Friday, 12 May 2017

The Chimp Paradox: a review

I've just finished reading the Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, a psychiatrist who teaches at the University of Sheffield, who is highly regarded in the field of sports psychology. I actually read it in two chunks, I started a few months ago, got half way through and decided to read some other things before coming back to it. That's probably a good clue to my feelings about it. It's not unusual for me to be reading more than one book at a time, and it's not untypical for me to pause part way through some of them because I feel like reading something else. Usually I pause non-fiction works because I want a short-term fix of fiction, or I've been temporarily gripped by a different book. A pause is a sign it hasn't entirely gripped me, but coming back to it is a sign that it's interesting or useful enough to warrant finishing.

The Chimp Paradox can loosely be described as a 'self-help' book, the first such I've ever read, and is based on a 'Mind Management' model that Prof Peters has developed to assist patients (who include big names in British sport) to better deal with the pressures they face. The idea is the model can help the subject better understand their own behaviour and impulses and manage them to make them to be more successful, confident and happy. 

At the core of the book is the idea that our personality can be split into 'human' (our rational selves) and 'chimp' (our emotional selves), and the ways in which these two interact influences the way we engage with the events we face. Essentially the book offers help on understanding how our inner chimp can disrupt us and offers strategies to managing it. I can see some interesting overlaps between this model and the 'System 1 / System 2' model outlined by psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his celebrated book Thinking, Fast and Slow (currently paused two thirds through on my bookshelf). 

I must admit I'm generally cynical towards 'self-help' books, but I picked up this one because it I thought it might be help my career development, it didn't make any screechy boasts to be a panacea (which seems typical of US published lifestyle coaching/self-help efforts) and it had some credible endorsements like Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy. 

So what are my thoughts? Well, without wishing to sound flippant, a lot of it reads like formalised common sense and is pretty much in key with my own thoughts. It's a gross simplification, but I'd summarise the advice as don't taking headstrong, emotional approaches to problems, take a step back, a deep breath and think before acting. It was far from a waste of time, but probably not what I really need to push my career development. I think Prof Peters approach will be most beneficial to those suffering chronic stress or struggling to control destructive emotional patterns. It might have been more valuable to me a couple of years ago when I was under stress working in a dysfunctional organisation, but I'm in a better place now. However, the techniques espoused offer only partial mitigation to my previous situation, unequal power relations make challenging dysfunctional hierarchies extremely difficult and exiting is not trivial when you're financially dependent on sticking it out. 

Not a waste of time, almost certainly worth having as a backup should things get tough in the future, but maybe I need to find something more specific to my career development objective.

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