Life can be hard, you already know that! Things often happen to us which we are unfair and which we feel we have no control over, leaving us stressed, anxious and powerless. Trust me, I know what it is like to feel out of control, powerless and battling against my own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I spent the best part of a decade struggling to understand my mind and cope with what life was throwing at me, leaving me highly influenced by people and my environments. This was not a good place to be and left me highly anxious, stressed and insecure. But you can regain control AND there is something you CAN do, you just don’t have the understanding and tools…..yet! Our mind is a complicated and powerful machine, but once mastered it gives us endless opportunities and resilience to stay strong against challenges in our personal and professional lives.
How does my brain work?
1. The Human- frontal (you), is mainly based in the frontal lobe, is associated with logical thinking and works with facts and truth.
2. The Chimp- limbic, mainly based in the limbic system, is an independent emotional thinking machine and works with feelings and impressions.
3. The Computer- parietal, spread throughout the brain, is a storage area for programmed thoughts and behaviors. The Human and the Chimp can
both put information into the Computer.
The Human and Chimp are two separate thinking machines that independently interpret our experiences. Either of them can take control, but they can work together.
Looking into the Human Brain
Our human brain is a much more recent evolutionary addition which developed to help us understand the world and thrive in modern day society. Characteristics of the human brain:
- Evidence-based & rational
- Gathers facts & truths before making a decision
- Self-control & discipline
- Forward thinking- thinks about consequences & long-term thinking
- Slower than the chimp & computer
Looking into the chimp brain
The chimp’s brain is adapted for living and surviving in the jungle- and this is the first main issue, it is built for the jungle NOT modern-day society. However, we still have this limbic system in our brains which is why we will never be able to escape the chimp. This limbic system is our emotional hub and is responsible for many of our negative emotions such as anxiety, stress and lack of motivation.
Chimp brain characteristics:
- Primal system for survival
- Feelings & impressions
- Rapid judgement & conclusions
- Black & white thinking
- Short term thinking with little regard to longer term consequences
- Very sensitive and paranoid
- Powerful drives- sex, territory, safety 5 x stronger than the human
The first thing we need to realize is that the chimp in us won’t change- but we are responsible for managing its behavior. The second important thing we need to realize that what our chimp is telling us is just a suggestion- an invitation to behave in a certain way- we don’t have to accept its suggestion.
Everyone has an inner Chimp. Yours can be your best friend or your worst enemy. We need to learn to live with our chimp
Who is your inner chimp?
I would like to introduce you to Bec, my inner chimp. Bec used to take control 80% of the time when I was younger, she reacted VERY quickly and impulsively to people and external events, was highly anxious and insecure. But she put on a good act and nobody ever saw that there was anything wrong!
I used to try and get rid of Bec and as a result we would battle and fight it out all the time which would leave me feeling exhausted and hopeless. And guess what? Nothing changed. Now I have learnt to manage Bec when she decides to wake up and say hello, acknowledge her and realise that she will always be a part of me! So, I would like you to have a think about:
- Who is your chimp?
- What does it look like
- How does it tend to act?
- Does it have a name?
One of the secrets to success and happiness is to learn to live with your Chimp and not get attacked by it. To do this, you need to understand how your Chimp behaves and why it thinks and acts the way that it does. You also need to understand who you are and not muddle yourself up with your Chimp.
How do we manage our chimp aka our emotions?
It is important to know that it is absolutely normal to have chimp outbursts. Remember that the chimp is 5x as strong as the human so not matter how hard we try we will NOT be able to control it with willpower. The amount of times I told myself that next time I would not let Bec take over and I wouldn’t relapse tomorrow- I was never able to stick to it. And would beat myself up even more when it happened again. Not helpful.
How to know when the chimp is in control? Ask yourself this question:
“Do I want to feel this way? Do I want to be doing what I am doing?” NO? Your chimp is hijacking you! Things to know when managing our chimp:
1. Any thoughts or action it tells us to do is only a suggestion
2. The chimp is stronger and faster than human so if you are trying to beat the chimp by willpower or speed alone you will be unsuccessful
It’s important to remember that you are not your feelings; feelings are there to give you an example of how you could react but it doesn’t mean you have to act in that way. You do not have to act on your feelings. When you understand that your feelings are just suggestions for how you can act in the situation and not what you have to do you will become unstoppable!
What happens when?
Whenever a situation or event occurs, the first thing to note is that ALL information goes to the chimp first. If there are no danger/concerns, the information gets passed onto the human and the chimp sleeps. However, any event the chimp interprets emotionally, it offers a response to the human- if this is rejected the chimp may kick off and could hijack the human.
DON’T try to control your chimp- you can’t control your chimp with willpower. Just as an actual chimp is 5x as strong as a human being, so too your inner chimp is 5x as strong as you. You can only manage your chimp with a plan!
3 strategies for managing the chimp
- Exercise – Talk a friend/outside person who will listen without interrupting and will not pass judgement. In private write down all your thoughts and feelings. DO NOT STOP until you can’t think of anymore and your mind goes blank. Let everything come out no matter how irrational it seems DO NOT interrupt the chimp, let it ramble until it gets tired. Will last roughly 10 minutes. Afterwards, let your Human select the sensible things that have been said and work out a plan from there.
- Box. Talk to the chimp with your human What are the truths here? Are there any alternative explanations for this? Gain detail- specify the chimps statements which include; everybody, never, always, nobody Gain perspective (can do this with another person): “What is the worst that could happen?” “How bad would that really be?” “If this was happening to a friend what would you tell them?”
- Distract. Countdown from 10. Focus on another activity. Notice 5-1 exercise: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can feel, and 1 thing you can taste. Reward through gaining praise or recognition or setting yourself a reward once you have achieved X.
- This takes practice- sometimes the chimp may need to be exercised or boxed multiple times for one problem
- You need to be patient- the chimp may resist at first, but it will learn Each chimp is individual- you need to work out what strategies will settle your chimp down
- There are many truths- the chimp will only settle down if they are significant to it- everyone needs to find the truths that are powerful and meaningful to your chimp
Let’s take a trip to the dentist: Let’s assume Pete is going to the dentist for a filling and he is becoming very anxious about it and its making him ill. He knows it is silly because it is only the dentist but this isn’t helping. First Pete must recognise that it is his chimp that is worrying and not him. We have a very anxious chimp who is saying; “I can’t cope, I am terrified and I don’t want to go” and a human who is saying; “I want to be calm it’s only a filling”.
- We all have an inner chimp which is a part of us
- It is normal to have chimp outbursts
- The chimp is 5x stronger than the human so we cant beat it by willpower
- The chimp only offers a suggestion to the human- we can choose to accept or reject it
- Be aware of who is in control; “do I want to be feeling X?”
- Exercise, box & distract chimp management strategies
- Each chimp is individual- you need to work out what will settle your chimp down
- Practice- sometimes the chimp may need to be exercised or boxed multiple times Need some help with your chimp? Get in touch with me and let’s talk chimp! [email protected]