Mastering your brain.

I enjoyed meeting Robbie Anderson of Chimp Management (the company set up by Professor Steve Peters, author of ‘The Chimp Paradox’) and learning more about the idea of two main forces operating within our brains and how one, the “Chimp”, rules the roost if not properly managed.

I’m sure we’ve all regretted times when our Chimp has taken control and we’ve said something or sent an email that we’ve later reflected on and wished we hadn’t. There’s one obvious strategy for dealing with it that works if time allows – that is to create a gap between the stimulus and the response (a concept I learned from Stephen Covey many years ago), aka “hit the pause button”.

However, in my next book, “Indivisible Life”, I’m developing on an idea taught to me by Colin Blundell that will help to proactively calm the Chimp or rather avoid it getting engaged in the first place.

Whilst Steve Peters and Robbie Anderson have broken the brain down into 3-4 main parts, in reality there are millions of components. In the same way that we have certain principal aspects of our lives, (work, home, family, social, etc.) so we also have a myriad of variations, some so subtle they’re only known to ourselves.

For example, let me take my work-self. On different days I might be engaged in writing (such as right now), speaking at an event, chairing a Group meeting, coaching a leadership team to name just four. With each I bring a different set of “Is” – characteristics that I’ve worked out will be helpful. For example, when writing a four-i, it’s useful for me to engage “curious-I” at the outset (research stage) and allow myself to be distracted or rather to explore (“Explorer-I”). However, when actually writing, these are not helpful “Is”, instead it’s much more useful to activate “Focused-I” instead and later on in the process, “Editor-I”.

We’re made up of thousands, (actually an infinite number) of “Is” and key to engaging the right ones, the best ones for the role in hand, is to preselect them, rather than allowing the Chimp to do so in the moment. It’s all about identifying which part of your brain, (or even which “I”) is in charge, and because the pull of the Chimp is so powerful, it’s sensible to have something else take the decisions other than in extreme, flight or fight situations.

I suggest that to get started you identify up to three key roles, perhaps one each for work, family and personal. Then consider which “Is” will be most helpful (and also consciously making sure which “Is” are most definitely excluded). For example, take a business presentation, perhaps a Market Appraisal. I’d select: “Listening-I, “Questioning-I”, “Polite-I”, “Empathic-I”, “Communicator-I”, “Confident-I”, “Persuasive-I” as my starting set. In time these would become bracketed together, perhaps labelled as “Business Pitch-I”, but initially I’d work out what each one looks and feels like. I do this by reflecting on each moment when I’ve been at my very best in a situation, or, if it’s something completely new then to seek out examples of others that I can seek to emulate. As I remind myself of “top-form” behaviours I’m able to lock them down and label them as an “I”. Then, when I’m ready, I go into the “I”, I become the “I”. (I’d also make sure to not activate, “Rushed-I”, “Distracted-I” and others that perhaps I’ve recognised have got in the way of delivering the perfect pitch in the past).

This quote (not checked) is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and sums up the idea of controlling your “Is”:

“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.”

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