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How can we stop ourselves from being hijacked by our Chimp?

Well it is Easter! I’m expected to eat chocolate aren’t I? I’ll start my diet again/rejoin the gym/restart the alcohol detox next week (and I’ll definitely stick to it this time!)

How many times have you thought or uttered these or similar words? The shopping aisles are filled with Easter treats and surprises, the adverts are full of encouragement to give into more temptations of food and drink and general over indulgence during the 4 day Easter bank holiday weekend but we can say ‘no thank you’……..can’t we?

Why do we often find it so hard to stick to our healthy eating plans? Why do we find it hard to say no to ‘just one more chocolate” or “one more glass of fizz”? What’s going on?

Sarah Caddy

Dr Sarah Caddy – Director & General Practioner

Find out more about Dr Sarah Caddy

How can we stop ourselves from being hijacked by our Chimp?

Well it is Easter! I’m expected to eat chocolate aren’t I? I’ll start my diet again/rejoin the gym/restart the alcohol detox next week (and I’ll definitely stick to it this time!)

How many times have you thought or uttered these or similar words? The shopping aisles are filled with Easter treats and surprises, the adverts are full of encouragement to give into more temptations of food and drink and general over indulgence during the 4 day Easter bank holiday weekend but we can say ‘no thank you’……..can’t we?

Why do we often find it so hard to stick to our healthy eating plans? Why do we find it hard to say no to ‘just one more chocolate” or “one more glass of fizz”? What’s going on?

How do we prevent ourselves from sabotage?

In order to try and help us understand why we so often sabotage our best laid plans or our own happiness, it’s important to remember that we have two independent thinking parts to our brain, each with different agendas and each with different ways of thinking. Remember the Chimp represents an emotional thinking part of our brain, incorporating the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex, which can lead to impulsive and irrational ways of thinking and behaving. The Chimp does not consider long-term consequences of its choices but looks for and wants immediate gratification. The Human on the other hand refers to the logical rational brain-based in the frontal lobe, which works with facts and evidence.

While your Human may decide you will stick to just one drink or skip dessert or agrees to say no to Easter eggs this year, it is your Chimp that, despite these plans, you will hear saying “yes please” to the double chocolate brownie accompanied by a glass of wine, to the extra-large Easter egg or the ‘nth’ chocolate in the box. 

Even if you can recognise this is happening and that you are being hijacked by your Chimp, our Chimps can be very clever and will put up a good, often rational sounding argument. You may recognise thought processes such as, well you have had a really tough week at work +/- at home so you really do deserve to put your feet up and enjoy this delicious meal or treats with friends. Seems perfectly reasonable doesn’t it? Except this is not what you wanted. You had decided you wanted to stick to your healthy eating plans so when the Chimp, which is stronger and faster than you, overpowers you with this emotional logic, you invariably end up giving in to temptation. It is then the Human who is left to deal with the fallout later. You are likely to be left feeling disappointed, perhaps even experience guilt and self loathing and are left asking yourself why did this happen again?

So, what can you do about this, what strategy could help you navigate all the temptations on offer this Easter? The first step is to be able to recognise when you’re being hijacked by your Chimp. Very simply using the words or asking yourself “do I want…?” can help you identify unhelpful thinking or behaviours. For example “do I want to be behaving in this over-indulgent manner?” If the answer is no you’re almost certainly being hijacked by your Chimp. Learning to recognise a Chimp hijack is the first step in starting to manage the Chimp.

By having an understanding of how your unique mind works you can start to get back a sense of control. A simple strategy for example paradoxically may be to use your Chimp to your advantage. Your Chimp regards its troop (it’s core mix of people, usually friends and family who support and protect you) as key to its stability and security so telling your troop that you’re going to stick to healthy choices this Easter and asking them to check on your progress after each event or situation can be very helpful. Your Chimp won’t want to let them down. It won’t want to look weak in front of its troop.

Reminding yourself of a few pointers before the situation or event can also help. For example asking yourself “how will I feel in half an hour or tomorrow?”, reminding yourself “I want to be kind to my future self”, “ I can give myself TLC without overindulging in food/alcohol”. Getting you and your Chimp mentally warmed up before you go into this or any situation can help you start to negotiate an enjoyable Easter bank holiday weekend, but this time on your terms, not on your Chimp’s.

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