Wrap your inner chimp up this Xmas

As we head towards Christmas and New Year, lots of familiar patterns and narratives tend to creep into our worlds. And they often centre around:

  • why there’s little point in starting/continuing healthier habits pre-Xmas
  • periods of excess and being more sedentary (which typically leads to us feeling less great and becoming even more sedentary)
  • a focus on changing who we are…in January.

The first thing I want to say is that you’re awesome as you are, so please don’t focus on changing anything about you when the New Year arrives! In fact, I’d go so far as to say that many of us would benefit hugely from being ‘even more us’, so rekindling the spark that makes us who we really are…before work, responsibilties and kids left us feeling stretched so thinly. Remember those times when you felt able to just have fun and make spur of the moment decisions? To do things that gave you real joy? To really be in a moment without distraction / your phone / your to-do list hanging over you? When you laughed so hard about something silly that you cried and couldn’t get yourself back together enough to retell the story to anyone?

In times gone by you probably felt more invincible and capable too. And whilst some of that may be down to the sometimes unrealistic nature of youth, some of the change is undoubtedly down to the beliefs and assumptions that you (perhaps unknowingly) hold.

Whether you think about it as your “chimp brain” vs your “human brain” (Prof Steve Peters’s ‘Chimp Paradox’), “system 1” vs “system 2” (Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow‘), or simply as instinct vs logic, there’s a well researched and very distinct part of your brain that runs more on gut feeling, assumption and auto-pilot and it’s much faster to react that the more logical part of your brain.

This is really helpful when it comes to automating straightforward tasks that you repeat daily (think reading, driving, etc.) or dealing with situations that demand an instant response (think fight or flight). It’s not so great, however, when it comes to emotion, big decisions or to habits that we’ve developed that don’t serve us so well.

So next time you tell yourself that you can’t do something or you embark on a behaviour that’s destructive or counter productive to your goals, stop & challenge that belief. Is that really true or is that an unhelpful belief that your chimp has jumped to?

We are what we repeatedly do and all that, so be the person who speaks kindly and positively to themselves and build positive habits that support your goals and happiness.

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