The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back

Book review: The Chimp Paradox

I’ve never done a book review before. Well, not since my O levels, anyway. Bear with me and let me tell you about this wondrous book that I have read. It’s the only book I have attempted to re-read for a number of years. I think I came across it thanks to Amazon’s “People who have bought books you have read also bought…” feature. Since that time, I have never been far from it and have bought untold copies of the damn thing to give to people who I thought might benefit from it. Dr Steve Peters – you owe me big time (although, to be fair, I think the debt has been repaid a thousand times over).

The Chimp Paradox is a simple mind model. The purpose of it is to help people get a better grip of their emotional responses to things and to behave in ways that are more under control. Holy crap! It’s a great book!

If you are a wannabe neuroscientist, you will know that our brain structure features a set of components that some call the limbic system. Dr Steve Peter’s calls it your chimp. It is a primal system which serves to keep you alive and away from the bottom of the food chain. No chimp, no survival of the species.

You will also know that we have a frontal lobe where many executive functions have their origin. Dr Steve calls this your human. It is a more recent development which serves to help us understand and rationalise the world. No human, no civilisation.

Regrettably, the Great Architect didn’t take the time to deprogram the chimp when s/he decided that we were all to be thinking creatures living in centrally heated towns and going to the opera of a weekend. Which means, mes lecteurs, that we are evil, teeth-baring, arse-wiping, chest-thumping, windscreen wiper-ripping, tree-swinging, banana-munching machines of pure unadulterated force and muscle, all wrapped up in floral dresses and sensible heels/cheap suits and shiny shoes. What could ever go wrong?!

Steve Peters argues that what goes wrong is that our chimps are constantly on patrol and looking for danger. Everything in the world that passes through our heads gets chimpspected first. The Chimp has oversight of everything. Sometimes it’s a bit dozy and lets things go; other times it’s too preoccupied with delousing itself to spot a danger and lets it through the system. But most of the time, it is on high alert and if it senses a threat, it will stand up, beat its chest and get you into hot water. If the human tries to interject, the chimp will remind it that chimps are five times stronger than a human. The end result, we end up with feelings that we don’t want and actions that we later come to regret. 

How do you know when the chimp is in charge? Well, says Dr P, you can ask yourself, “Do I want to feel this way? Do I want to be doing what I am doing?” If the answer is, “No. Not really,” the hands pulling the strings are simian.

We can’t get rid of the chimp. Nor should we want to. It has its function which is to keep us alive and out of danger. But we don’t want it acting like it’s in the jungle when really it’s in a staffroom or a classroom or a car or a house. Dr P tells us that while we cannot free ourselves from the monkey menace, we are still responsible for controlling it and this is within our reach.

This is where the human needs to establish awareness and appropriate systems to deal with monkey madness. Dr Peters calls this part of the mid model the computer. The computer is basically a set of strategies and programmed behaviour that helps us to control the chimp. He also sets out a number of steps that we can use to manage the chimp:  we exercise it, we box it in and we reward it. How? Buy the book, people!

The book includes advice on how to overcome the need to be perfect; how to deal with stress; how to overcome other people’s weird inexplicable behaviour towards you; how to understand why others clearly think/know that you are an arsehole; how to enjoy challenges; how to go through life without succumbing to stress-induced breakdowns, either physically or mentally.

Now…how did it help me? Let’s begin with the fact that I am a parent of three children. A working parent of three children. A working parent of three children who is employed in a stressful job. A working parent of three children who is employed in a stressful job and who is convinced that s/he is not particularly good at his/her job. And who drives. And who has a long queue of debtors, all waiting for me to pay them. And whose children turn clothes to rags within minutes of wearing them. 

I read this book and…pufff! I was able to get a different perspective of why other people were complaining about me at work. I began to understand how I could have done things differently. 

I read this book and…pufff! I was able to respond to provocative situations in a manner that allowed me to depersonalise what previously had seemed like direct attacks on my integrity.

I read this book and…pufff! I read this book and was able to get a much better understanding of what I wanted from life.

I could go on, but won’t. Here are ten nuggets that I took from this book. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who occasionally feels overcome by the challenges that life throws at you or who feels puzzled about why people treat them in undeservedly harsh ways or who occasionally lose their temper and say or do things that they later regret. It’s worth every penny!

1. Some people will like everything that you do; some people will hate everything that you do. Most people won’t really give a shit.

2. You are never presented with a stimulus that forces a behaviour. All stimuli are invitations to act in a particular manner. You can tell the inviter where to stick the invitation.

3. It’s perfectly normal to lose your temper from time to time. Be like Baden-Powell and don’t beat yourself up when it happens.

4. Always look for confirming and disconfirming evidence before you react to others. The human needs facts to ground it; the chimp prefers its own suppositions.

5. You need very, very few people in your troupe. You need to look after them.

6. When faced with frustrating moments, project yourself into the future and ask yourself how much Future You will really give a damn about what is causing the frustration. Most times we stress over the most trivial nonsense. Perspective, Picasso! Perspective!

7. Being the best you can be is not the same as being the best.

8. Guilt serves no purpose whatsoever. Abandon it, like a weak Spartan baby. Done something wrong? Apologise and try to put it right. If the other person doesn’t want to forgive you, that’s their problem, not yours. 

9. Got a problem in life? Look at these possible causes in this order: 1. You 2. The circumtances behind the situation 3. Other people. Always ask yourself, what can I do differently that might get me a more desirable outcome? Stop asking yourself, What should others be doing?

10. Look to replace the word should with the word could. This is not an inviolable rule. Sometimes it is only appropriate to think of what should happen. But we tend to make this the first (and sometimes the only) option. 

There is a lot more wisdom in this book. It’s a text that will stay by me for a long, long time to come yet. And I am going to re-read it again, starting today. If you get it yourself, I hope you’ll stop by and let me know what you thought. 

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26 Feb 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized

20 Comments »

  1. Sold!

    Comment by @sophiakhan4 | 26 Feb 2014 | Reply

  2. I am assistant to Prof Steve Peters, and also produced the graphic illustrations (with Steve) in the Chimp Paradox. Thank you for the lovely review. I was impressed with your grasp of the concepts, so I put your review under Steve’s nose to read. He is really please that the book has been of benefit, and wishes both you and your Chimp all the best.

    Comment by Jeff Battista | 27 Feb 2014 | Reply

  3. Bought!

    Comment by Carol Goodey | 27 Feb 2014 | Reply

  4. seems like an extrapolation of the basic ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response…..I have not read the book, but based on the review, my sense is that it is simply a take on how we reprogram our responses to situations that overwhelm us… as an addictions counsellor I work on this a lot with people whose default settings are ‘primitive’ and self-destructive, thus seeking strategies to create a better outcome are essential….

    Comment by DD | 01 Jun 2014 | Reply

    • I’d recommend reading the book. It presents an explanation of the more primal responses that we are afflicted by and then puts forwards suggestions for strategies that, as you say, create better outcomes.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 02 Jun 2014 | Reply

  5. What a brilliant summary of this book. I too bought it, read it, loved it, told loads of people and they did the same. I couldn’t have written such an accurate summary of it though.

    I’ll circulate this too!

    Comment by Joe | 16 Jun 2014 | Reply

  6. Reblogged this on Chimp Jim and Me and commented:

    Now seemed like as good a time as any to reblog this review of the book.

    Comment by TheSecretStoic | 19 Oct 2014 | Reply

  7. […] seen this book review hes a sports phychologist and has worked wonders for ppl Book review: The Chimp Paradox « The Secret DOS __________________ Things just happen in the right way at the right […]

    Pingback by Books on Recovery & Spirituality - Page 12 - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information | 26 Oct 2014 | Reply

  8. My husband asked me to buy this book for his Christmas gift. I have read your review and will buy it now. Thank you.

    Comment by Susan | 03 Nov 2014 | Reply

  9. Great book and remember it’s about managing your chimp, not controlling it (you can’t control it.)

    Comment by James | 14 Nov 2014 | Reply

    • Hi James, Have you tried TheReleaseEffect (TRE) I had the same problem as you and now feel quite free from my chimp after TRE, this book has also helped me fine tune the old habits that the chimp gave birth to.

      Comment by Harry Aspen | 19 Jun 2016 | Reply

  10. My chimp always wins in the end. I beat it for little periods, but that makes me so tired that I give up altogether and monkey comes back. Knowing I *could* manage it makes it worse that I can’t. Knowing that guilt is useless makes me feel more guilty about feeling guilty. Monkey has me so tired I can’t even face reading the book because it will paint vividly how stupid I am.
    I’m 40, two kids, well paid job, admired by people who don’t know me, for things I make it look like I do. But I’m in hell every day.

    Comment by Tomchimpvictim | 04 Mar 2015 | Reply

    • This is interesting, Tom. WHY does the chimp always win in the end? Have you worked on your Stone of Life? THIS is central to the Chimp model working.

      Comment by TheSecretDoS | 06 Mar 2015 | Reply

  11. REBT re-wrapped…?

    Comment by Rob Lyon | 08 Oct 2015 | Reply

    • Possibly, although I didn’t get too far into any of Ellis’s books…I get the feeling that he was probably more entertaining to listen to than to read. Although the concept of “musturbation” is pure genius!

      The Albert Ellis Institute defines REBT as “an action-oriented psychotherapy that teaches individuals to identify, challenge, and replace their self-defeating thoughts and beliefs with healthier thoughts that promote emotional well-being and goal achievement.”

      The Chimp Model certainly seems to aim at the same target. However, what I think it adds to the mix is the metaphor that develops a readily-accessible explanation of where these “self-defeating thoughts and beliefs” come from. To be honest, this is, for me, the strongest part of the book.

      The actual promotion of emotional well-bring and goal-achievement, I found less convincing and less engaging. Possibly because it seemed like it required a lot of hard work and dedication. The metaphor of the brain being a divided planet, though, this was immensely helpful to me.

      Comment by TheSecretDoS | 08 Oct 2015 | Reply

  12. That’s interesting, and I think this may be about ‘different strokes’. I actually found the planets thing really mind-boggling. I like metaphors in a lot of things but the planets thing was something I wasn’t confident about. I know a lot my patient group would not get this either, which is why I looked at this whole thing in the first place. Actually, I think REBT is not appropriate for them either, but then it states in the first instance that there may be some for whom it is not. At least Windy Dryden does anyway. What I do like though, is the chimp stuff and I think some of my patients could understand this and relate to the analogy. REBT is, by contrast, relatively dry and the humour inherent in it is lost on many of them. I’m not critical of the model but it sounds like REBT to me in many ways.

    Comment by Rob Lyon | 08 Oct 2015 | Reply

    • Yes – I agree with you here, although I think the model works just as well if you examine each area as an area (and without the need for the planet/solar system metaphor).

      I kind of get it – if all of the areas of your experience are in good order, they will allow the life-giving force of happiness/compassion/success/whatever to work, but it isn’t central to the model, as far as I am concerned.

      Comment by TheSecretDoS | 09 Oct 2015 | Reply

  13. Thanks a lot dr Peters from me and Gordon. We found really helpful in raising up our awareness n set up our different calendars, aims, actions n reactions. Ah, Gordon is my chimp n wanna say hello to everyone!

    Comment by Matteo | 30 Dec 2015 | Reply

  14. I am so pleased I have come across your review….I suffered in silence from domestic abuse for 3 years… After one incident where I suffered serious injuries I was admitted into hospital for two days.. I went into mental shutdown, I came to the point of no return (or woke up and smelt the coffee) I finally found strength not to go back..i got out of the relationship.
    But it left me with no confidence, self esteem and regrets,
    I had an emotional breakdown, recently i have been diagnosed with bipolar.. I always think that everyone is putting me down and find it hard not to over react to situations, conversations I have I think over and over, always assuming That people are being negative towards me, it’s frustrating and it would never bothered me a few years ago.. my business I worked so hard to build up has crumbled, so it’s hard for me to see any good in myself.. But I am 2 years free ,, I feel I am still at the beginning of rebuilding my life, this is because of the way I let my mind take over, now I have hope!!!! the book has be recommended by a friend, i am not really a fan of self help books, but coming across this review has got me excited to go out and buy it ASAP,
    I already feel positive. And I am looking forward to put my whirlwind mind into a steady breeze

    Comment by Middy | 31 Jan 2016 | Reply


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