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Take a minute to think about a time when you felt at your best

Hansei Technology Ltd

We’ve all heard of the power of positive thinking, there is nothing new in the concept. Yet, many of us continue to spend our time imagining “worst case scenarios” and filling our heads with negative images of ourselves and of the world. Leadership can be equally challenging, we use experience to feed our self defence mechanism, like an inner risk management process, it helps us build our resilience to the many issues that we will be faced with every day, suppressing our more natural emotional response to situations.  But what if we really cannot suppress our emotional responses, only manage them.

In the book "The Chimp Paradox" by Prof. Steve Peters’ he describes our brains as being made up of several parts - of which the essential three make up what he calls the "psychological mind": the human, the chimp and the computer.  It is evident that this is not meant to be scientifically accurate; it is a mere simplification that provides us with a model we can work with.  He then describes the three elements of the psychological mind in an attempt to help us understand how they interact, how they are joined up and how they continually battle against each other in an ongoing power struggle.

The human is the rational us, calm, disciplined, caring, focused and professional. But the chimp is a volatile and emotional being that has developed separately over time. The chimp is the source of feelings and emotions, it is four times stronger than the human, and can hijack our behaviour, sometimes unexpectedly.  We are not responsible for the nature of our chimp, the chimp is neither good or bad, it’s just a chimp, but we are responsible for its management and control. The third part of the psychological mind is the computer. The computer is where all of our daily habits, routines and automatic responses are stored.

The human is in charge when everything is going along quite nicely. The computer is working diligently in the background helping us cope with environments and tasks that we are familiar with. The chimp is fast asleep. But then there’s a threat to something we care about. The chimp suddenly wakes and immediately becomes alert and anxious. What does the chimp care about? mainly survival and in the jungle, it’s all about survival and physical security.  

A member of our team starts discussing a project that we are responsible for and have been busy working on for some time, stating the issues that are being experienced and suggesting they would be better placed to take ownership, we suddenly start to feel threatened. The chimp doesn’t like it, the chimp starts to get very anxious, chimps see things emotionally. They don't think, they react, seeing the world in black and white, they jump to conclusions, paranoid, irrational and assume the worst. The chimp’s anxiety hijacks us and makes us respond with rational thought, fight or flight.  It will then turn its focus onto us, the inner negative voice destroying our confidence, telling us we are not good enough and should leave the project to someone more capable.  It leaves us questioning our very existence.

But instead of concentrating on our perceived flaws and all that’s wrong with the world, we can manage that chimp and think more positively, continually looking for the best in ourselves, others, and the situations we face each day. We find that most of the time when we focus on the positive, good things happen to us and we feel happier, even if nothing around us changes.  Whilst being happy improves our ability to be more cognitively alert and productive, which in our work environments is useful, we are much more fun to be around.