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The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters.
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Each of us houses a primitive Chimp inside our brains that is driven by emotions and prompts us to react to the world impetuously and irresponsibly. If you’ve ever struggled to stay in control of your urges, succumbed to temptation, or sabotaged your own success, your Chimp has probably taken the reins for a bit. Fortunately, our brains also have an inner Human who, when functioning properly, keeps our inner Chimp under control and allows us to interact with the world in a stable, positive, productive way. In The Chimp Paradox, psychiatrist Steve Peters outlines a mind management program that can help you manage your inner Chimp and lead you to happiness, success, and balance.

This program imagines your psychological world as seven planets with attached moons:

  • 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

When all of these planets and their moons are spinning smoothly and are aligned with the others, this metaphorical solar system represents your ideal state, in which your sun shines brightly, and you’re happy and well-adjusted.

Planet 1: Your Psychological Mind

Our exploration of your psychological universe 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 system
  • The Human, controlled by your frontal lobe
  • The Computer, controlled by your parietal lobe

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.

To achieve these primitive goals, the Chimp operates according to the laws of the jungle, which are primarily based on instincts and drives:

  • Instincts are innate responses designed to increase our chances of survival. The Chimp’s instinctive response to danger is the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response (FFF), which prompts us to either confront, run from, or hide from a threat.
  • Drives are similar to instincts but are not triggered by specific events like instincts are; drives are always present. Your Chimp has powerful drives like sex, dominance, territorial defense, parental behaviors, and the desire to belong to a group, all of which advance its agenda of survival and the production of offspring.

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.

Because its goals are more socially focused than your Chimp’s goals, your Human brain operates through laws of society rather than the laws of the jungle. Such laws allow people to work and live together peacefully and are based on honesty, compassion, lawfulness, and self-control.

Planet 1’s Moon: Your Computer

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

Understanding your Planet 2,...

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide Introduction

Each of us has a psychological Chimp inside our brains, primitively reacting to the world and prompting us to act emotionally, impetuously, and irresponsibly. If you’ve ever struggled to stay in control of your urges, succumbed to temptation, or sabotaged your own success, your Chimp has probably taken the reins for a bit. Fortunately, our brains also have an inner Human who, when functioning properly, keeps our inner Chimp under control and allows us to interact with the world in a stable, positive, productive way. In The Chimp Paradox, psychiatrist Steve...

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide Planet 1: Your Psychological Mind

Our exploration of your psychological universe 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 system
  • The Human, controlled by your frontal lobe
  • The Computer, controlled by your parietal lobe

Planet 1 is a split planet on which your Chimp and your Human both live and operate. A moon, representing the Computer, revolves around it, guiding and stabilizing the planet. In general, the Chimp is emotional, the Human is rational, and the Computer is habitual—it’s the command center for your unthinking habits and knee-jerk reactions. The Chimp and Human are the two primary forces driving your reactions to the world. They each have different ways of thinking and differing agendas, but each defers to the Computer for guidance on how to carry out those reactions.

Understanding Your Chimp and Your Human

Your Chimp (your emotional side) and your Human (your rational side) are two separate, independent sources of thought. At any given time, your reactions and decisions are...

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Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Chimp

When you have an immediate emotional reaction, you can recognize it as your Chimp (your emotional brain) by asking yourself if you want to feel this way.


Describe a recent situation in which you allowed your emotions to control your reaction to something that someone else said or did. How did their words or actions trigger you, and how did you respond?

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide Planet 1’s Moon: Your Computer

Your Computer is a set of beliefs, habits, and knowledge that allows you to make most of your decisions without thinking about them. It automates your actions so that you don’t have to think carefully about, for example, how to make a cup of coffee every time you do it. Because its reactions are automated, your Computer makes decisions approximately four times faster than your Chimp does and about 20 times faster than your Human.

Because your Computer is a record of habits of behavior, it acts as a guide when your Chimp and Human aren’t sure how to react to a situation. They’ll check with your Computer to see how they’ve reacted to previous situations in order to figure out how to act in new situations.

When you're born, your Computer is an empty program. As you grow, your Chimp and Human input their learned behaviors and beliefs into your Computer. Because these beliefs and habits are learned, and not innate in the way that the Chimp’s instincts are innate, you can remove or relearn any beliefs or habits you decide to, if you put the effort in. Unfortunately, most of us don’t, and consequently, we let our Computer do our thinking without questioning it.

Four...

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Shortform Exercise: Look for Gremlins

A Gremlin is an unhelpful habit or belief. It’s possible to relearn or remove Gremlins from your Computer (your repository of habits of thoughts and beliefs) by replacing them with Autopilots (positive thoughts). A common Gremlin is unrealistic expectations, though which you set yourself up for disappointment with unachievable standards.


Describe a time in either your professional or personal life when you held unrealistic expectations for someone else and were subsequently disappointed. (For example, did you expect a coworker to complete a project faster or better than she’d promised? Or expect a loved one to do something without being told?)

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide Planets 2-3: Other People and Communication

Now that we’ve detailed your own psychological mind and how it works, we’ll examine how your “Planet 1” interacts with other people. Understanding your Planet 2 and Planet 3, the planets of Other People and Communication, means figuring out how to interact with other people in effective, constructive ways even if those other people are being difficult. To do so, follow these guidelines:

  • Speak through your Human.
  • Allow for each party to make their own choices.
  • Adjust your expectations.
  • Examine your prejudices.
  • Speak to the right person.
  • Choose the right time.
  • Find the right place.
  • Bring the right agenda.
  • Use the right method.

Use Your Human Mode

To successfully interact with other people, recognize that everyone has a Chimp and a Human just like you do, and that they may have trouble managing their Chimp, just as you might. To best manage both of your Chimps, strive to speak from Human to Human, and leave your Chimps out of the conversation.

If you speak to someone else using your Chimp, they will most likely respond with their Chimp. This is how arguments happen: Your Chimp snaps at your partner because she did something that...

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Shortform Exercise: Use Human Mode

If you speak to someone else using your Chimp (emotional side), they will most likely respond with their Chimp. Try to speak to other people from your Human (rational side) to their Human, and leave your Chimps out of the conversation.


Think of a recent argument that you had in which your Chimp drove your words or actions. When you addressed the other person with your Chimp, how did her Chimp respond?

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide 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. We’ll first discuss the moon of Acute Stress, then we’ll look at the moon of Chronic Stress.

Planet 4 Moon 1: Acute Stress

As we discussed earlier, because your Chimp reacts faster to stimuli than your Human does, it will respond to a sudden stressful situation with a Fight, Flight, or Freeze reaction before your Human has had a chance to evaluate the situation. However, by filling your Computer with positive Autopilots, you can prime it to override your Chimp’s negative reactions to sudden stress. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Be aware: The first step is to consciously recognize when you're feeling stressed, by acknowledging...

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Shortform Exercise: Prepare for Acute Stress

By filling your Computer with positive Autopilots, you can prime it to override your Chimp’s negative reactions to sudden stress.


Think of a potential stressful situation, either at work or in your personal life. Think of how you would expect yourself to normally react. (For example, imagine someone cuts in line at the supermarket. Would you typically react with a harsh response? Or would you say nothing because of a Gremlin or Goblin that tells you you’re not worth as much as they are?)

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide 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:

Malfunctions

Malfunctions are when your “machine” (your body or brain) is broken: when you’re ill and need a doctor for help. These can be physical problems, such as when you break a bone, or they can be mental problems, such as when your brain chemistry becomes imbalanced and you need medication to address a mental illness. Alcoholism and drug addiction are also malfunctions that you may need professional help to manage.

Dysfunctions

Dysfunctions are when your machine is functional but you're mismanaging it and creating health problems as a result. You can be dysfunctional in either your physical or mental health.

Physical Dysfunctions

Your physical well-being involves your nutrition, weight, and fitness. It’s easy to mismanage these areas because in each of them, your Chimp and your Human want different things. Your Chimp...

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Shortform Exercise: Proactively Plan for Dysfunction

One area of your physical well-being is your nutrition. It’s easy to mismanage this area because your Chimp and your Human want different things.


Describe a recent time when your Chimp wanted to indulge in something unhealthy while your Human knew you shouldn’t. (Did you crave a sugary snack or an extra glass of alcohol?) Which won out—your Chimp or your Human?

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide 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. The first step in attaining success is deciding what success means to you personally. Only then can you figure out how to achieve it.

Your Chimp and your Human will have different definitions of success. 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.

Your Chimp and your Human will also have different ways to judge when you’ve reached success. Your Chimp might rely on specific markers of success such as an ‘A’ grade on a test or a certain job title. Your Human might rely instead on the effort you put into a project or the learning you took away from it—so, for example, if you don’t get an ‘A’ on that test, your Human might consider you successful anyway if you tried your best and learned a...

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Shortform Exercise: Mentally Prepare for a Project

Both your Chimp and your Human must commit to a project if you're going to successfully stick with it. If you think through what you’ll need for the project and what challenges you might face, you’re much more likely to stick with it.


Describe a project you're planning to take on. Make a list of everything you’ll need to be successful in that project. (This might include both physical items like office space or craft tools, and it might include intangible things like time.)

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide 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.

Keep tabs on your happiness and track your progress consciously. Keep a journal of the things that make you happy and the things that don’t. Keeping them consciously in your mind in this way will help you live more purposefully.

When you find yourself in a difficult time and feel unclear about how to move forward, you can use the “virtual twin” technique. With this technique, you’ll invent a copy of yourself to whom you can give advice. Give this twin a name to make it more real. Then, have a conversation with your virtual twin. Give your twin advice on how to solve their problems. You may find that you have an easier time figuring out your twin’s problems than your own because you’ve created some psychological distance.

Planet 7 Moon 1: Confidence

Your planet of happiness won’t spin smoothly...

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Shortform Exercise: Face Your Fears

To prevent your Chimp from overreacting to perceived danger, confront your fears about risk.


Make a list of some of your fears. These might be professional fears or personal fears. Don’t hold back—write down even irrational or silly ones.

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The Chimp Paradox Summary The Chimp Paradox Guide Conclusion

When each of your planets is spinning smoothly, you’ll feel happy and content. To review and sum up the previous planets, this means:

  • Managing your Chimp
  • Nurturing your Human
  • Replacing negative Gremlins and Goblins in your Computer with positive Autopilots
  • Finding a supportive troop
  • Communicating and interacting effectively with others
  • Establishing a safe jungle for your Chimp *...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Planet 1: Your Psychological Mind
  • Exercise: Identify Your Chimp
  • Planet 1’s Moon: Your Computer
  • Exercise: Look for Gremlins
  • Planets 2-3: Other People and Communication
  • Exercise: Use Human Mode
  • Planet 4: Your World
  • Exercise: Prepare for Acute Stress
  • Planet 5: Your Health
  • Exercise: Proactively Plan for Dysfunction
  • Planet 6: Success
  • Exercise: Mentally Prepare for a Project
  • Planet 7: Happiness
  • Exercise: Face Your Fears
  • Conclusion