Our brains keep us safe, not happy


by Prof Steve Peters

A clear and easy to understand guide to how our brains work.

I was once told that our brains keep us safe, not happy. The Chimp Paradox perfectly illustrates why and how our brains do just that.

The limbic brain is the Chimp brain. This is the part of our brain that’s in control when we get upset or are worried and so our stress builds and builds and then it’s hello to making bad decisions, or being frozen and making no decision at all so we keep worrying and the stress keeps building - and so on.

This, frankly, has been too much of my life. So it was quite a revelation to realise this is not my true self. Actually, it’s a bombshell. I’ve been stressed over one thing or another for so long it’s part of my identity. And yet, this is not my true self.

What it is, is the primitive part of the brain that evolved to protect me from sabre tooth tigers and spiders. I still need protection from spiders, and if my cat’s not around to do battle for me, or if he just doesn’t give a toss because he’s a cat, then my Chimp brain takes over and decides I’m to stay standing on the couch, refusing to let any part of me touch the floor ever again, not giving that spider - that’s probably dead under the telly by now, cocooned in dust - the chance to spring out and bite me and try to crawl into my mouth while I sleep.

So there goes my whole life, standing and sleeping on the couch. Like I said, our brain protects us. It’s not its job to make us happy. Instead it highlights all the things we need to be aware of and keeps our worries and stresses front and centre.

So say hello to your frontal lobe - the real you, the logical, calm, reasonable you. Say hello to how you can manage your Chimp so you stay in charge instead of letting fear run your life.

I found it very soothing learning to manage my Chimp. It also triggered me. Because that’s me? Because I was dwelling on times when the Chimp was and is in charge? But I was also able to recognise what my brain was doing, communicate with my Chimp and take back control.

The final chapters include basic coaching techniques to show how managing our chimp contributes to living the lives we want to live. Take away the unreasonable, exaggerated and imagined fears, and we can assess and know we can deal with the consequences of the good decisions we make. We can take action and pursue our dreams. We can climb down from off the couch.

For more information on Life Coaching and Confidence courses to help you out of your head and away from inhibitions and self-consciousness, and into the life you want to be living, click below.