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How is your Chimp Your Best Friend? 

On this Best Friend’s Day, it seems an appropriate day to talk about our Chimp and its role as our best friend. Often people may ask ‘if the Chimp is my friend, why does it cause me so much discomfort and make silly choices’. In this short article, I hope to go back to the basic function of our Chimps, understand their role as a friend and help you to enjoy your Chimp’s company more.

How is your Chimp Your Best Friend? 

On this Best Friend’s Day, it seems an appropriate day to talk about our Chimp and its role as our best friend. Often people may ask ‘if the Chimp is my friend, why does it cause me so much discomfort and make silly choices’. In this short article, I hope to go back to the basic function of our Chimps, understand their role as a friend and help you to enjoy your Chimp’s company more.

How do we begin to understand our Best Friend?

From what you may already have learnt from Professor Steve Peters, especially the in-depth description he gives in ‘A Path Through the Jungle’, the Chimp represents the Orbitofrontal Cortex in our brain which is highly connected to areas associated with our reactions.  The Chimp is of course part of you, but it is not YOU.  As we learn more about it, it is helpful to dissociate from the Chimp and objectify it in order to gain a deeper understanding of how it operates – a bit like the way you would look at your friend and try to understand them from the outside in order to enhance your friendship.  Like any friend, your Chimp has its own agenda which may show up in funny ways but is always looking out for you. As any parent or pet owner will tell you, it’s not our job to control a child or a pet – at times we can’t – but we can accept them, manage them and decide how we respond to them.  

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Often at Chimp Management, we are asked why our Chimp always seems to be the destructive, disruptive, anxious part of us.  The truth is, it is not, but perhaps we notice more when it does create discomfort as there is more at stake; when it feels these less pleasant emotions, the Chimp will use its power to give you lots of sensory stimulation and make you take notice.  Really, it’s not good or bad and when we get to know its patterns, beliefs and behaviours it can be really helpful.  

To have your Chimp as your best friend, the key is to know that it is there to protect you.  This Chimp part of our head brain is the oldest in terms of human evolution; estimates are that it has existed in the human species for 3 million years, as opposed to our Human brain which is a mere 1 million years old.  Back in previous civilisations, we had no need for this more complex, logical part of our minds; basic survival skills were the only agenda and so it is no wonder that the Chimp brain is very quick and very strong – there was a lot at stake. 

In today’s world, we have fewer daily life-threatening experiences and yet this part of our brain is not only still present, but it is also very connected to our senses and makes our bodies react very quickly.

Remember your Chimp wants to keep you safe at all times but it can get it wrong.  It perceives our modern life challenges as life-threatening: an interview, presentations, exams, and difficult conversations.  And so it creates ways of avoiding them and keeping you safe – fight, flight, freeze.  It seems like a best friend wouldn’t cause these uncomfortable sensations but a best friend who thinks this is keeping you safe would probably judge the short-term suffering to be worth it! 

If we can accept the intention of our Chimps, we’re in with a good chance of accepting them and thus listening to the ‘choice’ they are giving us. How do we do this?  Two steps: 

  1. Acceptance: Your Chimp’s nature was formed before your human and so let’s accept it.  Like a friend, we won’t be able to have a friendship unless we accept the other person, warts and all.
  2. Get to know your Chimp: What are its trigger points? What are its thoughts, beliefs and behaviours? What drives it?
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The Chimp is always giving you a choice and these are often based on its drives.  Take the example of a Territory Drive.  Let’s say the Chimp says ‘This is my space and I want to show it’, you can ask ‘what is the intention here – is there a fear, is this just a habit and do I agree?  Then, when the Chimp’s offer of a territory drive shows up at the cinema and it’s ‘elbows at dawn’ for the arm rest with your neighbour, if you recognise what’s going on, you can then choose.  What is more important? Enjoying the film or having the arm rest residency? 

Your Chimp will always give you a compelling message, once you stop, accept and help your Chimp to find the words to express itself, you can begin to understand the reasons behind its reaction.  Your bestie is giving you an option but it’s your Human, YOU, who can make the choice.  

For this Best Friend’s Day, why not spend some time getting to know your Chimp even better.  Don’t condemn it or judge it; invite it in and get to know it.  The beauty is, it will always be with you so it’s a relationship which is definitely worth investing time and energy into. 

We wish you and your Chimp a very happy Best Friend’s Day and the rest of your life together. 

 

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