There’s no Friend as Loyal as a Book

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Ernest Hemingway got it right when he said, ‘there is no friend as loyal as a book.’ And it just so happens that recently I made a very good friend. As you can see from the photo, my copy of Professor Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox is well read. It has been loyal to me and others; read in it’s entirety and read only in parts; and is my current companion on a journey of self improvement.

This blogs sets out to record the daily interactions of myself and my chimp, both of who you will meet soon enough!

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Coast to Coast

‘Shall we go outside and clear the air?’ I could tell by the look on his face that that was unlikely to happen. A knot twisted in my stomach as we left the cool stone barn and stepped out onto a country lane in the depths of the North York Moors. Around us, steep green fields rose, shrouded in cloud at their peaks. It was the end of an arduous day supporting my partner’s sister who was in the process of completing the Coast to Coast walk. One hundred and ninety two miles of chaotic and underprepared for walking. Well, that’s how my partner viewed it and his chimp had certainly had enough! For them it was day twelve and for us day three. We thought we were going to help them carry their kit and enjoy a few days walking. What we didn’t realise was that the main emphasis for us would be the supporting, rather than enjoying the walking. Not a recipe for success!

Unfortunately for me, my partner’s chimp becomes very controlling in what he views as his domain – leading outdoor adventurous activities. And when things are not as efficient as they could be, he takes over. The problem was, his sister didn’t want his help or advice, which for my partner’s chimp was insulted. Her chimp thought he was controlling to the point of suffocation! My chimp partly agreed – see my post ‘I canoe Can You’.

Out on the country lane I attempted to ‘exercise’ my partner’s chimp. In the chapter, The Divided Planet, there is advice on how to manage your chimp, and part of good management is to exercise it:

  1. Take your chimp to a locked compound. In my case, this was away from the barn and my partner’s sister and further down the secluded lane.
  2. Let it all out – I told my partner to do this. He has also read the book and believes in its philosophy. He ran up the lane and back and screamed out his frustrations, knowing that some of them were unreasonable and possibly ridiculous.
  3. Listen to the chimp for as long as it takes – I remained fairly quiet which was challenging.
  4. Don’t comment – frankly impossible! Or I chose to ignore the nonsense and focus on the root of the problem.

What was really hard was to keep my chimp in its cage and only let my human me deal with him. To look at my partner’s chimp objectively and not feel upset or insulted was very hard. To express myself unemotionally and to put forward other people’s points of view was hard too. However, the physical act of running up the road literally tired out the chimp and he was able to be talked to using facts, truth and logic. This reasoning is called ‘boxing the chimp’.

I don’t think I was entirely unemotional or selfless but I did give it a good try and I’m proud of myself for not falling into an argument which would have left us both feeling bad. Things calmed down after that. That is until, the following evening when my partner’s sister melted my walking boots on top of the log burner. A tale worthy of another blog entry I’m sure!

Dinner Disaster

An argument over food in my house comes as no surprise. It was triggered by my own gremlins. Two in fact, the first relates to the children being greedy and selfish with food and the second relates to my partner going easier on his own children over mine.

Imagine the scene: a beautiful English summer evening. The sky is blue and cloud free and the air warm. The garden is lush and green and the usual banquet table is laden with food. I have been busy in the kitchen so unsurprisingly, I am last to arrive at the table.

As I sit down, a bowl of Caesar salad is passed to me. ‘Where has all the salad gone?’ I ask perplexed, as not everyone likes salad and not much has been served. ‘Don’t know,’ my partner shrugs uninterested. ‘Hang on a minute,’ my chimp interjects, wide awake. ‘Where can it all have gone? Someone must have eaten some before dinner.’ My tone has become curt. The truth is it could only have been three people sat at the table: my son and my partner’s twin daughters; the others don’t like salad. My partner went on to explain that as he hadn’t seen anyone eat the salad, he couldn’t berate them for it. He also questioned the volume of salad in the bowl in the first place. I was quite explicit as to how much salad there was. He still shrugs and tries to continue eating while my chimp is punching her fists on the floor! ‘Thanks for the support,’ my chimp growls at him. He can’t see what the issue is and thinks I’m over reacting and on a surface level I am. But as mentioned before, there are two chimpy gremlins at work here. Remember that gremlins are unhelpful and destructive beliefs or behaviours which are firmly fixed in our brains and hard to remove.

My chimp shrieks that if it had been my boys scoffing the salad he would have told them off. Remember the breakfast cereal incident? No? Well, they scoffed the cereal and were told off. ‘And the bloody kids are so greedy!’ She whispers furiously in my ear. What made my chimp take control of the situation was that I felt unsupported by my partner, especially as deep down I’m pretty sure he knew his children were at fault, as well as my son, and did nothing.

The meal soured the evening and my partner and I were at blows and both verbally and in the seething silence which followed. So today, as things normalise, I turn to the book. How should I have handled the situation? Chapter Nine is called Planet Connect and is about effective communication. The Square of Communication explains that for effective communication you need to have: the right time, the right place, the right agenda, the right away, and centrally, the right person.

Chose a time when both parties can listen, and there is long enough time to reach a conclusion. It can also be helpful to keep quiet until issues have settled down, and then plan a conversation. Chose the right place; somewhere quiet where you’re unlikely to be interrupted. A place which is private and on neutral ground is the best plan. The right agenda is key. It is easy to forget what the original point of discussion was, especially if the chimp has its say! Stating the agenda at the beginning of the conversation is useful. Agendas are tricky because your chimp’s agenda can be different to your human agenda. A chimp’s agenda will be to win, express emotion, attack and defend, get its point across, not give way, come out looking good and finally make guilty excuses. Your human will want to reach a sensible outcome which can be lost if the chimp is in control. Finally, the right way or choosing how to communicate: face to face, email, phone, third party, etc. There are plus and minus points to these choices and it may depend on the relationship you have with your protagonist. Having the square of communication appropriately organised will be the key to success and on reflection, I could have handled yesterday’s dinner disaster much better!

 

My Stone of Life

In the Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters has created the ultimate ‘life’ reference point; a list which contains our truths, values and beliefs called the Stone of Life. The stone is divided into three parts:

The Truths of Life

The truths of life are how we believe the world works. This can come from personal experience, as well as influences, such as parents, education and life events. On a surface level, the truths of life may seem negative but in the ability to accept them comes with contentment. For example, if one can accept that, ‘life is not fair’, when something unfair happens we can find it easier to accept it and find solutions, rather than wallow in self pity: ‘it’s not fair, you always eat the best breakfast cereal.’ Why not get up earlier, or set aside a bowl the night before?’ Breakfast cereal is an ongoing issue in my house! My truths of life are:

  • life is not fair
  • things change: plans, feelings, people
  • there are no guarantees
  • my feelings, emotions and thoughts do not always make sense
  • I make mistakes
  • people will let you down
  • people think and feel differently to me

Values

Our values are what is most important to us. They remind us who we are on a deep level. They reflect our core principles as human beings. They differ from ‘truths’ as they are not evidence based; they are judgment calls. You cannot prove that lying is wrong and therefore it is not ‘truth’. However, it is a common value that many people hold dearly and so it would come under the ‘values’ category. My values are:

  • be honesty and accept honesty
  • show kindness, fairness and empathy to others
  • put loved ones’ needs ahead of your own
  • continue to learn and adapt, take risks
  • be curious, have fun, laugh

The Life Force

Imagine you are 100 years old and on your death bed with one minute left to live. If your grandchild asked you, ‘what should I do with my life?’ How would you answer? Your answer is what life is all about to you. It is your ‘life-force’. My answer would be, ‘follow your dreams, love people, have adventures, feel free, work hard at being successful; strive for happiness and contentment. In truth, this is advice for ourselves right now and is the essence of our existence.

Summary of the stone of Life

  • The Truths of Life are statements that you believe are true for the way the world works.
  • The Values are principles and ideals you believe in.
  • The Life Force is what you believe life is about and how it should be lived.

Now that I have taken the time to create my Stone of Life, I must refer to it, live by it and most of all not forget about it.

I Canoe Part Two

‘I never wanted to come on this weekend trip anyway!’ A five foot ten chimp with ice cool eyes glared right at me, as we stood in an idyllic field behind an even more idyllic English country pub. ‘Here we go again,’ my chimp retorted, having heard this type of comment before. ‘It’s always bloody hard work and the kids are always bloody hard work. And I’m the one who’s always in charge. And I’m really knackered and I’m…’ ‘Yes it is and yes you are!’ I countered, feeling weary as my chimp whispered in my ear: ‘He always does this, on every trip we go on he always has a melt down. And he’ll never listen to you. And he’ll always shout you down. And you’ll always feel…’

As mentioned before, the canoe trip is always hard work. We are a family of eight, so the camping and canoeing equipment is a mission to organise, then add the six children to the mix… It’s fun but very tiring. The tipping point is a fine balance to uphold. Over the course of the whole weekend I would say we were mostly successful. However, there was a small incident were one of the children lit the stove and attempted to boil water using an electric kettle. It is after this incident, after a tiring first day that the opening paragraph took place.

The confrontation could have resulted in a major argument and the two of us not talking for the remainder of the trip. I didn’t start the conversation off particularly well but I did end it by excusing my chimp and myself to take away the litter. I did this literally. My partner and I have both read the book and continue to do so. A while later we crossed paths at the washing up sink with a smile and a hug. All forgiven but not quite forgotten.

 

The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back

The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred today at approximately quarter past five pm. I arrived home from work to discover a pile of my clean laundry strewn over my bed, in a creased heap. My chimp dissolved into tears and experienced an utter lack of control. Raging at whoever was nearest at the complete lack of concern of, let’s be honest, the person who bothered to do the laundry in the first place. ‘Who did the washing?’ she raged. ‘You could have folded it!’ she continued furiously. ‘I always fold everyone else’s washing!’ Her pitch heightened as her hands balled into fists. The on-lookers stared in frozen silence…

At first glance, this event alone is not enough to send me or anyone over the edge. It’s what happened beforehand; the accumulation of many straws over the course of the day, which made this straw the one which broke the camels back. The camel was heavily laden at the end of the working day, followed by a traffic jam which doubled my journey time to one hour and then I arrived home to the washing…

The Chimp Paradox book addresses instant stress and chronic stress. In the chapter regarding instant stress, we are councelled to deal with instant stress constructively, rather than just reacting to it. The problem with this is, that the chimp is well out of its cage by the time we are ready to deal with the stress, and has ‘behaved badly’. So we need to train our chimps to pause and take a breath. This is a skill which requires practise. Over time we should train ourselves to: recognise instant stress and tell ourselves to change our reactions; hit the pause button and calm down; escape and distance ourselves from the problem; look at the problem from an outside perspective and rate the problem on a scale of importance (Is the problem worth the stressful feelings?); make a plan to remove the stress; reflect before reacting, then activate the plan; finally, smile and laugh at yourself if you have overreacted.

Earlier, when I was crying over the washing, my partner entered the bedroom and laughed. I laughed too because I knew I was being self absorbed and had overreacted about the washing. At the same time, we both knew it wasn’t serious but recognised the need to let the chimp tire itself out. Hopefully it will sleep well tonight!

I Canoe Do You?

Friday morning and the pace has slowed; thank God! The end of the academic year is always challenging and chimp interactions are higher than normal, both at home and at work. I mentioned before that my family is blended with both my three children and my partner’s three children living with us for the majority of the time.

This morning was typical gorilla warfare: I could hear from the bedroom the rumblings of trouble; raised winging voices. My jaws immediately clenched; I’ve stated before, I am not at my best in the morning. And obviously this is not this first time I’ve had to deal with such an incident. I entered the kitchen as the youngest members of the troop were bickering over breakfast cereal. ‘Right. There’s enough cereal for everyone,’ I began but was soon interrupted. ‘But He always takes a giant bowl,’ someone moaned. ‘Yeah you do, I’ve told you to use the smallest bowl…’ and so the interaction continued but is too dull to report about here as my chimp while irritated managed the situation with moderate success. At least, there was no further fallout.

Today is not a normal working day. All eight of us are going away for the weekend, camping and canoeing on a canal. We all enjoy canoeing but not all of us are competent on the water. It has got me thinking about the book. I’m sure there’s something about rest, relaxation and sleep. I’m thinking that these three states do not mean the same thing to all of and we hold on to them with different values. For example, the youngest member of my troupe loves his tablet and gaming and I often have trouble removing it from him, while I really couldn’t think of anything I’d less like to do. Meanwhile, my partner is very sporty and often he is plagued by itchy; something I never have!

So what advice can The Chimp Paradox offer? The potential for the weekend to be successful is high. However, I’m sure there could be trouble in paradise…

Rest, relaxation and sleep comes under the subheading – Recuperation and rehabilitation. As I mentioned earlier it’s the end of the academic year, most of the children have experienced increased pressure due to end of year exams so we are all a little fatigued! Peters states that recuperation is much neglected when it comes to looking after oneself. Our work life balance has been out of balance but I’m hoping this weekend while address this. The question is, can we all recuperate: feel rested and relaxed in equal measure?

I write this while the house is blissfully empty. For me writing is a form of relaxation. Canoeing less so. But hey, the weather is good, the canal has no current, the scenery is beautiful, we have all the necessary equipment. In short, we are organised enough to let our chimps play and ourselves feel free from the normal constraints of life. If only life was a matter of plain sailing…

 

 

 

A Day at the Zoo

It’s Monday morning and I have to confess that my chimp has struggled to wake up. For her benefit, I set a pre-alarm clock of calming birdsong, in the hope that she may awaken in a half civilised fashion. She did not. To give her credit, she did manage a level of courteousness and was almost conversational before leaving for work. Possibly because our children were away at their parents’. At some point I will write a post on the progress my chimp has made regarding the first hour of her day…

Anyway, my chimp and I are at work, in a first school; a school for children aged four to nine. We are spending our day teaching in two classes; a total of sixty, eight and nine year olds in one large, open space. What could possibly go wrong? The likelihood for chimp interactions are off the scale!

So far so good; the children have come into school calmly and settled to their tasks. I’m feeling in control and my chimp appears to be taking a nap. That is until one child starts behaving like an actual chimp. ‘Bloody hell, here we go again,’ my chimp stirs from her slumber and notes the diminutive chimp in our presence who is jumping over chairs. ‘Come here please,’ I beckon the chimp child to me and he saunters over. ‘I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. Focus and remember it is no longer the weekend so we don’t jump over furniture and wander around the classroom at our leisure. Go back to your table and get on with your learning.’ The chimp child recognises that he has got away without a warning. My focus is drawn elsewhere and I assume the chimp child is now working. I assumed wrong. ‘What the hell is he doing by the sink?’ My chimp growls as I outwardly sigh. ‘Why have you left the classroom without asking?’ I question him more politely than my chimp would as he slinks back into the classroom. He looks at me with empty eyes and empty thoughts. He has no excuse other than he wanted to. ‘Fucking hell! Grab him the collar and frog march him down to the Head Teacher’s office!’ My chimp commands. I take a breath and explain that this is his final warning and if I see him making bad choices again he will have a lunchtime detention. My chimp feels mildly satisfied with this threat. I go back to what I was doing before but within a matter of minutes the chimp child is back to jumping over chairs and generally irritating anyone in a six foot radius. I feel my stomach sink and for a brief moment my chimp feels emotional and deflated. It’s barely 9am and my chimp moans that she feels like she’s just finished an eight hour shift. I squash her feelings as yet again I ask the boy chimp to come to me. This time I don’t ask him why he is jumping over furniture but instead question his overall decision making process. ‘The arrogance of this child!’ My chimp suddenly asserts herself and I feel my toes curl. He has no reason so I explain that he will go to lunchtime detention.

‘Oh and you can spend playtime with me as I’m on playground duty!’ My chimp instructs before I have time to think. I wonder if this entirely follows discipline procedures. My chimp smirks as the chimp boy slinks away.