Principal’s Blog, Friday 13th September 2019, Is that you or the chimp talking?

My predecessor Mr Bennison set up the tradition at Hazeley of a weekly blog from the Principal. The idea was that it would allow parents and other interested stakeholders, the opportunity to regularly dip into what was going on at the academy. The hit counter suggests that it has been popular. 

We are planning to update it this year by also sending it out via schoolcomms. To help prevent overload for you as parents we are reducing its frequency to once per fortnight and will be aiming to keep it to just one side of A4. 

We are hoping to cover a wide range of topics from revision and school trips, to bullying and mobile phones. The most important thing is that you find it useful, we know that the more informed and supportive parents are in relation to their child’s education, the happier and more successful their child will be and this is something we are committed to. 

“Is that you or your chimp talking?”

In his popular book the Chimp Paradox the successful psychologist Dr Steve Peters describes a simplified model of the human mind in which we have multiple brains. One of them is our rational human brain, it is focused on facts, truth and logic, it is rational and located in the frontal lobe.

Another brain is dominated by instincts and drives, it is highly emotional and prone to overreacting, he refers to this as your inner chimp.  He explains how these brains have evolved, the chimp brain came first, it is fast, strong and centred on survival, it was ideal early in our existence. Our human brain is designed to help us thrive; it is perfect at supporting us in making good long-term decisions and seeing beyond the fog of emotion.

According to Dr Peters one of our challenges as humans is managing our chimp brain. Have you ever had moments when you start to react irrationally to a situation? Maybe someone cuts you up while driving or a friend says something that you find upsetting, or possibly your son/daughter infuriates you up in a way only they can?  Does your chimp take over? Do you respond in a way that on reflection is not how you might want to? The book gives all sorts of ways in which you can “manage” your chimp, one of the most important is acknowledging that it exists and realising that you do not need to respond to your feelings.

I can’t think of an area of life that evokes stronger emotions than parenthood. It is natural to instinctively want to jump to your child’s defence when you see that they are upset, or you feel that they have been wronged in some way. Our chimp brains can quickly take over, demanding that we act immediately, forcefully and fully fuelled by emotion. This would be the perfect way to respond if the threat was a wild animal approaching our child, but it is rarely the best way with modern problems. This is where we need to “manage our chimp” and ensure that it is our human brain that takes control of our actions.

Have you ever felt yourself or witnessed someone else going through this challenge? Things rarely turn out well until the chimp is under control. Of course, the added challenge is that we all have chimps, if we are not careful, we end up in situations where the chimps are shouting at other chimps and all logic and reason are lost.

Although we might not go about it in as systematic way as outlined in the Chimp Paradox, one of our roles as parents and educators is to help the young people in our charge to identify and manage their chimps and as always the best and probably hardest way is to try and model it ourselves.

Mr Nelson