Can you manage your mind?

Anything in life is only as important as you want it to be.

Steve Peters

There is a chimp inside all of us

We actually have two brains disguised as one inside of our heads.

One is an emotional machine defined as the Chimp and the other is the Human which is logical and rational.

The Human and Chimp are connected by neural networks inside the brain yet they are fundamentally different. The Human brain is you, whereas the Chimp has its own personality, its own agenda and its own way of thinking.

How do we know who is in control?

Whenever you have feelings, thoughts or behaviours that you do not want or welcome, then you are being hijacked by your Chimp.

For example, you are worrying about a job interview. You ask yourself ‘ Do I want to worry?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then it is not you worrying but your Chimp. You now have a choice to manage your Chimp and stop it hijacking you.

If you can manage the interaction between the Human and the Chimp then you can manage your mind.

Managing your chimp

I am feeling particularly evil today and I throw you into a cage with an enraged chimpanzee.

You have a few options.

You can attempt to wrestle the chimpanzee and beat it into submission or you can try to diffuse the chimpanzee’s anger by maintaining a safe distance and allowing the chimpanzee to dissipate its frustration (the cage is quite large, I am evil but not deranged mate).

You do have a third option where you can scream and frantically tug the steel bars, begging me to let you out and I will stand there and laugh at your pathetic pleas for salvation.

Let’s consider the first option where you decide to fight the chimpanzee.

A fully grown chimpanzee is approximately five times stronger than a human. If you foolishly try to fight the chimpanzee, she will slap you so hard that your head will spin off your neck.

Similarly, the Chimp part of the brain is roughly five times stronger than the Human equivalent so using willpower alone to manage the chimp is futile. Not to mention that the Chimp receives  information quicker than the Human.

The third option is probably the worst, but it is often how we react to stressful or difficult situations.

Instead of trying to manage the Chimp, we simply do not confront the situation and the Chimp takes over effortlessly.

In this state you have no control over your actions.

It’s the moment when you are giving a talk to a large audience and you freeze up. It’s the moment when your friend is irritating you and you clench your fist and aim for his face. It’s the moment when feel so low about your life that you burst into tears.

Back in the cage, the chimpanzee can sense your fear and she will just tear you to pieces as you are disturbing its territory.

There is one option left and that is to approach the situation in a calm and logical manner. You want to stay out of the Chimp’s way so that she can run around, smash a few sticks and make loads of noise.

Have you ever been to a gym when you are angry. Exercising calms you down as you channel this energy into the lifting weights or running on a treadmill.

This is what you have to do with your Chimp. When something irritates the Chimp, then it needs to be exercised to vent its frustration.

You can exercise the Chimp by going to an isolated area and voicing your feelings. Just let it all out. Other methods include writing down your thoughts. One good way is using a notes application on your phone. The method I use most often is finding a quiet space and meditating.

The important thing to note is that you should pay attention to your breathing when you become angry or annoyed. It will start getting shallower and faster. Slow down your breathing and take deep breaths. This will calm down the Chimp without much effort.

Now that your Chimp is less aggravated, you can box it. I don’t mean smashing it in the jaw, instead you can guide it to its happy place. You can do this by letting the Human speak to the Chimp with facts and logic.

For instance, a driver cuts you up on the motorway. The Chimp goes mad because this person is invading your territory and is trying to challenge you. After exercising your Chimp, box the Chimp with statements such as “I am still going to get to my destination on time”, “There is nothing productive from reacting to this situation”, “The other driver did not mean to do it personally” and “Being concerned about this situation is wasted time and energy that could be better spent on other things”.

These truths will only settle the Chimp down if they are significant to it. Everyone needs to find the truths that are meaningful and powerful to their Chimp.

The life force

The life force is not a Star Wars reference, it is what you believe life is all about and how it should be lived.

Imagine you are on your deathbed with one minute left to live. Your great grandchild asks:

“Before you die, please tell me what I should do with my life?”

Try to honestly answer this question immediately within the next minute.

Answering this question will identify your life force.

Whatever your advice was to your great grandchild is actually advice to yourself. If you are not living by this advice, which is the essence of your existence, you are living a lie.

Don’t live a lie; it will unsettle you more than anything else.

The person you want to be is the person you really are

If you were asked to write a list of all the things you would like to be, you may produce something like this:

  • positive
  • happy
  • confident

The good news is that you are already all of these things. The bad news is that you are not realising these attributes about yourself because you are being hijacked by your Chimp.

If you do not recognise this hijacking then you may become disillusioned with yourself and feel like you are constantly failing and you may beat yourself up about it.

Beating yourself up for perceived failure, or self-loathing, is a destructive and useless waste of time and emotion.

The purpose of the troop 

The troop is a a group of people that will help, nurture and develop you, but most importantly you can trust them to stand by you and protect you.

This does not mean that they will always get it right or never let you down.

However, when your back is against the wall, they will stand with you.

The Chimp needs a troop for survival. A lone chimpanzee in the jungle is an easy target for predators.

The Human would like a troop because we enjoy sharing and working with others. The Human would like to be popular and contribute to building a successful society.

But we have a problem.

In this case, the Human can mislead the Chimp.

The Chimp knows that most of the people in the world act like Chimps and when people are in Chimp mode they can be dangerous. For this reason, not everyone can be in your troop and you can’t impress people outside of your troop who are intent on criticising you.

However, the Human brings society’s values and beliefs to the Chimp.

The Human logically reassures the Chimp that we live in a society and not a jungle and therefore we should look after everybody and please everyone because everyone is in our troop.

Now the Chimp is vulnerable and it will get attacked and bitten by other Chimps that are definitely not in its troop but that it feels it ought to include.

This can be resolved by allowing your Human to make a rule to be personable and approachable to everybody. However, accept the Chimp rule that not everyone is in your troop, do not become personal with everybody so you can protect yourself from emotional harm.

If you found this article useful share it with your troop.

Further reading?

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  1. b

    sensible advice. you cannot fight against your mind, but that does not imply that you should slavishly follow its desires. just examine everything without judgement and many problems will just disappear. although i must admit that it is very, very tough to do this consistently.

    Liked by 1 person

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