The chimp side of our brains, why and how you need to outsmart it

If somebody cuts in front of you when you are standing in a queue, you might react aggressively, or just kindly let the person know he/she should respect the queue.

Based on a study by Steve Peters, we have two different kinds of behaviours. Our brain has a rational/logical part, but also a more primitive area, called inner chimp, that makes decisions based on instincts and emotions.

Depending on which area prevails over the other, you have the two different kinds of behaviour as a reaction to situations. Our Italian character Vittorio Sgarbi is a good example of an inner-chimp-orientated reaction for example. He keeps getting invited to TV shows as it’s almost sure he’ll be confronted to somebody with different opinions. He really can’t keep his mouth shut and think rationally. You can see that from the colour of his face when he loses control, quite funny.

If you want to know more about the whole subject, Steve Peter himself wrote a book, “The chimp paradox.  The book explains lots of concepts related to this brain dichotomy.

The need to vent is OK. It’s perfectly fine to feel the need to vent. That will satisfy the inner-chimp and be back to calm and rational thinking. I’d add that is OK as long as we do that in a safe environment. Punching a cushion would be better than shouting at your beloved ones for example. Or read some book about self-control if you really want to keep calm.

The autopilot area of your brain. Our brain contains a “computer/autopilot” area, the one responsible for automatic behaviour like tying shoes. If it happened to use the ticket to open your home door, you know what that is. I did it once with the London contactless Oyster card, took more than 3 seconds to realize. I now know why.

Behaviour patterns based on thoughts. Some of those automatic patterns, called goblins, could be identified and changed. This might be too advanced and objectionable, nevertheless according to the book, if you don’t react to the person cutting you in whilst standing in the queue, that could mean you consider that person worth more than you. So, by “fixing” your thoughts, your behaviour/goblin will change. Another more interesting example of fixing a goblin is a father of an autistic son. The son uses an entire bottle of shampoo at each shower, and also ask endless questions every evening. The father fixed the behaviour by replacing shampoo bottles with small ones and imposing a rule of max 3 questions a day. And that seemed to have worked. Smarter than shouting at the son, and an example of using the right part of the brain.

Focusing on solutions, not on the problem. Focusing on solutions incentivizes the rational part of the brain, e.g. by thinking that exercise is more important, or by publicly expressing our enjoyable is to train with our workout partner, is more effective than thinking you are in a bad shape. The former will probably make you go to the gym to demonstrate what you said. Doing the latter, instead, will trigger the inner chimp, that will react by pushing you to chill out on the sofa eating ice cream. So, we need to trick our brain to outsmart the inner chimp with plans and focus on results. The author of the book is a multiple world champion, so I’d listen to him.

The inner chimp will make you unhappy. Last but not least. The inner chimp irrationally wants more all the time. More money, better relationships, better house, better job. Constantly wanting more is proven to lead to unhappiness. “Happiness is wanting what we have” is something you’ve probably read more than once.
We should write down what makes you happy, and keep that list under our eyes in order to plan those activities. Another way to outsmart this misleading monkey is celebrating achievements and victories. That will remove the focus to the next victory, and enjoy what we have achieved at the moment.


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