Book Reviews


The Chimp Paradox – The Mind Management programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness

Author: Steve Peters

Ebury Publishing, 2012
Pages 356

According to The Chimp Paradox human mind has three parts: Chimp, Human and Computer. Steve Peters explains how these three parts work together, and sometimes in conflict, to make us the person we are. Understanding how these three work and interact we can learn to better control our emotional health and improve our psychological wellbeing. It is not easy to manage this. There is a Chinese saying that the man who stays calm under pressure will have no regrets and he who doesn’t will have many. And of course getting angry is easy, showing exactly the right amount of anger, with exactly the right person at the right time, and in the right way is not easy. In situations involving anger, more often than not our Chimp takes over, pushing our human mind to regret latter.

The primary job of the Chimp is to help us survive as an individual and as a species. So  Chimp is our emotional brain, or the primitive jungle brain. It cannot be called good or bad, it is just what it is, irrational  and very powerful. In fact it is five  times more powerful than our Human.  It’s job is to help us eat, have sex for procreation, survive and protect our ego. It has instincts and does not need time to think. It wants immediate gratification and dismisses the consequences. The Chimp cannot force us to do its bidding and it cannot command us, it can only make suggestions or offers, but ultimately it is our Human that is responsible for how one acts. In order to  manage our Chimp, (and manage is the right word, because that is what we can do, we cannot control our chimp) we need to learn some techniques. There are three important steps to be taken in order. These are:  a. Exercise the Chimp, b. Box it up and c. Give it bananas (i.e. rewards and distractions). The chimp is an integral part of each person’s mind, no one can do without it, and it is more primitive than the Human and the Computer, so really human is really the intruder in the chimp’s territory,

Human is our logical brain and its job is to find fulfilment in the journey of life. It is our rational self and thinks with facts and logic, and this is the centre of our conscious thought. But it cannot fight and overcome our Chimp. Human has to make reasoned decisions, needs time for these and has to manage the chimp while doing so. It always refers back to our Computer. 

The Computer is where our automatic behaviours and our value system is stored, and it 20 times more powerful than our human. The information stored in it serves as our reference library, and acts and behaviours repeated often become ingrained as automatic functions. The a computer is programmed to think and act for us, but only with the information we have told it to use. Sometimes we can introduce “viruses” into the hard-disk of our computer, Peters calls them goblins, if they are fixed or ‘hard-wired’ and gremlins if they are ‘soft-wired’ and can be removed. Good example of gremlins are unrealistic expectations and unhelpful expectations. Within the computer  is also our ‘Stone of Life’, which is our ultimate reference point and holds all the ‘Truths of Life’, our value system and ‘Life Force’.  These are our non-negotiable truths (as we understand them) and our ultimate value systems (with which we are live by and will be willing to die for.)

Many people, in fact according to Peters,  most of us, still walk around with our jungle-mind management  even though we are now living in highly civilized societies. When Chimp is activated we become angry, and irrational but we become defensive immediately afterwards. The fact that most people do not recognize this mind split is responsible for so much of irrational behaviour and stupid and regrettable words and actions of so many otherwise perfectly reasonable, highly educated and rational individuals.

With our mind divided into three (Chimp, Human and Computer), Peters calls it the Divided planet, and this planet deals with our self and emotions. However in Peters complete model of human existence  there are another six planets which revolve around ‘the Sun’ of our Self-fulfilment.  These planets are: The divided planet, Planet of others, Planet connect, The real world, Planet of shadows and the asteroid belt, Planet success and Planet of happiness. Other than the planet connect and planet health, each planet has one or more moons which have a stabilising effect on the planet (as the person). It is beyond the scope of this short review to delve into the intricacies of this psychological Universe, but a deeper understanding of these planets and an appreciation of the stabilizing influences of their moons helps one to  reflect deeply on his own  psychological wellbeing.  
Throughout the book, there are tips for improving one’s emotional/psychological health. Learning to say “No” without feeling guilty is a very  important trait of successful people (Human dominated) and must be developed.  Successful people are proactive (always have a plan), and responsive (if the plan goes wrong for whatever reason, they respond by regrouping and immediately bring a new plan). Unsuccessful people (Chimp dominated) are reactive, and end up seeing life as a constant struggle. Chimp dominated people ignore their health eventuating in malfunctioning or dysfunctional bodies. 

We have to use our Human to plan and continue effective exercise programme. It is important to understand that our thinking is not in our human’s control during the 24-hour cycle: during the night our brain changes its functioning and the Human no longer gives any check to the Chimp. Unless you are a night-shift worker, during the hours of elven at night and seven in the morning you are in Chimp mode with emotional and irrational thinking. So be very careful in making important decisions during these hours!

This three part model of the human mind reminds me of a book I read for my psychiatry class during my medical college days. The book was I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas Harris. It was a very popular  self-help book and stayed on America’s best seller list for several years. It followed the Transactional Analysis (TA) school of thought in psychiatry which looked at the human mind as a composite of Child (C), Adult (A), and Parent (P). Now, having read and reflected upon Steve Peters model of Chimp Paradox, which deals with the Chimp, the Human and the Computer I can vaguely see where both systems overlap. I am not expert in either one of these but the similarities are so striking (at least superficially) that I could not help but think of Tom Harris’s work published in early 1970’s. 

It is also worth mentioning here that even the very original attempt at understanding the human mind by Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis) divided the human personality into  three parts: Id, Ego and Superego. Simplifying Freud’s work to the umpteenth degree, id is the instincts, ego is reality and the super ego is morality. Hence it can easily  be seen that all three models, that The Chimp Paradox (with its, Chimp, Human and Computer) of Steve Peters Transactional Analysis (with its Child, Adult and Parent) of Tom Harris and psychoanalysis (with its Id, ego and superego) of Sigmund Freud, all have the common denominator of looking and the human personality through three separate components, which act, interact, support and contradict each other.  And in each model it is necessary to fully understand how this all happens to help oneself and others to achieve optimal mental health and emotional excellence.