you will struggle to achieve them. Later on, external forces are introduced such as dealing with other people and the environment around you. One particularly memorable chapter was around difficult conversations, including a full structure for how to prepare and execute on them. At times, the level of detail felt like a soft training course you would expect your employer to have you sent on. However, due to the easy writing style and use of metaphors, it all felt a lot easier to buy into.

I should be getting commission

To summarise The Chimp Paradox, I would say that it was an enjoyable and easy read which is at the very least thought provoking, and at best a set of tools to help you become a better you. I was personally recommended this book and have since been encouraging friends and family to give it a read. Amusingly, I noticed even my GP had a copy during a recent visit. And that is surely endorsement enough.