Every now and then, a book will appear that makes you say out loud: “That makes sense.” This time, the sense in question refers to me and the book is Professor Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox.
I’d heard of Professor Peters because of his psychiatric work with the Sky Pro Cycling team, Liverpool Football Club, and sport stars such as Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
He specialises in optimising the functioning of the mind, and my mother – who clearly thought I needed it – recommended that I read his book. She’s a nurse in a specialist cancer clinic, and the “monkey book” had apparently had a big impact on some of the consultants.
Yet the joy of The Chimp Paradox lies in its clarity, funny illustrations, and the simplified way it presents neuroscience, making it an informative page-turner rather than a medical brain-bender. It’s also written in bite-sized chapters.
Professor Peters breaks the human experience down into the Psychological Mind and the Psychological Universe. The mind is an ongoing struggle between the rational “human” side of our brain, the emotional “chimp” side of our brain, and the “computer” that records our previous responses as a blueprint for future actions. The universe involves us, and everything within our experience that affects us or influences our thinking.
As the back cover says: “Your inner chimp can be your best friend or your worst enemy…this is the Chimp Paradox.” And the book is a model to help you recognise how your own mind works and to manage your emotions, and so steer you towards the happy, confident, healthy and successful person you want to be.
For me, the “Eureka!” moments came when situations were explained where I had already suspected the cause or solution. For example, I’ve always known that if I don’t sleep properly, my emotions run riot. And the book claims that if you don’t sleep enough, your brain will start sending the blood supply and all decision-making to your chimp – confirming why mine can go completely ape and sabotage everything.
Since then, I have finally had to concede that the only way I can function properly is to get seven-and-a-half hours sleep a night. I’d always thought this was very boring, but it’s extremely effective and I’m far more productive, as well as more of a joy to be around. I’m also much calmer, and the years are starting to come off my formerly furrowed brow.
After reading the book, I understood myself, and my long-suspected trigger points, even better. I have actually acquired more patience, because I manage my chimp more effectively. That said, his enthusiasm, boundless energy and inspiration now work to my advantage (I hope!). Get back in your box, Bubbles.
Professor Steve Peters has made mind management accessible, fun and effective. All his achievements – and those Olympic champions – cannot be wrong.
Prof. Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox, Vermilion, 2012