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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Has Your Chimp Taken Over? Try a Little Autosuggestion!

In Vistage we have the privilege of hearing many world- class speakers on a wide range of subjects ranging from hard business topics right through to intensely personal subjects to help our members in the difficult task of leadership.

This week we have had the special privilege of hearing psychiatrist Professor Steve Peters give a captivating presentation to one of our Open Day audiences in Manchester on “Optimising the Performance of the Human Mind”.

Professor Peters came to public fame during the 2012 Olympic Games in London when he acted as consultant to the Team GB Cycling which was extremely successful gaining many medals including several gold.

His wonderful and readable book, The Chimp Paradox, has become essential reading for many members of my Chief Executive peer groups and his presentation emphasised that we can all change the way that our minds work given that we can understand how it works.

In the days of my youth I discovered the work of a French psychotherapist, one Emile Coue (1857-1926) and his philosophy interested me.  He became very fashionable in the 1920s with his concept of autosuggestion for self-improvement that has become almost proverbial.

In essence, and it was very simple, he advocated clasping the hands fairly tightly and then saying:

“Every day and in every way I am getting better and better”

What was particularly interesting was that this mantra needed to be repeated frequently and quietly.  Coue said that this would achieve its objective; that is, to increase self esteem leading to continuous improvement.

Coue came to mind when I heard a piece on the radio this week when a contributor told the story of how he had been able to minimise the effects of a serious illness through autosuggestion.

When he was a child he was diagnosed as having asthma and his doctors told him that if ever he had an attack and for some reason did not have his inhaler with him, he should lie down, close his eyes, clasp his hands and repeat continuously, “It is passing”.

It happened that on a trek in a forest at the age of 12 with a companion, he had an attack and would you know, he hadn’t brought his inhaler.  While his companion went for help he took his doctor’s advice and repeated the “It is passing” phrase continuously.

When help arrived he said that he had felt the muscles in his chest start to relax and he had come out of the worst of the attack.

There are many resonances with Coue here.  His experience demonstrated that we are able to affect our own well being by this technique of autosuggestion.

The Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah has used meditative techniques to develop its philosophy for more than 2000 years.  It is fair to assume that there must be something in it.

We all go through times that are taxing and difficult to comprehend.  It could be a loss of some sort, financial problems, marital and relationship issues and many others.

At the same time we always seem to exaggerate the issue and the potential outcome probably inaccurately.  Professor Peters says that it is the Chimp brain taking over.

I tend to use two very simple mantras:

I ask myself  Does it matter, does it really matter?” and if the answer is “no” then I am on the way to solving my problem.

The other, and this I have used before I heard the radio piece, is:

         “This too shall pass”

which is a medieval proverb dating from around 1200CE and originating in both Persian and Hebrew.

It is all a matter of understanding and accepting that the only constant in the universe is change and all situations, both good and bad, will change in some way.  Autosuggestion is a technique that we all can use at the right time and in the right way.

Read The Chimp Paradox.  You won't be sorry that you did.


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