In control of your life? 3 techniques for managing your inner Chimp - Brilliant Living HQ

In control of your life? 3 techniques for managing your inner Chimp

Who is in control of your life?

Are you in control of your life? Do you ever?

  • Say things in the heat of the moment and regret it later?
  • Wonder why you sometimes seem to be a different person from the one you normally are and prefer to be?
  • Try to diet, but can’t stop eating when you want to?
  • Want to get fit but end up not getting your act together?
  • Lose it, when someone cuts you up, or pinches your parking spot?

Why am I out of control?

Chances are, according to consultant psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, it’s your inner Chimp that’s running a muck. Peters is probably best known for his works in elite sport. Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and snooker's Ronnie O'Sullivan have all publicly spoken on how he's helped their performances, with Hoy recognising his contribution to Beijing and London Olympic Gold success in British cycling.

Sir Chris Hoy

"The mind programme that helped me win my Olympic Golds. "

As bestselling author of The Chimp Paradox, Peters puts forward the idea that there is a separate primitive part of your brain, the Limbic area – the ‘Chimp’ or emotional part of the brain as he terms it - which can often work in direct conflict with the more rational part of the brain which makes us human – the Frontal area (Pre-frontal cortex).

What’s going on in my brain?

Essentially, there’s a battle between the separate ‘Human’ part and the more primitive Chimp part of your brain. And what’s worse is that because the Chimp part is an extremely powerful emotional machine working 5 times faster than the Human part, unless we have techniques for managing the inner Chimp, it often ends up in control of your life and you’re left wondering ‘Why on earth did I do that?’

How to recognise the Chimp? The signs

  • Overly emotional or irrational thought, including jumping to conclusions, or black and white thinking: ‘He was a bit off with me; he must hate me.”
  • Inner turmoil, typified by paranoid and ‘worse case scenario’ thinking.
  • And unwanted feeling: ‘I don’t want to feel this way’.

The key question to ask if you think your Chimp might be playing havoc is: "Do I want these thoughts, feeling or behaviours?"

If the answer is ‘No’; it’s your Chimp.

When does the Chimp rule my life?

The Chimp’s purpose is to ensure the next generation; survival and sex to you and me.  These two agendas are necessary for the species but can cause you problems. Your Chimp interprets information with feelings and impressions.  It gets a feel for what’s going on, and then uses emotional thinking to form a plan of action.  But emotional thinking involves guessing and filling in the gaps with assumptions typically based on a hunch, paranoid feelings or defensive thoughts, as opposed to the more logical, fact or truth seeking Human part of the brain.

Furthermore, you can’t stop your Chimp because it reacts 5 times faster than the Human part, and there are occasions when you want that; the old flight or fight situation, if you’re in danger you want your Chimp big time.

That is The Chimp Paradox – you need it but often it’s a pain in the proverbial a*$! The bottom line is:  when your Chimp and Human agree on what to do ‘no problem’, but disagree and Chimp wins as the most powerful and therefore ruler of thought and action.

Whoa, I can’t stop it?

No, the short answer is that you can’t stop it but you can manage it and must.  Peters uses the analogy that the Chimp in your brain is like dog owning.

  • You’re not responsible for the Chimp’s nature (it’s something you’re born with) – any more than you are responsible for the colour of your eyes or your dog’s nature.
  • You are responsible for managing your Chimp as you are for your dog.  It’s your responsibility.

Managing your Chimp will be one of the biggest factors determining success in life.

3 Chimp management techniques

Firstly, realise you can’t bully your Chimp.  You have to nurture it.  Meet the needs of your Chimp first and it will be in a position where you can then talk to it rationally and it will listen.  How?

  1. Allow it to have its say, in a safe environment away from the action, for as long as it takes (typically about 10 mins), without interruption.  It’s a ramble, but go with the flow and let it out, however irrational. Once done you feel better and can begin to have a more rational human conversation.
  2. You now have the opportunity to deal with it in a measured way - Human style – using facts, truth and logic, to continue calming it and addressing its fears and concerns.  Remember they can be real.
  3. Not very powerful but sometimes you can distract or reward your Chimp.  Think ‘Count to 10 before you speak’; that’s a distract.  A reward is like “I’ll give myself a treat only when I’ve done … [supply what you don’t want to do here]”.

The taming of the Chimp

There are many mind management techniques to tame your inner chimp and you can find out more about this on our free webclass.

But here’s one further ninja technique. If Chimp brain operates 5 times faster than Human, then bring on the computer part of your brain, which Dr Peters says operates 20 times faster than Human and 4 times faster than Chimp part.  Its function is to run automatic programs (think riding a bike, heart beat, etc.) and also to act as a reference source for Human and Chimp. 

Both Human and Chimp areas of the brain store stuff here, but more importantly refer to this part in new situations. There is a term in computing GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.  If you store bad data in your computer memory you’ll get bad data out. If you have a strong foundation of positive helpful beliefs and values, when your Chimp looks to your computer it’s calmed by the new situation.  For example, your Chimp will not panic when it meets strangers if your underlying value is ‘treat all people with respect.’


  • Watch Dr Steve Peters at TEDx Youth

What to do next

  1. Sign up/register for our Mind management web class.
  2. Buy Dr Steve Peters' book: The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness
  3. Listen to the Changeability Podcast - to manage your mind  to make changes in your life.
  • rosie says:

    Im a little confused having read about said ‘chimp’. Is it medical fact or is it a theory?
    Many thanks,

    • Hi Rosie,
      And thanks for your question – a good one. It is true that there are more primitive parts of the brain which respond quicker to situations than our conscious brain. Think of the instinctive nature to fight or flight when there is danger is a good example. Having said that, I would also say that the concept of the ‘chimp brain’ as put forward by Dr Steve Peters in his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ is of his own admission a simplified model of the brain to help others (such as you and I) understand the concept. I hope this goes some way to explaining your question and thanks so much for asking it. All the best, Julian

  • Sunshine says:

    I can’t take this ‘theory’ seriously ever since my ex Father-in-law used it to excuse his son’s infidelity. This is coming from a family where both parents have cheated on each other, the son had an affair after his wife gave birth to their second child, and the daughter has been an affair partner to a married man.

    I can’t help but think that this ‘inner chimp’ is a wonderful gift for those who want to avoid taking responsibility for their decisions and abuse of other people, or are in denial about other people who have done so.

    It can be used as an excuse, as a way of dismissing abusive behaviour and deflecting the matter away from the person in question, and onto some intangible, inner ‘instinct’.

    • I agree with your comment. The Inner Chimp can never be used as an excuse and to give Dr Steve Peters his due he does deal with this. He maintains that our inner chimp, the more primitive Chimp part of our brain, reacts more quickly than the rationale, more human part BUT he also goes on to say that like an owner of a dog, we cannot stop the dog maybe doing something we don’t want it to do (E.g. in the chimp brain part, reacting in anger for example) but as the dog owner we are always responsible for that behaviour. So our rationale (human brain) is always responsible ultimately for our actions. Now, human beings being what they sometimes are, they do indeed use quick fixes (such as “it’s my inner chimp behaving badly” to excuse their behaviour. But it is just a failure to take responsibility for one’s own actions. Great point you make, many thanks for adding to the debate.

      • Philip says:

        My son has ADHD. He is just approaching puberty. Is there any evidence that your chimp is stronger with SEN adolescents?

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