Book Review: The Chimp Paradox

The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness by Steve Peters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I know it looks like get-up-and-gotivation office jockey tripe, but it’s a ruse. The market for business books is probably better than the market for self help. Nobody wants to do things “for themselves”, especially in America, but everybody wants to make more money.

Peters hammers the reader with any number of meandering analogies that are impossible to keep track of, comparing aspects of the personality to various structures in our solar system including, for some reason, the Kuiper belt, and describes reflexive unconscious schema as either “autopilot”, “goblins”, or “gremlins”. He’s English, and maybe there’s a more pronounced and innately understood cultural difference between goblins and gremlins there. I’m an American. I will not learn about English culture under any circumstances.

Where the book and the theory really shines is the divvying up of the Freudian id and ego/superego into “chimp” and “human” aspects of our mind. The chimp is irrational, easily angered, highly defensive, functionally feral. The human is logical, rational, capable of delaying gratification to get two marshmallows later, that kind of thing. However, both in your head and in real life, chimps are 5x stronger than humans per square inch of muscle, and you will never overpower your internal chimpliness with sheer force of will.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. You just have to be on good terms with your chimp. Just like you positively condition a dog with treats to get it to do what you want, you bribe, bargain, and placate your chimp into cooperation. When it gets worked up and “makes you anxious”, give it ten minutes to vent. Let your chimp bitch and moan. Once it’s done, the human steps in and says, “I know it sucks. It’s okay. How about we pound through the homework assignment right quick, then after we can get a drink with the lads?”

A well-exercised chimp is much more manageable. Take it out, let it run around. Let it scream itself out when it needs to. Your chimp likes creature comforts like food and sex and smoking weed, but it also likes things that remind your body that you’re alive, like exercise, cold showers, and social achievement (as the chimp is deeply concerned about its place in the troop at all times).

Peters presents a concise owner’s manual for fruitful chimp companionship. Take care of your chimp (and your body). Address your chimp’s need to chimp out (your emotions). Distance yourself from those irrational aspects of yourself, but stop punishing yourself for feeling things strongly! There’s a chimp in there, but he’s not necessarily you, in that you are more than just the chimp.

You don’t need to fly into a rage and regret it later when the chimp is exhausted and the human needs to pick up the pieces, which in turn humiliates the chimp, creating a feedback loop of rage. You can get the chimp out of the crisis zone, let him hop around in the jungle for a while, then come back at this when he’s contentedly eating bananas and you can actually steer the damn vehicle.

Excuse the mixed metaphor. Chimps shouldn’t drive, unless they have demonstrated a natural talent.

An excellent book for anybody with even a passing interest in psychology. I’ve been pushing it on a bunch of people, even though nobody ever takes my book recommendations. I don’t take it personal. Reading is hard, especially for a chimp, and if you didn’t have chimp management issues I wouldn’t be pushing the book on you in the first place.



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