The Chimp Paradox - Review

The Chimp Paradox
The Chimp Paradox

The Chimp Paradox was published in 2012, at the dawn of a golden era of British cycling. It was an age of innocence, an age of optimism.

The author of the Chimp Paradox, Dr Steve Peters, has managed to be both incredibly successful and very popular with everyone he encounters - no mean feat.

He has degrees in maths and medecine, and he's a consultant psychiatrist. He has worked with British Cycling, Team Sky, the England football and rugby teams, Liverpool FC, British Swimming, and many more organisations besides.

He gets glowing testimonials from Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Brendan Rodgers. Steven Gerrard says of Peters, 'he is the best'.

On top of all that, the doctor/writer has even won World Masters athletics titles at 100m, 200m and 400m.

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The Book

The book is intended to help readers understand they way their minds work. In the introduction, Dr Peters says that Chimp Management is based on scientific facts and principles, but simplified into a workable model for easy use.

The simplification involves taking three parts of the brain (frontal, limbic and parietal), and calling them 'the Human', 'the Chimp', and 'the Computer'.

The Human and the Chimp

The Human is your rational self. When people have accidents and damage their frontal lobes, they become disinhibited and lose judgement; they can have outbursts of aggressive behaviour. This is the limbic part of the brain taking over, and is represented by the Chimp. The Chimp is an emotional machine.

When you worry, say things in the heat of the moment, can't stop eating, or don't want to exercise - all this can be attributed to the Chimp.

The Computer

The Computer stores thoughts and behaviours, and uses the information to act in an automatic way.

One way to put the Computer to good use is to think about situations in advance, decide how you want to react, and input this information to the Computer.

For example, a driver can think about how they will respond when they come across people on bikes and can't overtake immediately. They can decide to wait until it is safe to overtake, and not to get angry.

If this response is in the Computer, it becomes an Autopilot that takes over when the situation arises.

Exploring Your Inner Mind

With the Human, Chimp and Computer established, the first part of the book is dedicated to understanding how those different parts of your mind work.

Now Peters introduces another metaphor or set of metaphors - the Psychological Universe.

It starts off with the Divided Planet, where the Human and Chimp both live, and continues with the Guiding Moon, which is the Computer.

For me, this is a metaphor too far. Human, Chimp, Computer - fine. Why do we need to double up the metaphors, adding an extra layer of complexity with planets and moons as well?

It ends up being rather far-fetched: towards the end of the book, the author describes the Moon of Carrots. Really?

Day-to-Day Functioning

The second part of the book is about day-to-day functioning. This includes relating to other people, communicating effectively, and dealing with stress.

It's all very useful and there's lots of good advice, but it's dressed up as moons and planets as well as involving the Chimp and the Human and the Computer. Again, too many metaphors for me.

Health, Success and Happiness

The third and final part of the book has advice for health, success and happiness.

I prefer the sub-title of Chapter 13 'How to Look After your Health' to the title, which is 'The Planet of Shadows and the Asteroid Belt'.


No one can doubt Dr Peters' knowledge and brilliance. The Chimp Paradox is packed with good advice from someone with impeccable credentials.

My main reservation is that a book that sets out to provide a simplified and easy-to-use model of the brain, complicates explanations needlessly with planets and moons.

The Million-Pound Question

In a chapter about the Foundations for Success, Dr Peters describes the Million-Pound Question.

'If you were given a million pounds to do [a] task before the end of the day, could you do it? If the answer is yes, I would definitely have it completed, then this means that it is possible to do it. It means that if you don't do it by the end of the day, then any reason you offer as to why you didn't do it is just an excuse for not being disciplined.'

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