The Chimp Paradox: Book Summary & Key Points

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Chimp Paradox" by Steve Peters. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What can you learn from The Chimp Paradox book? How can you use the chimp model to control your emotions? What are some of the best ways to manage stress and improve your mental health? 

In The Chimp Paradox book, Steve Peters introduces his popular chimp management model. According to Peters, the secret to confidence, happiness, and healthy relationships is to control your inner chimp.

Read The Chimp Paradox book summary to find out how to manage your emotions and become a more confident person. 

The Chimp Paradox Book Summary

Our The Chimp Paradox summary includes everything you need to know about the book and its key ideas. The Chimp Paradox book has helped many people to improve their confidence, manage stress, and understand themselves better.

To explore The Chimp Paradox book, we’ll discuss seven areas that make up your overall psyche, determining how you view and interact with the world. Imagine each of these areas as a planet revolving around a central sun. When all the planets are in order, this metaphorical solar system represents your ideal state, in which your sun shines brightly and you’re happy and well-adjusted. 

The seven planets are:

  • Planet 1: Your psychological mind
  • Planet 2: Other people 
  • Planet 3: Communication
  • Planet 4: Your world
  • Planet 5: Health
  • Planet 6: Success
  • Planet 7: Happiness

Read The Chimp Paradox book summary to find out more about the book and how it can help you find success, happiness and increased confidence: 

Planet 1: Your Psychological Mind

Our The Chimp Paradox book summary begins with a discussion of three key elements of your inner mind, each of which loosely corresponds to a physical area of your brain and serves a unique role in your psyche. These elements are: 

  • The Chimp, controlled by your limbic lobe
  • The Human, controlled by your frontal lobe 
  • The Computer, controlled by your parietal lobe

In this The Chimp Paradox book summary, we’ll first discuss your Chimp and your Human, which together comprise your Planet 1. We’ll then look at your Computer, which acts as a stabilizing moon revolving around the planet. 

Your Chimp

Your Chimp makes decisions emotionally. This can be either good or bad: Sometimes, your “gut feeling” is accurate and perceives something subtle that your rational mind misses. Other times, gut feelings are based on overly negative, defensive, or paranoid thoughts, and they can direct you wrongly. Your Chimp thinks in emotional, irrational ways because it has two primary goals:

  • Self-survival: Your Chimp wants to protect itself from harm, which is why it’s so attuned to danger.
  • Perpetuating the species: Your Chimp wants to produce the next generation, which means it’s imbued with instincts and drives that influence its reactions.

You can’t change your Chimp’s nature (its instincts or drives), but you can manage it. 

Your Human

In contrast, your inner Human makes decisions rationally, basing thoughts on facts and logic. The Human’s main job is to balance the Chimp’s emotional instincts with sensible ones. Your Human reacts logically to a situation, looking for evidence, seeing context, and trying to understand the reasons behind other people’s behavior. 

Like your Chimp, your Human has two overriding goals. These goals, though, are fundamentally different from your Chimp’s purely survivalist goals:

  • Self-fulfillment: Humans want to become the best versions of themselves possible and to achieve meaningful success.  
  • Societal harmony: Humans are instinctively social creatures and want to establish societies that enable peaceful coexistence with each other through rules and laws.

Your Computer

The Chimp Paradox book also discusses how to work on negative beliefs and habits. Your Computer is the command center for your knee-jerk reactions. It’s made up of the beliefs, habits, and knowledge that allow you to make most of your decisions without thinking about them. Your Computer makes decisions approximately four times faster than your Chimp does and about 20 times faster than your Human. 

Your Computer has four elements that drive it:

  • Autopilots: These are positive beliefs or habits that guide you to act appropriately. 
  • Goblins: These are negative beliefs or habits that are very hard to remove because they’ve been ingrained into your thinking since your childhood. These are thoughts such as, “I’m not good enough.”
  • Gremlins: These are also negative beliefs or habits, but ones that are more easily replaced with positive Autopilots.
  • Stone of Life: This is the record of values and beliefs you live by that determine what you see your life’s purpose to be. 

To manage your Computer, you’ll need to establish positive thoughts and habits. To do this:

  1. Replace Gremlins with Autopilots: Recognize negative thoughts, examine them, and replace them with positive thoughts. 
  2. Prevent more Gremlins from entering Computer: When you have experiences, interpret them carefully so that you’re not creating unnecessarily negative thoughts. For example, if someone speaks brusquely to you, instead of thinking, “She must not like me,” ask yourself, “I wonder why she is speaking like that.” 

Planets 2-3: Other People and Communication

By reading our The Chimp Paradox book summary, you can learn to improve your relationships. Understanding your Planet 2, the planet of Other People, and your Planet 3, the planet of Communication, means figuring out how to interact with other people in effective, constructive ways even if those people are being difficult. To do so, follow these guidelines: 

  • Speak through your Human (your rational side): Arguments happen when you and someone else both address each other using your Chimps (your emotional side). Speak to the other person with your calm and rational Human, which will allow them to respond with their Human. 
  • Adjust your expectations: You can’t expect someone to have talents or traits that they simply don’t have and never promised to have. For example, if you want to be with someone who’s a good artist, but the person you’re dating isn’t a good artist, you can’t fault them for that. 
  • Examine your prejudices: When you first meet someone, you form an opinion from things you observe, such as their clothing, hairstyle, attitude, posture, and speech. Be aware that this opinion may be based on Gremlins of prejudice that you’ve added to your Computer but that may not be correct.
  • Speak to the right person: Don’t triangulate problems by talking to a third party about your issues with someone else. If you don’t speak directly to the person you’re having trouble with, you can’t resolve your issues. 
  • Choose the right time: Approach the other person at a time when your conversation won’t be rushed and when the other person isn’t already agitated (and therefore, their Chimp is already activated). Make sure you have time not only to explain your position but also to listen fully to their position.
  • Find the right place: Find a neutral place that is neither in your “territory” nor theirs, so they don’t feel that you’re trying to intimidate them. Find a quiet place so you’ll have few interruptions and can focus solely on your conversation.
  • Bring the right agenda: Be clear on what exactly you want to address and what you want to accomplish with your conversation. If you don’t have a clear purpose, your conversation will be reactive rather than proactive, and will more likely wander and end up being hijacked by your Chimp.
  • Use the right method: Decide whether you want to approach the other person face-to-face or through writing, such as an email or letter. There are pros and cons to either method: Writing your thoughts down allows you to word them constructively and allows the other person time to digest them before responding, but subtleties and nuance can be lost in writing. Often, speaking face-to-face can prevent misunderstandings. 
  • Allow for each party to make their own choices: You can’t force the other person to behave in a certain way, but you do have a choice as to whether or not to accept their behavior. At a certain point, if you’re unable to agree on behavioral changes, you have to either accept the other person for who they are or decide you can’t live with it and leave the relationship.

Planet 4: Your World

The fourth planet in your psychological universe is the planet of Your World, which is where you create and maintain a safe, happy place that fosters both your Chimp and your Human. The key to feeling well-adjusted and secure is effectively managing stress. Stress is an unavoidable part of anyone’s world. Stress isn’t inherently bad: It’s nature’s way of alerting you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  

There are two kinds of stress: acute and chronic. Acute stress is immediate and sudden, while chronic stress is ongoing. In order to manage stress, it is crucial to manage your Chimp and Gremlins. 

Planet 5: Your Health

Your fifth psychological planet is the planet of Your Health. To get this planet properly aligned in your psychological universe, focus on both your physical and mental health. In each area, you may have malfunctions or dysfunctions you need to address. 

The best way to empower your Human to drive your health decisions is to be proactive rather than reactive and plan for the future, so that you don’t find yourself, for example, hungry in the afternoon without a healthy snack planned—in which case, you’re likely to let your Chimp drive and choose an unhealthy snack.  

Planet 6: Success

Getting the sixth planet in your psychological universe into alignment means being successful. Success means different things to every person, and it also means different things to your Chimp and your Human. Typically, your Chimp will desire superficial things like money and power, while your Human will want things more meaningful on a higher level, like the fulfillment of your purpose. Take some time to examine your goals and what will make you feel successful, and decide which Chimp goals and which Human goals are worth pursuing. 

Preparation

Your moon of Preparation will stabilize your planet of Success because proper preparation will greatly increase your chances of seeing a project through. To properly prepare your Chimp and Human for a project, think through four areas:

  • Commitment: More than emotional motivation (driven by your Chimp), you must have thoughtful commitment (driven by your Human) in order to stick with a project. Thinking through what you’ll need and what challenges you may encounter will increase your level of commitment. 
  • Ownership: When you feel ownership of a project, both your Chimp and your Human are enticed to work harder. Ownership might mean you designed a project yourself, or that the project fits your sense of identity perfectly (for example, if you join a charity that reflects your priorities). 
  • Accountability: To prevent your Chimp from shirking its responsibilities when it loses its emotion-based inspiration, establish benchmarks of progress that will hold you accountable, such as deadlines or checkpoints for partial completion. 
  • Goals: Set goals that are ambitious enough to excite you but not so unrealistic that you set yourself up for failure.

Planet 7: Happiness

Your seventh planet is Happiness. The specifics of what makes a person happy are different for every person, so to start, figure out specifically what will make you happy. Be aware, when evaluating what makes you happy, of the difference between what you might want and what you need. These are often the differences between what your Chimp wants and what your Human wants. 

Planet 7 Moon 1: Confidence

Your planet of happiness won’t spin smoothly if you don’t have confidence in yourself. When you’re confident, you feel secure, and when you’re secure your Chimp feels happy. Base your confidence on your efforts, and not on the results of them. If you base your confidence on specific accomplishments, then your confidence will be variable and you’ll live with constant fear of failure—this is typically how your Chimp measures its confidence. However, if you base your confidence on your efforts, then you’ll feel confident that you’ve done your best even when things don’t work out for you—this is how your Human views confidence. 

Planet 7 Moon 2: Security

If your Chimp doesn’t feel safe and secure, you won’t achieve happiness. Your Chimp has a strong drive to protect itself from risk and danger in order to find happiness, but these instincts themselves can prevent you from finding happiness. For example, your Chimp might instinctively resist change because change means things will be unfamiliar and will introduce vulnerabilities into your life, but this might mean you resist pursuing a new career that would ultimately improve your happiness. 

To prevent your Chimp from overreacting to perceived danger, confront your fears about risk. Your Chimp won’t be quieted by you simply ignoring risk, but if you’re honest about the possibilities—both good and bad—that might result from any decisions you make, your Chimp will be better able to calm down, knowing that you at least are aware of the possible danger.

The Chimp Paradox: Book Summary & Key Points

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Steve Peters's "The Chimp Paradox" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Chimp Paradox summary:

  • Why we struggle to control our urges, succumb to temptation, and sabotage our own success
  • How to manage your inner chimp to become happier, more balanced, and successful
  • Why your psychological world is like a solar system with 7 planets

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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