First published back in 2012, The Chimp Paradox by Prof. Steve Peters didn’t come on my radar until late last year, during a conversation with a counsellor about self-sabotage.
I had been talking about my uncanny ability to royally f**k things up when things were going well for me, as though some part of me was unable to accept happiness and would go pounding on the SELF-DESTRUCT button at the first sign of a normal, successful life.
The counsellor mentioned the phrase ‘taming the chimp’ (I may have misheard him actually saying ‘training the chimp), but he didn’t care to elaborate on it.
Still, it was a phrase that stuck with me, as it seemed to perfectly sum up my predicament:
It was as though there was a logical, motivated, ambitious part of me that would work hard and try to build a successful life for myself, and then this mischievous little chimp, also very much a part of me, that would follow me around and screw everything up.
If I could somehow ‘tame’ (or ‘train’) that chimp, get it under control, manage it, maybe I could eliminate self-sabotage from my life.
I had to know more. I had to discover how exactly I could go about dealing with this naughty little chimp that was me and yet was causing me so much grief.
So I hit Google, and I searched for “taming the chimp.”
As you may have gathered by now, that led me to read about The Chimp Paradox, an invaluable and incredibly insightful book that described my exact problem.
In fact, the back cover even tells me that this book was written just for me by asking three questions:
- Do you sabotage your own happiness and success? (YES!)
- Are you struggling to make sense of yourself? (YES!)
- Do your emotions sometimes dictate your life? (ALWAYS!)
If you answered the same way to any of those questions whilst reading this review, I highly recommend you go out and buy this book immediately.
If you’re anything like me, it will change EVERYTHING.
In its simplest terms (and trust me, I like things simple), the idea behind the book is that our minds have two dominant parts:
The Chimp and The Human.
There’s actually a lot more than that, but again, we’re going for simple here.
As I understand it, The Human is the logical, rational side of the personality. It is the side that acts calmly to situations, that doesn’t give in to every whim and distraction. The part that comes from living in a rational, civilised society with rules and hierarchies and expected behaviours.
There’s also The Chimp – the part of the personality driven by emotion and desire, the part that comes from the furthest reaches of the evolutionary chain when we all still lived in the jungle and needed to eat, mate, and hang out in a tribe.
It’s this second part – the pesky, pre-evolution, Chimp that -if not properly managed- gets people like me into trouble and goes around wantonly hitting the self-destruct button.
What Prof. Peters does here is teach us that the Chimp can’t simply be overpowered or controlled. Much like a real chimpanzee is five times more powerful than a human being, the Chimp in our minds is ultimately much stronger than the human side. To be happy, successful, and at peace (and isn’t peace always the end goal?), we must learn to nurture, nourish, and manage that chimp, to learn to live with it so that it works with us, rather than against us.
Throughout the book, the author teaches us exactly how do to do that in just about every aspect of our lives, from our relationships with others to our stressful jobs, to achieving goals and everything in between.
Some of my favourite passages include this, from Page 136:
It is always useful to remember that every person is living within his or her own world and at times it may not be a pleasant one. Finding out about the world they live in, or accepting that there may be influences on them that you are not aware of, can help to stop assumptions being made.
And this from pages 142 and 143:
What you can’t do is to impose your expectations and conditions onto someone and then say that they have a problem….Very often we ask people to be something that they cannot be or do something that they cannot do.
But that’s just a very tiny example of all the wisdom, insights, and invaluable lessons to be found in The Chimp Paradox. The book is packed full of them and, as such, is far from a one-and-done read.
To really get the most out of this book, it needs to be re-read, to be studied, practised, and re-read again.
There’s so much stuff in here, so much to try out and think about, that every read reveals something new that can really make a profound difference to the life of a constant self-sabotager like me.
This is not a book to read once and put away on your bookshelf. This is a book to keep close by as a handy manual for living.