Book Review - The Chimp Paradox

Have you ever heard those stories of neighbours getting into a dispute over a sliver of land, position of a fence or conifer hedges? How about swearing to fight someone to the death who has just cost you half a second extra on your journey home by jumping in front of you in traffic? Have you ever replied to a work email in haste and regretted it almost immediately you pressed send? If you’re the kind of person like me, that is fascinated by what might cause such behaviour, this book is a fascinating read. I started it on a sunny day, thinking I’d just read the first page or two and then get outside . . what a mistake.

Prof Steve Peters is a Consultant Psychiatrist known particularly for working with professional athletes such as Sir Chris Hoy, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Victoria Pendleton and Steven Gerrard. He has distilled his knowledge of the inner workings of the brain into a ‘mind model’; a simplified approximation that allows those of us without a detailed understanding of the inner workings of the brain to obtain a grasp of what is actually going on in that lump of grey goo inside our skulls. Once you have that understanding, if you so choose you can use it to improve your life in numerous ways, from controlling temper, dealing with difficult people, managing emotions, achieving greater happiness and improving health.

The Three Bullet Summary

  • There are three main psychological brains in this model. The Chimp; reactionary, emotional, irrational, jumps to conclusions, fills in missing details with assumptions, emotive judgement. The Human; logical and factual, rational thinking, makes decisions based on evidence and with perspective. The Computer; a reference source for both the Chimp and the Human, enables automatic functioning e.g. learnt behaviours like riding a bike or cooking your favourite meal. Starts life empty and has been programmed by both the Chimp and the Human since birth.
  • Understanding how these three distinct areas work and their respective strengths and weaknesses is key to improving your life in all areas. We have to learn how to ‘manage the chimp and develop the human’. Managing the chimp; exercising e.g. letting it express it’s emotion or opinion (in an appropriate environment). Boxing the chimp; reasoning with it using logic and rationality. Banana; giving it treats to achieve things e.g. once I’ve gone for a run I can eat that bag of crisps. Develop the Human; give yourself hobbies and interest. Humans like to have a purpose.
  • Once you’ve grasped this model of how your brain works, the next big step is understanding that other people also have the system running in their brains.

Further Interesting Notes

Recognise who (which part of the brain) is in charge during a situation. One way of doing this is to ask if you WANT to be experiencing a particular emotion. If not, then it’s the chimp in charge. You can thank it for it’s emotion, but transfer that to the human to act in a more calm manner.

Chimps start with a conclusion, then search for ‘facts’, ’truth’ and ’evidence’ to prove. Humans search for facts truth and evidence and draw a conclusion

Gremlins, Autopilots, Goblins and Stone of Life

These are all features of the Computer. Gremlins are removable unhelpful or destructive beliefs or behaviours. Autopilots are ‘installable’ helpful or constructive beliefs or behaviours. Goblins are fixed or extremely difficult to remove destructive beliefs or behaviours. The Stone of Life contains values or beliefs by which you live your life.

The key takeaway here is that gremlins can be removed with autopilots, e.g. ‘I have to make a good impression’ → ‘I can only be myself and what they make of that is up to them’. Autopilots are efficient replacements for the human (slow thinking) having to police the Chimp (fast acting).


Your mindset can be summarised by answering three questions

  • how do you see yourself?
  • how do you see others?
  • how do you see the world?


Snow White Mindset Thinks; ‘I am not responsible for my own decisions’, ‘I am not responsible for my own happiness’, ‘Others are not helping me’, ‘Others should understand me’ etc. Example behaviour: when asked ‘what’s wrong?’, responds with ’nothing’ or ‘I shouldn’t have to tell you why I’m upset’. To stop this developing, think nobody likes a victim, nobody owes you anything, happiness is a choice that you make, looking after your happiness is not selfish, life is what you make of it, not what it throws at you etc.

Alpha Wolf Mindset A dominant mindset. Thinks the world belongs to them and others are in their world, people are valued on how they can be used, zero tolerance to others, compassion = weakness, ignore people considered of little value. Often seen in business and high up organisational structures, but not good managers. Not respected and unpopular, makes people unhappy. Can be dealt with by not personalising attacks, being assertive, staying at peace with yourself and moving on if possible.


Important to understand that not everyone will like or understand you. This is normal and has nothing to do with you. Have realistic expectations. Don’t apply your expectations and conditions onto others. ‘If you want a painting then search for an artist’.


Important to have a troop. This is a small group of people that will help nurture and develop you. Don’t try and bring everyone you meet into the troop but be selective. Be personable and approachable to everyone, but realise that not everyone is in your troop. This protects you from emotional harm.


The square of communication: the right time, the right place, the right agenda, the right way. The Chimp will want to win, express emotion etc. The Human will want to reach a sensible outcome that satisfies everybody.


Two types: instant stress and chronic stress.

Instant stress example: being late for an important appointment. As usual the Chimp will try and derail the situation. To stop this happening, actively slow your thinking down. A 7 step process is detailed which in summary involves identifying you’re stressed, and then pausing and thinking as calmly as possible by either removing yourself temporarily and getting perspective. A plan can then be established and implemented. The final step is try to see the funny side of the situation (one of my favourite tips). Also worth highlighting - don’t have unrealistic expectations. Things will go wrong and stress will happen.

Chronic stress example: long term stress where someone has learned to live with it. Occurs when stressful situations are not dealt with and then considered normal. To deal with this, you have to change your behaviours or beliefs. Chronic stress can come from yourself, circumstances or from others. One of the self caused stressors discussed is The Mushroom Syndrome. Mushrooms compete for available space and if you pick a large mushroom, others grow to fill the space. Some people do this with worries. This is destructive and tiring for people around them. Self caused stress is usually caused by gremlins. Autopilots can help - think: most worries are trivial in the long run and often take care of themselves, worrying never does any good and relaxing is a powerful worry remover


Almost everyone would benefit from reading this book. The world would definitely be a better place if only 10% of people employed 10% of the techniques discussed.

The concepts of the Chimp the Human and the Computer are very useful in understanding the mechanisms involved in our brains. The book expands into more detail with concepts such as ‘moons’ and ‘planets’ to help with extended situations such as friends, stress, conflict, success and happiness.

Not only does it give an understanding of the characteristics of the brain along with the associated problems, but best of all simple actionable ideas and techniques to deal with these unwanted characteristics. It’s clear that this is written by someone that has put academic learning into practice in the real world.

I found this book interesting as a whole read, but if you were particularly interested in one specific area you could easily pick and choose the parts that were most relevant to you. Because there are so many concepts, I found it useful to review the book after a couple of months to embed the ideas and found parts I’d forgotten about or missed the first time around.