How to Feel Secure (and Why It’s the Key to Happiness)

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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Do you want to learn how to feel secure? Why is feeling secure key to finding happiness? What steps can you take to feel more secure in your life? 

According to Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox, the key to understanding how to feel secure is to confront your fears about risk. Another tip that helps is to understand the rules and expectations of your current “realm.” Ultimately, this can help your inner emotional Chimp to feel more secure and happy. 

Keep reading to learn how to feel secure with the following advice.

Why Is It Important to Feel Secure?

If you don’t feel safe and secure, you won’t achieve happiness. Your emotional brain 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 inner Chimp (emotional brain) 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, if changing careers seems scary. 

If you want to know how to feel secure, it’s important to 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.

  • Recognize your fears: Have a conversation with your Chimp about what it fears. Figure out which things your Chimp can and cannot control. For example, you can’t control death or unexpected injury. However, you can control running out of time on a project at work, by improving your time management skills. 
  • Establish routines: Your Chimp craves familiarity. If you’re facing a new and uncertain situation, create routines that will make it feel more familiar and therefore safer.
  • Reach out to your troop for support: Seek reassurance from other people who have your best interests at heart. 
  • Accept that every activity carries risk: Your Chimp is most afraid of feeling out of control, but there are many things that your Chimp simply can’t control. When you’re honest with your Chimp about risks, your Chimp usually settles down, knowing that at the very least, you’re aware of these risks.

Understanding the Rules

If you want to know how to feel secure, it’s also important to look at your relationships. 

You need to recognize that different people will be in charge of different aspects of your life. When you have disagreements with others, you’ll resolve them quicker and feel more secure if you’re able to effectively determine:

  • Who is in charge of each particular situation
  • What the rules are
  • Whether or not you agree to those rules

There are three realms in which you’ll interact with other people:

  • Your realm
  • Another person’s realm
  • A joint realm

The rules will be different for each of these realms. Determining who sets the rules and who must abide by them will in large part determine how you resolve problems and will help you with how to feel secure.

Your Realm

Your realm is any area where you’re clearly in charge, such as your own home. In your realm, you set and enforce the rules. You expect someone entering your realm to respect your rules and your right to have the final say in decisions—for example, if someone enters your home, you’d expect them to check with you first before starting to cook a meal with your kitchen and equipment. 

If your rules and your right to set those rules are not respected, your Chimp will start acting out, expressing anger, irritation, or other negative emotions. Therefore, you’ll have more control  over your life—and feel more successful in your endeavors—if you clearly set the rules and enforce them within the realm you command. When other people clearly understand what you expect, they will less often violate your rules and you’ll have less conflict.

In your realm, you also need rules that govern your own behavior. These are the rules your Human comes up with to keep your Chimp in line. You’ll be far more likely to be happy and successful if you’re able to establish and maintain clear rules for your Chimp. So, for example, if you establish a clear rule for yourself that you never eat junk food after 9 p.m., you’ll have an easier time controlling your Chimp’s late-night snack urges. 

Others’ Realms

When you’re in someone else’s realm, you must respect and abide by their rules just as you would expect them to do for your rules in your realm.

Respecting someone else’s rules doesn’t mean acting subservient—it just means respecting their right to have the final say. However, you’re never obligated to abide by someone else’s rules if they make you uncomfortable. You always have the right to leave someone else’s realm if their rules don’t sit right with your values. For example, if you’re hanging out with a group of friends who expect you to do something mean to someone else, you might have to accept that those are their rules and you can’t change them, but you’re within your rights to find another group of friends. 

Joint Realm

When you’re in a joint realm, you enter into a relationship with another person where each of you agrees to a set of rules. There are two types of joint realms (relationships), and you must be clear about which you’re in because the rules will be different for each. This will help you with how to feel secure:

  • Personal relationships: In a personal relationship, you interact with the other person because of a personal connection, such as a friendship or a family bond. Such relationships may not have formal rules or boundaries—you and the other person will decide between yourselves how to behave. 
  • Professional relationships: In a professional relationship, you interact with someone because of an official, formalized connection, such as employment or instruction. These relationships have official rules and boundaries, and typically function properly only when personal emotions are excluded from your interactions.

In both types of realms, there will be aspects of your relationship that will be shared but there will also be aspects that won’t be shared. To prevent either of your Chimps from becoming aggravated, you must be clear as to which rules you both have a say in and which you each decide separately.

For example, in a personal relationship like a marriage, both people will be involved in buying a house, but each person may then have different responsibilities when moving in—one person might pick out the wall colors while the other might decide on the furniture placement. In a professional relationship, a manager and employee might both agree on the rules of when they can take a lunch break, but the decisions for where to go for that break will be the responsibility of each person individually.

Follow the above advice and tips to find out how to feel secure. 

How to Feel Secure (and Why It’s the Key to Happiness)

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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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