Last week I went to a thought-provoking talk by Professor Steve Peters, who is the author of the Chimp Paradox. He's a Consultant Psychiatrist who created the Chimp Model for understanding and managing the functioning of the mind.
One of the fastest speakers I've ever heard, Steve fitted in crazy amounts of information in 45 minutes about how the model works and why we are pre-trained to act in the way we do in certain situations.
A number of British sporting heroes accredit Steve for optimising their performance including Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy and Craig Bellamy. Steve is not a sports fan himself and actually said to Chris Hoy "if you want to ride in a circle for the rest of your life, it's up to you."
On a basic level (and I won't even try and explain it any further) the model sees the brain being divided into three teams:
Team 1: The human - conscious thinking, analysing being that works with facts and truth and makes deductions using logical thinking
Team 2: The chimp - independent thinking brain that is not under your control. Works with feelings and impressions and puts the information together using emotional thinking
Team 3: The computer - is at the disposal of the human and chimp to put information into it for reference. It acts as a memory and can also act as an automatic thinking and acting machine, programmed to take over if the chimp or human is asleep
This model explains why you react a certain way in certain situations. It's not how you the human would behave, but the inner chimp or computer takes over and you carry out an action based on jumping to a conclusion rather than the human side of the brain that would look for facts.
A simple example of this is you receive an email that creates an emotional response. Instead of waiting and composing a well thought out response, you immediately reply with something you later regret. Something I can imagine most of us at some point have done. The basis of this model is that it wasn't you sending the email, it was the inner chimp.
This model, however, is not a way to excuse yourself from your actions. You need to learn how to train and manage the chimp inside of you.
He then moved on to talk about how we choose to live our lives. An example he gave was that you're an old man/woman and you're on your death-bed. Your grandchild comes to ask you what they should do with their lives. Stop reading this and take a second to think what your answer would be...
Mine was exactly as he said it; it doesn't matter what you do, you just need to be happy. And are you? Or are you a hypocrite, giving other people advice that you're not actually listening to yourself. Is your inner chimp dragging you down?
Another example was that if you had a kid who got an A for effort in one subject and an E for attainment and vice versa, you'd say that they'd done better in the one they had put more effort into. We don't however apply this to our own lives. If we put lots of effort into something and don't do well we beat ourselves up, rather than actually saying, "hang on, I did my best, I did all I could have done" and giving yourself a pat on the back.
Steve gave multiple examples of when our inner chimp might come out and how the secret to a life well lived is to get the chimp and human in the same place. You have to understand that sometimes it's not you making decisions so you have to allocate time to emotional skills development and learn how to manage the chimp.
When asked by a female member of the audience what one take home could be, he said "try being your biggest fan, rather than your biggest critic" turning the tables round. He then carried on to say "if you manage that, you'll know how a man feels all the time!"
So next time you beat yourself up for something you did, give yourself a break and if all else fails just say the chimp did it!
I'm off to think of a name for mine...