The Chimp Paradox Book Review (by Professor Steve Peters)

The Chimp Paradox Book Review

‘It's not good or bad. It's a chimp’

Title: The Chimp Paradox
Author: Professor Steve Peters
Pages:
368
Published by: Ebury Publishing

The Chimp Paradox is a bestselling self-help book based on the Chimp Mind Management programme that has transformed the lives of many of its readers – notably in the field of sport psychology.

Steve Peters has worked with a number of sporting icons including Ronnie O’Sullivan and Chris Hoy (amongst others), before going on to work with Liverpool Football Club and the England national football team.

Self-help books tend to raise an eyebrow from this reader, but The Chimp Paradox presents a genuinely interesting psychological framework that is highly applicable to all readers.

What is The Chimp Mind Management Programme?

The Chimp Paradox posits a highly simplified metaphor for psychological theory. 

Essentially, our minds are divided into three categories: Chimp, Human, and Computer.

The Chimp

The emotion-led, primal part of our brain. The Chimp is about evolutionary instinct, self-preservation, and winning at all costs. It’s the ‘gut feeling’ one gets (which may or may not be accurate).

The Chimp's reaction speed is five times faster than the Human. Whilst The Chimp can be highly inappropriate in certain settings, it’s also important for survival.

After all, “It’s not good or bad. It’s a chimp”.

The Human

The Human is the rational part of our brain.

It’s highly logical, processes information as things are (rather than as we would like them to be) and ultimately wants a positive resolution for all parties.

The Human is the mediator, the social animal, and the ideal state for social situations.

The Computer

This is our pre-programmed behaviour. Essentially, it’s how our brain responds to things, without having to even think. For example, learned behaviour such as riding a bike, or unwritten social rules that we don’t think about - we just do.

The Computer allows us to act before the Chimp, which is preferable due to the Chimp's destructive tendencies. However, when adverse experiences are introduced to the computer, they can be harmful and difficult to remove.

The Chimp Paradox presents a number of means and methods to calm the chimp whilst ensuring its needs are represented. It also discusses how to keep the computer in healthy balance, removing unhelpful ‘gremlins’ and fostering socially beneficial ‘autopilots’.

Interestingly, it has a lot in common with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and also touches lightly upon trauma therapy, as covered in Bessel van der Kolk’s excellent book The Body Keeps the Score.

Is The Chimp Paradox a Difficult Book to Read?

Professor Steve Peters does an excellent job of making an incredibly complex field of psychology easy to follow.

The book also includes summaries of each section throughout, as well as practical ways to implement the theory. Its universal simplicity is brilliant – anyone can apply this logic to their own lives.

Some have criticised the book for its simplistic approach to psychology, but this is a fairly superficial point. Peters acknowledges this in the introduction and that The Chimp Paradox is a surface-level introduction to a much deeper topic.

Where the book can be criticised is its occasional lapsing into esoteric thinking. For example, Peters builds upon the Chimp / Human / Computer analogy by situating it within a cosmic universe. The ‘divided planet’ is where the human and chimp wrestle for control, whilst the ‘guiding moon’ is the computer that pulls the divided planet in the right direction.

It just about works, but it stretches the metaphor further than necessary, when the Chimp / Human / Computer explanation itself is fine.

Still, The Chimp Paradox is essential reading for those interested in personal development. If you’re an anxious person, quick to confront people, or feel like life is passing you by, this is a genuinely enlightening read.

Conclusion

There’s a reason that The Chimp Paradox remains a bestseller, many years after publication. It’s a compelling theory that anyone can use to improve their lives.

Whilst those with a qualification in psychology may find shortcomings in the theory, this is a book review – and as a book, it’s a very good read. 

Unlike some other self-help books, which border on smoke & mirrors, The Chimp Paradox is the real deal.

4/5