This morning, on my regular trip to the Post Office something unusual happened. Something that would show me once again just how quickly my chimp brain reacts, and how my quieter but kinder brain wants to be heard.
On arriving at the post office I was juggling with three parcels, trying to put my mask on one handed (always forget to put it on before I get out of the car!), and I practically fell into the shop as the automatic door opened. Collecting my dignity I stepped down on one of the aisle to the post office at the back. In front of me, down the biscuit and drinks aisle was a young man with his hoodie on and mask firmly in place. I didn’t think twice until he looked up as I walked towards him, made eye contact and then I watched as he reached over to the shelf and put a can of something into his jacket.
Your brain works very fast at this point. The non judgemental head thought “perhaps he is putting it there as he can’t carry all his shopping?” Quick glance reveals no other shopping. He turned from me and picked up two more cans which he carried in plain site. As he walked past me my red head, hormonal unfiltered brain said “you might want to put that back?” Whilst at the same time my chimp is screaming “DON’T say anything, he’ll stab you!!!!” This is obviously what my chimp has trained itself to think about all shop lifters, they are armed and dangerous, there is no compassion there at all.
What I find fascinating is that all this happened in my brain in the split of a second. All that dialogue, internal arguments. It all kicked off and I felt like I was just a, observer of this inner conflict, until my mouth took over and I spoke to him.
Fortunately no violence occurred. What actually happened was that he just grunted at me with a “Yeah” and walked past me and out of the shop.
Enter the chimp once more…. I dashed to the post office and said to the lovely ladies there “I’ve just watched someone shop lifting and don’t know what to do!!!! He’s walked out of the shop!!!” But it turns out that a member of staff had seen him walk out with the drinks and ran after him calling him by his name. Apparently last week he’d been in taking wine, he’s a regular. How do I know this? Because we had a good old chat at the post office about it, apparently shop lifting is rife in the shop and today’s episode will be the first of many. I exclaimed that I would have been too scared to do that, far too worried about the consequences and also, I instinctively know it’s wrong to steal. ‘Judgy’ brain fully in gear at this point.
It wasn’t until I was in the car that my compassionate side was allowed a look in. When going over the recent events the quieter voice in my head started to speak. ‘Perhaps the chap was desperate, he couldn’t get a job, he hadn’t got people to be with, to help him feel valued. Perhaps he thought so little of himself that he simply didn’t care if he got caught, he’s self esteem was very low.’ This is the part of me that I prefer, the compassionate and understanding one.
I cannot begin to understand why someone steals from someone else, I am not standing in their shoes. My chimp was the first to judge, hand on hips very sure that he is right.
This whole brief episode this morning taught me much about my brain. It is an ongoing project learning to think before I speak. To turn off the judgement, giving me time to feel other emotions before I decide on my actions.
We all have our triggers. Especially within our family circles. We have trained, repetitive responses, and actually whilst we think we are responding to what’s in front of us, we are actually really digging up a learned response from what’s happened before, maybe as far back as your childhood.
What to do about it? Well recognising when your chimp is at play is key. When you hear the shouty judging voice take time to see if you can connect your reaction back to something in your past and see how that feels. Then it’s time to let it go.
I use different things for this, cutting energetic cords, essences, meditation, forgiveness and sometimes just acknowledging the connection is enough to let it go, or to be able to recognise what’s happening the next time.
As I write this the film Coach Carter is in my head. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it. It’s based on a true story of a coach not giving up on his students whilst instilling values and self drive and discipline. We have to keep believing in others.
Taming the chimp is constant work in progress, I call it my life long project. But it’s a fascinating one, and it keeps me on my toes!