If you haven’t already read The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters then I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It's one of the best and most important books I have ever read. In in a nutshell, it's all about how humans have an 'inner chimpanzee', which explains why we sometimes behave in an irrational way, particularly when we are angry. It explains that we have a primitive part of the brain, the inner brain or 'limbic brain' which is just at the top of the spinal chord, which is our 'chimp brain' and evolved to be responsible for basic but vital behaviours such as flight or fight responses etc, which we use when we are in severe trouble and need to act immediately to save our life. And then we have the cortex which is the outer part of the brain which is what makes us 'human'. It’s responsible for complex thoughts, emotions and intelligence... but when we get angry or frightened, it is the inner chimp part of the brain which kicks in almost exclusively, which when we needed to run for our life from a predator on the plains of Africa was great, but now is often employed unnecessarily, for example when we receive an unpleasant email or we break something! Have you ever flown off the handle and and then said something you have really regretted, and then looked back and felt like it wasn’t really you?! Well you can blame your inner chimp!
So why is it important to know about your chimp? Because it might stop you behaving in a way which you later regret. For example, this morning I received an angry message from someone, which before I knew about the chimp I might have responded to immediately using some harsh tones. But as I am now aware of my chimp, I left it few hours, calmed down and employed the cortex of my brain before responding in a much more rational way. (And for those of you that don’t know I think Google might know about the chimp mentality, as they now have a undo function on gmail which means that you can undo an email for a short time after sending it!)
It’s also handy for children to know about the chimp. When I explained it to my kids it made total sense to them and we now as a family all talk about controlling our chimps and if one of us gets angry the other one will say ’put your chimp away’ and it always defuses the situation. They understand that they need to control their chimp, and helps them understand why grown ups sometimes lose their temper irrationally too! In fact the author Steve Peters, the author of The Chimp Paradox has just bought out a version for children called My Hidden Chimp... both books are currently in the top 5 in the Sunday Times Culture section!
Such a fab book! Available from all good book stores.