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Bradley Wiggins – the Chimp and responsibility

26th Jul, 2012

You no doubt anticipated a blog post on Bradley Wiggins’ success in being the first Briton to win the Tour de France!  Almost as soon as Wiggins’ win was secure someone said to me, “I bet that will be your next blog!”  I must admit initially I wasn’t sold on the idea as it seemed, to me, to be down to Wiggins’ deep desire, exceptional fitness for the task and a vast outlay of money that enabled him to have the best riders supporting him, the best manager, best backroom staff etc.  For sure desire, fitness for the task and money are components of many successes but it is hardly a new story, is it? It was only when I was in the car, flicking through the radio channels, that I came across an interview with Dr Steve Peters on Radio Five and  realised there is a new story. Peters is the sports psychologist for Britain’s elite cyclists and a big influence in building the resilience within Wiggins to sustain the mental as well as physical challenge of such a gruelling race.

In Peters’ book ‘The Chimp Paradox’  he explains how he got the cyclists to wrestle with their nagging ‘inner voice’ and to control their emotions by giving them an easy-to-use model of what was going on in their brain. The latest neuroscience suggests that for any stimulus there are three very different pathways activated through the brain that can trigger a response. Peters labelled the paths as the human or logical thinking path, the computer or automatic path and the Chimp or emotional path. Peters states, “The Chimp is an emotional machine that thinks independently from us. It is not good or bad, it is just a Chimp” and “you are not responsible for the nature of your Chimp but you are responsible for managing it”. Peters argues that, once we acknowledge our emotions, once we acknowledge that the Chimp is there, we can start to notice, identify and name emotions and have the ability to respond accordingly rather than letting the emotions, or our Chimp decide! We therefore have the choice how we react to an emotion – we have response ability.

So, what does all this have to do with the world of work? Well actually quite a lot as it is another way of describing how to increase emotional intelligence.  Study after study and feedback from our workshops has shown emotional intelligence within leaders, managers and staff to be correlated with increased organisational performance.  We may not always be able to change a situation but we can change how we respond to a situation.  We too have response ability.

So, have fun training your Chimp!

Food for thought?