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Saturday, 24 March 2018

Optimist or Pessimist? Be Sure to Cage the Chimp!

I always considered myself to be an incurable optimist until an event occurred recently that caused me to rethink. In fact pessimism and optimism are on the same continuum and we vary our position from day today, from event to event. I was right in pessimism mode.

I spend a deal of time as a mentor encouraging the members of my Vistage CEO peer group to look to a bright future will and generally deal comfortably with any bumps that always happen on the way.

Spring for me is the best season. It has all the promise of warm days ahead, green shoots heralding new growth an all in all, portends a bright future.

However, the event that made me examine myself was a problem I had with a very large professional enterprise which I had retained. After a period where relationships and service were going well all of a sudden everything changed.

Communications almost stopped and I couldn’t seem to be able to improve the situation.  As the work they were doing was statutory it began to be serious.

I starred to do precisely what I advise all my members NOT to do and that is to worry.  In the film, Bridge of Spies, the defending attorney played by Tom Hanks tells his client played by Mark Rylance that if he is found guilty it could mean the death penalty for treason.

MR: “I understand
TH: “Aren’t you worried?
MR: “Why, would it help?

A brilliant piece of advice to anyone in worry mode that I mention frequently and ignored completely.

The really sensible thing that I did was to take advice from of my group and she was both reassuring and helpful. I took her advice, the situation is now under control and the feeling of relief is palpable.

I should have known better. Some years ago I worked as a special  product engineer covering the North of England and one Friday late afternoon I took a call from the manager of our Leeds office who peremptorily told me to be in his office at 9.00am on Monday morning. I didn’t like him and the feeling was definitely mutual.

I didn’t enjoy the weekend simply because worry took over. I was going to  lose my job, my family would reject me and there would be nothing for it but to take the Beachy Head solution.

I did as I was instructed and turned up, apprehensive, pale and wan, at 9.0-am only to hear him say:

“Thank you so much for coming. I have a problem that only you can solve”.  

I suppose that I felt rather stupid at the waste of emotion but relief was the overwhelming feeling.

Again, did I learn from this experience?  Not really because it does still happen from time to time.

Professor Steve Peters in his great book, The Chimp Paradox, says that the chimp or emotional brain has five times the power of the human or rational brain and unless we learn how metaphorically to cage the chimp, we will allow our emotions to dominate.

Mark Twain said that as an old man he had known many troubles but most of them never happened.  It seems to me that the most sensible thing that I can do is to take my own advice.

“Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4.2) says it all.


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