I’m about to read a book I suspect will change my life, and also for my coaching practice. Every so often, a particular theme seems to emerge from the dozens of sessions I facilitate every month with people from very different backgrounds, and from around the world – all of them wanting to be successful, albeit in their careers or in their business lives.
And it’s a bit weird how these come along like No.9 buses, either all at once or not at all. Recently these themes or ‘challenges’ have included managing increasingly competing priorities, getting a ‘balanced life’, handling stress, and developing a credible business exit. But when I think about it, as the recession continues to bite most of us are having to dig deep to find those ‘resilience resources’ that will enable us to keep going, and to continue being effective in what we do.
However, one of the most frequent ‘No.9 buses’ recently has been unwanted negative emotions that rear their ugly heads in a range of contexts – for instance the thought of presenting to the Board, colleagues or to a bigger ‘audience’. Some of my clients are also experiencing a temptation to exclude others from vital information sharing and be uncharacteristically ‘competitive’ in order to gain a real or imagined ‘edge’ in the workplace. Another felt ashamed and embarrassed about their feelings about a particularly challenging business colleague, strong emotions left unspoken and festering, but temporarily soothed by a quick cigarette out back.
I even had someone tell me very confidently that these strong negative feelings served to guide them in all they do, that they were an authentic inner sign to ‘stay away’ from certain situations or people. I tried to keep a straight face but I couldn’t help grinning. I’d thought like that until fairly recently but now I know it’s my brain monkeying around in my head, and that there’s always an alternative to ‘the truth we think we feel’.
Imagine this, we can learn to change our minds and change our negative feelings too.
So back to the book I can’t wait to read called “The Chimp Paradox” by Dr Steve Peters. Interestingly he’s a consultant psychiatrist who has worked in the clinical field of psychiatry for over 20 years, a ‘happy-clappy guru’ with a scientific basis to his thesis that we can all of us access more confidence, success and happiness.
I’d heard him on Radio 4’s Midweek back in February and pricked up my ears as what he seemed to be describing was a recurring phenomena in my clients (and in me!). He was saying that …“it’s never too late, even if you’ve gone down the wrong path, you can find your way back” from being negative, addictive, compulsive, or even depressed.
He reckoned folks experiencing lives going on the slide fall into 2 types: firstly those with a brain that is malfunctioning who are ill and possibly need medication, and secondly, those with a normal brain that is being allowed to literally run riot in that person’s life, with emotions and impulses that seem to have a life of their own.
He went onto explain that via MRI scanners research has demonstrated that we all of us have 7 or 8 thinking brains that interpret what we are experiencing in very different ways. And… think on this, apparently “… it depends which one of these brains get the power that then determines how we perceive our world to be.” This means simply that we have areas in the brain that decide to ‘think for us’ and that ‘we’ haven’t actually decided to think this way but rather our thoughts are being imposed upon us for a variety of reasons. Now here’s the thing, we can either go with them or reject them – we do have a choice.
Steve reckoned that this was a hard concept for his students to grasp so he decided to describe how our brains work as follows: put simply he explained that we are a combination of 3 brain elements:
- HUMAN, sensible – able to judge situations and people and weigh them with experience
- LITTLE CHIMP, a nightmare impulsive thing rattling around inside our heads
- COMPUTER, storing stuff and experiences away for future reference
He described how the Little Chimp in us acts in a very defensive and paranoid way, chattering and acting out in each of us. However, if we take time out and calm down, our ‘human brain’ cuts in with a more rational analysis.
He gave an example of a politician hearing herself being made fun of on a comedy programme whilst driving home to her constituency:
- Computer, experienced and is largely in charge
- Chimp gets uppity and reacts like fire (outrage, blah, blah)
- Human tells the Chimp it’s OK it’s just part of the job of being a politician (it goes with the territory)
He challenges us not to deny our Little Chimp but to recognize and acknowledge its existence – when it’s playful, loving and adventurous it is really useful to us. But when it’s giving us negative involuntary thoughts, then we need to learn to recognise what’s going on and consciously manage them, and move on.
Hard eh – especially when the negative feelings and self-talk are charging about in your mind? But a question I frequently ask my coachees is “what happens when you take time out to find another way to look at the situation, or explore feeling differently about it?” And I give them my Phucket Bucket (given to me some years ago by my NLP trainer) as a very useful receptacle for emotional detritus. My Brain Chimp Brian goes in there regularly and only comes out once he’s agreed to behave himself.
What’s your Brain Chimp called? Mine’s Brian and I’ve learned to love him and take him with a large pinch of salt. Can’t wait to see what he makes of “The Chimp Paradox” by Dr Steve Peters!