Don’t Feed the Chimp

The brain is a wicked complicated crazy mess. One minute I am completely rational. The next minute irrational as all can be. Composed the next. Triggered several minutes after that. Learning how to keep cool is an incredible feat. Especially with pressure of the unknown around us right now. That chimp though in my head, he loves to play on my EQ.

We have a chimp like part of our brain that makes us not to far removed from the very animal it’s meant to draw the comparison with. Our chimp like aspects about our brains are very emotionally driven making us behave in ways that catch us off guard or unaware. Very reactive in nature. Action first, think about consequences later. The chimp has us behave in ways we might otherwise completely avoid.

Scientifically speaking there are two sides to our brains. The first is what we’ll call the more human side that moves or is activated by rational thinking. The other half is our inner chimp. Primitive and irrational. Very reactive with processing input. Of course they come into contact with one another frequently. Especially when there is a challenge or pressure being applied. With no trained awareness to the chimp taking us over, we can easily get into irrational fights. We have to learn how to manage the chimp.

I have learned in mindfulness practice trigger reflection or pauses. Over a couple of years into the practice I do breathing exercises when I start to feel the chimp taking over. Even a 60 second pause can help me get back in control of rational thinking before the irrational chimp takes over. Once you feel emotions bubbling up and are aware the chimp is about to rage, ask yourself, “Is this useful”? If it’s not, it’s not something to rage over. It if is, tap into the chimp to push through, but just enough so as not to come off as irrational.

As the Chimp within us is more powerful, it is more likely that the Chimp will speak before the Human gets a chance to take control.”

– Steve Peters

Some examples:

  • I believe this guy has 30 rolls of toilet paper in his cart to buy! I don’t have any! AHHHHHHH! “Shawn, is this useful?” No, actually its not going to make more toilet paper fall from the sky. Even if I did yell and rage on this guy, I still won’t have any toilet paper. Guess I’ll move on.
  • I have one more mile to run and I am completely spent. I can’t do it! “Shawn, is this useful.” Yes, it is. If I quit I won’t finish the race and hit a PR (personal record) or get my finishing medal. I got this! Let’s rage on! Time to get bananas on this last mile!

Learning to calm down the chimp in yourself will become easier the more you understand when the chimp has control and when it doesn’t. It’s even harder to help others control their inner chimp. Humans do not share identical minds, they are all different. By listening very carefully as they talk you can figure how they’re being led. You can also help them. Listen to learn from them, not listen to respond. The chimp loves to listen to respond because he/she/they just want to move on as quickly as possible to the next vine to swing on. Take the person in front of you for who they are as you listen. Don’t make assumptions. Learn.

Make healthy choices to counter the unhealthy ones your chimp would like to do. Happiness is a choice. One that chimps will not make because it’s rational in nature. By choosing to embrace positive things in your life you will have fewer triggers in your life that bring the chimp out. One way you can do this is celebrate success along the way. Find ways along the challenge to find gratitude in what you accomplished. Even if you didn’t hit the finish line yet, celebrate the journey you have traveled thus far. If you don’t, the chimp will have you on the couch with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles in no time binging some show you didn’t even remotely have an interest in a week ago.

With time you can manage your chimp with awareness and training. Building habits as well as systems can have a great impact. More of that in the next post. Thanks for reading!

✌🏻Shawn

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