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The Chimp Paradox

The Mind Management Program for Confidence, Success and Happiness

By Prof Steve Peters
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters

The Chimp Paradox (2012) is about the complicated and crazy mess that is the human brain. These blinks explain why people can be calm, rational and composed one minute and irrational and irate the next. Learn how you can keep your cool when faced with triggering situations.

Key idea 1 of 9

The human brain has two primary ways of thinking that easily come into conflict with one another.

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know that people don’t always act rationally. In fact, even when people know what the most rational response should be, we often end up doing something entirely different. But how come?

Because our brains are divided into two distinct parts. The first is the “human,” or rational, part, which is located in the frontal lobe. This part of the brain thinks and acts based on facts. The second part, which lives in the limbic system, is known as the inner chimp. The functions of this section of the brain are more primitive and immediate. In other words, the chimp part of the brain acts based on feelings and emotions.

Naturally these two ways of processing information can easily come into conflict, and when they do, the chimp brain often prevails. After all, the limbic system, which is evolutionarily much older, works faster, sending stronger impulses to action. For instance, imagine that a man named John complains to his wife, Pauline, about an incident he experienced that morning; their neighbor’s car was blocking their driveway and, since John was late for work, he had to ask the neighbor to move it.

Hearing this, Pauline asks why he’s complaining; their neighbor had moved his car quickly and everything’s fine again. John’s human brain can hear the statement as a fact, understand that it’s true and leave it at that. But if his chimp brain were to prevail in this situation, John might hear Pauline’s comment as a criticism. And this might lead him to ask why she never supports him, or result in him defensively saying that he’s not making a big deal out of the experience.

Most people have, at some point, found themselves involved in such irrational fights. To avoid these uncomfortable clashes, it’s key for the human brain to actively manage the chimp brain. In the next blink you’ll learn precisely how.

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