[Book Review] Control Your Chimp: Secrets to Managing Sport Stress | Modern Manual Therapy Blog

[Book Review] Control Your Chimp: Secrets to Managing Sport Stress


I just finished the latest book on my reading list, “The Chimp Paradox” by Dr. Steve Peters. It was a quick and interesting read and I encourage you to pick it up. For those who don’t know, Dr. Steve Peters is a sports psychologist who works with elite athletes. I wanted to read this book because as a physical therapist, I spend so much time educating patients, generally about rehabilitation concepts. However, many of my athletes have expressed challenges with anxiety, stress, and sleeping especially around periods of increased intensity of training and competition. So I was looking around for some good resources to share when I came across this book.


“The Chimp Paradox” describes a mind management model that segments the brain into a chimp, a human, and a computer, reflecting an overly simplistic representation of the different lobes. This Chimp Model describes why decision making can be so difficult - as two independently thinking systems vie for personal goals, often with conflicting agendas. Basically, the chimp is obsessed with survival and makes decisions based on jungle principles. The human, on the other hand, longs for harmony and social order and makes decisions based on logic and consequences. Split second, emotional decisions are owned by the chimp. And only with safe decisions can the chimp sleep and let the human make a logical decision. Now you can see how it’s possible to make a rash decision and later not understand why. It’s your chimp! All would be in chaos if not for the computer - a programmable system that makes decisions based on pattern recognition from historical data from both the chimp and the human.

Dr. Peters introduces this simple model to help people understand the complexities in their head that affect decision-making and response mechanisms, and in turn learn to control them. This is a useful tool for both athletes, as well as the general public. The reason that it’s a paradox, is that we cannot get rid of the chimp, it’s part of who we are - we love it and we hate it. Although the chimp can seem like a scapegoat of sorts, Dr. Peters does mention repeatedly that like a pet dog, in the end we are 100% responsible for the actions of our chimp. In the book he offers tools, exercises, and reframing strategies to learn how to control, or “box in” your chimp.

Do you ever wonder how one person can shine under the bright lights of competition and another at the same skill level can buckle? How one person's success can create complacency and another's, crippling fear? Perhaps the answers are in learning the why of the chimp vs. human tug of war and the how of boxing it in. I would be doing you a disservice if I tried to explain the mechanisms of boxing in your chimp - so for sure I recommend reading the book. But here are a few of my favorite points:


  • Are you being hijacked by your chimp? Simply ask, “Do I want to feel this way?” or “Do I want to be doing this?” If yes - human. If no - chimp! (The chimp also loves to start sentences with “But what if…” so beware)
  • Your chimp is in survival mode and in the jungle, survival means being part of a pack. To stay a part of the pack, your chimp desperately wants to ensure that you please everyone and prove yourself constantly. Sound familiar?
  • The computer is a reflection of both chimp and human. It is made up of programmed responses that may or may not be constructive. The human and chimp always look to the computer first! By rehearsing your beliefs you can stack the computer with constructive responses to control your chimp, and thus your stress response.
  • Reframing sentences can help prevent your chimp from being emotionally triggered, for example, “could” vs. “should.” Think of the difference between the phrases “I should have gone to the gym” vs. “I could have gone to the gym.” Dr. Peters talks about the attachment of judgment to the world “should,” and the introduction of hope with the word “could.” I have already started to do this and I feel like it completely changes my emotional response.
  • Look back at where you came from and see progress versus looking forward to where you want to be and see how far you are. This makes life encouraging and rewarding instead of demoralizing
  • Chronic stress arises from your perceptions and expectations. If you hold a core belief that “life should always be fair,” then your chimp might lash out when someone cuts you in line or gets more than equal share. Life isn't always fair. Make sure your chimp understands that.
  • Dreams versus goals; dreams are a possibility but accept that they may not happen. For example, basing your confidence on doing your best (a goal) rather than winning (a dream), will help keep your chimp from freaking out for fear of failure.

Finally, I’ll close with a passage from the book about stress: 
"Stress can be physical or it can be psychological. One example of a physical stress is when we become dehydrated. The body reacts by making you uncomfortable and thirsty. You drink and this corrects the situation and removes the stress. Psychological stress should be dealt with in a similar way, so that when you experience stress you should search out a constructive way to deal with it. You do have a choice: you can react to the stress or you can deal with the stress."
In the end, how you feel about and deal with a situation is your choice. Choosing well is a learned behavior; and each time you choose well that path is strengthened in your computer. And ultimately, these choices will lead to your happiness and success. So box in that chimp and choose success!


Resources / Image Credits:
Find the book on Amazon
Learn more at chimpmanagement.com

Read more from Laurey at LaureyPT.weebly.com


Interested in live cases where I apply this approach and integrate it with pain science, manual therapy, repeated motions, IASTM, with emphasis on patient education? Check out Modern Manual Therapy!

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