Professor Steve Peters on how to train your brain for crisis
January 14, 2022. Series 5. Episode 37
In this episode we have something different as I’m joined by the brilliant psychiatrist Prof. Steve Peters, author of the best-selling The Chimp Paradox.
Steve’s landmark book has become a bible for anyone looking to cope with crisis or break down the barriers that can prevent us from living a fuller, happier life. During an illustrious career Steve has worked with people facing life threatening challenges to athletes looking to improve performance – most famously the British cycling team.
The Chimp Paradox, which gave Steve rock star status as a psychiatrist, sets out a mind management system based on the premise that there are three forces at play in our brains. The emotional and primal ‘inner chimp’ – who thinks and acts for us without our permission, the ‘inner human’ who is the real person – rational and humane – and our memory bank, the ‘computer’.
For me it’s been a powerful and entirely logical toolkit for handling stress and those moments of difficulty in my life. In our chat Steve talks about how the chimp system applies itself to crisis and how it can help anyone, to navigate their way through a world increasingly influenced by those black and white judgements of social media. His new book – ‘A Path Through the Jungle’ (link below) sits neatly alongside The Chimp Paradox as a ‘Hayne’s Manual’ for the brain.
This episode is a fascinating analysis of what crisis actually is and how our minds work when we’re in the midst of significant trouble. Full of gems I guarantee you’ll want to make a note of.
Steve’s Crisis Cures:
1 – My values – I get myself on my own and ask myself, ‘Have I done the right thing? Have you got integrity, honesty? Are you working with compassion? If I know that to be true, I can’t stop the world thinking what it thinks. Therefore, whatever the crisis is, that stops me being thrown around.
2 – Acceptance – I find this as soon as I can so I can work forward in the situation, rather than fighting the injustice or crisis.
3 – Perspective. At the end of the day, we have very short lives. Now I’m older, perspective is really important to maintaining the status quo in my mind.
A Path Through the Jungle – Book – https://amzn.to/3eRPhYo
The Chimp Paradox – Book – https://amzn.to/3DsJWBd
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:19.08 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to series five of Crisis What Crisis? I’m Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. Over the last seven years I’ve put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success, but there are far, far fewer where you can benefit from the experiences of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:00:53.24 Andy Coulson:
So, on this podcast you’ll hear from the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. But you’ll also hear from renowned crisis managers, mental health experts and other advisors who were in the room when major crises have hit. All of them offering useful, practical coping techniques and tips and all with the straightforward aim of guiding you towards a more resilient approach to life and whatever it might throw at you.
00:01:23.01 Andy Coulson:
Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing and improving human performance. Just search for Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify and you’ll find some great playlists. And if you enjoy what you hear on this podcast please subscribe and give us a rating review. You can also follow us in Instagram and Facebook, our handle is @crisiswhatcrisispodcast.
00:01:50.11 Andy Coulson:
Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis? and our first episode of 2022. I’m chuffed to bits that I’m joined today by someone who, although they didn’t know it, helped me navigate some dramas in my life, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Professor Steve Peters is a consultant psychiatrist who specialises in the functioning of the human mind. And his landmark book, The Chimp Paradox has become a bible for anyone looking to overcome crisis, or to simply understand and beat the barriers that prevent us from living a fuller, happier life. He’s done that for people from all sorts of backgrounds, for all sorts of reasons, including a long list of athletes, most famously the British cycling team.
00:02:32.12 Andy Coulson:
Steve started out as a teacher and worked in the NHS for two decades as a GP and later as a forensic psychiatrist at High Security Rampton Hospital. He holds an endless list of qualifications in medicine, mathematics, education, sports medicine and psychiatry. He’s published a number of best-selling books as I say, including, most recently, A Path Through the Jungle. But it’s the brilliant Chimp Paradox that gave Steve rock star status as a psychiatrist. For those of you that haven’t read it, it sets out a mind management approach, a system really, based on the premise that there are three forces at play in our brains: the emotional and primal inner chimp thinks and acts for us without our permission; the inner human is the real person, it’s you, rational, compassionate, and humane and our memory bank is the computer.
00:03:22.12 Andy Coulson:
For me, it’s been a powerful, entirely logical and frankly bloody useful toolkit for handling stress and those moments of difficulty. In our chat Steve talks about how the chimp system applies itself, if you like, to crisis and how it can help anyone, kids included, navigate a world increasingly driven by those black and white judgements of social media. So it’s a different kind of podcast to usual this week a fascinating analysis of what crisis is, how our brains work when we’re in the midst of significant trouble and the importance of values, acceptance and perspective. It’s a chat full of gems that I guarantee you will want to make a note of. So get your pen, or if you’re anything like me, your notes app ready. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did and thanks, as always, for listening.
00:04:13.23 Andy Coulson:
Professor Steve Peters, thank you so much for joining me today.
00:04:17.18 Professor Steve Peters:
Thank you for inviting me.
00:04:19.22 Andy Coulson:
I’m an unashamed big fan of The Chimp Paradox and I’ve been looking forward to this conversation enormously. But before we get into your work, Steve, and your model that’s been so successful in helping so many people, I’d like to talk, just a little bit about you, if I may? you’re the son of a dock worker and your mum was in an insurance agent, I think. Born in Middlesbrough, so there are no silver spoons in this story. You were a very bright lad, the first boy in your school to take four A levels. University followed and your first professional role in life was as a maths teacher, is that right?
00:05:01.00 Professor Steve Peters:
That’s correct, that’s correct.
00:05:03.13 Andy Coulson:
How was that first job? I mean, I’m obviously very intrigued to discuss the kind of incredible journey that you’ve had to where you are now, but what do you remember about that early life?
00:05:16.24 Professor Steve Peters:
It was a fantastic time. I mean, at the end of the day when I came to go to university, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to be a vet, that was my original thought. Then I thought, really, if I’m going to be a vet, I really should focus on people and be a doctor. But I loved actually teaching and so, and I found maths straightforward so I decided that maybe I should do a degree in maths and get into the classroom. And so that I did and I taught for a few years.
00:05:43.03 Professor Steve Peters:
What happened was, I was doing a lot of voluntary work, as a young man. So I worked with the Help the Aged, NSPCC, I was working at a place called North Sea Camp with detained young men who’d got into difficulties. So I was doing a lot of charitable work and I helped set up the Victim Support Scheme, it didn’t exist then. So I was lucky enough to work with a senior probation officer who asked me to join him and work on helping people who had been victims of crime. And that was really eye opening. And so after a short time of teaching I just though really I wanted to help people, because there seemed to be so many psychological and medical problems in the work I was doing that I felt that I really needed that knowledge to be able to help people. So I went back to medical school, retrained, and then entered the medical profession as a doctor.
00:06:33.00 Andy Coulson:
So where did the energy come from in your life? I mean, your story is one of remarkable success, sort of breakneck activity and to a degree reinvention as well. You touched on some of the roles there, I mentioned them in the intro, qualifications gained, the millions of books sold. You’ve also been a successful age group athlete, holding several world records.
00:07:06.15 Professor Steve Peters:
I think that’s it; we’ve got a lot of energy but the running was just incidental, it’s only a fun thing and it’s worth doing. I’ve done it thirty years and I didn’t realise I could really sprint that hard. And it was only when I got to forty that people said, you’re doing well for an old man. And so I thought, oh well, maybe I’ll stop now and then they said, oh there’s this masters world of athletics. So I did start hitting the gym and training properly. And then I just realised that I got to the top and I was getting these world records and they’ve been there for, a privilege of being there for thirty years. but it’s very hard work staying there.
00:07:39.12 Professor Steve Peters:
But I think the initial energy, where it comes from, I think it’s a gift to me that I’m blessed by finding success in other people. I love seeing people succeed; I love to help the underdog. I love to maximise performance in people. Not just in sport, because that’s a side line really, it’s in their quality of life. I love to get people off the floor and work with them to get success in their life and good self-esteem. That’s always been my driving force, problem solve, you know, come up with solutions.
00:08:13.17 Andy Coulson:
I suppose my question is anchored around the fact that you wrote The Chimp Paradox in 2011, 2012 there or thereabouts, by which time you’d achieved so much. So you clearly had a firm grip on your mind and how to get the best out of it from a very early stage. Did you work that stuff out for yourself? Did you get inspiration from other places and from, I don’t know, another book, or other people that you were working with? Or maybe it’s genetic, or maybe it’s from your parents I don’t know. I’m interested to know where the foundations for all this were built.
00:08:54.20 Professor Steve Peters:
I think I’ve always been a bit of a dynamo in the sense of having a lot of energy and loving to live life to the full. Coupled with the idea that, as I said, I love helping people, I’m a real people person. I think the combination means you’re directing your energy at helping people and that feeds itself. You know, the rewards are seeing people in a good place and just feed me with more energy. So I absolutely love what I do. I’ll not stop doing it. I think from the chimp point of view, when I became a doctor I was never going to be a psychiatrist, that wasn’t on the cards. And I do remember doing cardiology at one point and I remember one of the other doctors, psychiatrist this was, he came to visit, someone had done and overdose and we were stabilising the arrhythmia that it had created in the heart. And he said to me, ‘you know, you’re really good with people, you really should be a psychiatrist’. And I remember thinking, no chance. I just didn’t rate it. I just keep thinking, I’m not sure why it’s medical you just chat-chat to people.
00:09:54.16 Professor Steve Peters:
I think the turning point came when I trained as a GP, I left hospital medicine and went into general practice. And during that, in my rotations, I did psychiatry and I think it really bowled me over because it was at that point I realised it was highly academic. Probably the hardest of the sciences because you really have to work out what’s going on in someone’s head and have the medical knowledge and the neuroscience to back up what your ideas are on this particular person. And you’ve got to work and communicate really well with them. So I found psychiatrist was one of these things to be good you really have to be good and it was a challenge.
00:10:31.12 Professor Steve Peters:
And it was coupled with the fact that the most vulnerable people were sat in front of me. At that point, this is a long time ago now, over thirty years ago, I just felt the service was so poor in what it supplied to help people, I couldn’t walk away, I just couldn’t walk away. And I thought I’ll stay on and do another six months and another and it really just, I just stayed and kept going, working through disciplines and became a consultant almost by accident and absolutely love my job.
00:11:00.22 Professor Steve Peters:
The difficulty was that when people came through the door, and this is leading to your question on the chimp model, what I found is there’s a temptation as a doctor to pick up a prescription pad as soon as somebody walks in because generally speaking if you’re going to treat people that’s one of the main ways we would do it. But in psychiatrist, my opinion was, and only my opinion, maybe half the people coming through the door did not need medication. They needed to understand what was going on in their lives and particularly in their mind.
00:11:29.12 Professor Steve Peters:
So I started to really get interested in the neuroscience of the mind. And also looked at the brilliant people who had gone before, such as Freud, Klein, Jung, so these were the psychodynamic aspects, psychoanalytical, but also like obviously Ellis’ Rational emotive therapy, that came in, I looked to transactional analysis. And being an academic at university I teach all these things. So I’m teaching all these theories and therapies and it became… Something that suddenly struck me is none of them were actually saying to you, your mind can think, you know, without you. None of them were saying that to me. They were always saying, you’ve thought this and this is a defence or this is…
00:12:13.07 Professor Steve Peters:
And I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying from my point of view I tried to link that to neuroscience and it became obvious in neuroscience that parts of our brain operated, both thinking and behaviourally, without our permission. And the more I researched that the more I realised that there are two of us operating. And it made sense then, when patients come in, and say ‘I’m drinking too much and I don’t want to do this’. And it made sense why people get anxious and can’t just flick a switch and say, ‘oh I’m going to stop now’.
00:12:43.02 Professor Steve Peters:
So all these things started to become apparent and I tried to explain this to my medical students, I’m at Sheffield Medical School, and I explained to them, ‘you know, you’ve got to look at this part of the brain and separate it from the person in front of you’. They’re dealing with a machine, just like we do with our liver that does what it wants, our kidneys that do what they want, we only know when they’re going wrong when we get symptoms. The problem with the mind is it’s seen to be dysfunctioning a lot of the time and creating a lot of stress to people.
00:13:11.05 Professor Steve Peters:
So I invented the chimp model in the 1990s and it was an attempt to unify all of these amazing building blocks that I had been taught and I’d learnt and been using, such as things like CBT, and bring them together with this added ingredient that says don’t forget there’s part of your brain that’s not within your control. And that was the start. So it’s been around for thirty years, nearly. I taught it to students in the hope that they would use it themselves and help patients. But it just got a life of its own and I was worried it would become a cult.
00:13:48.09 Professor Steve Peters:
And I called it the inner chimp because talking to hominid specialist, these are the great ape specialists, they were saying that the chimpanzee alone, within the hominid group, operates the same way as we do with the brain. And it’s the same system, it’s almost identical. So this particular system, I said, we have that in our heads. It’s like having this little inner chimp. And people found it amusing but very powerful. So obviously, after that, I got challenged, quite rightly, heavily by students saying ‘is this accurate, is this scientific?’ So I had to start to explain it in terms of neuroscience. So it took a life of its own and in the early 2000s I finished the model and said, you know, it’s an accessibly model, if it resonates with you, it’s not for everyone. And then it catapulted me into the limelight.
00:14:38.08 Andy Coulson:
Let’s just take a step back then and explain the framework in a little bit more detail, if you don’t mind. Because it is essentially the framework for our conversation today. In summary, you identified that there are effectively three voices vying for attention in the brain, if you like. Our chimp which is, in evolutionary terms, the most established, possibly the loudest. Our human and what you call our computer. Just explain to us, if you don’t mind Steve, how these three elements come together to help but also in the context of crisis, if you like, how they hinder us.
00:15:17.00 Professor Steve Peters:
Okay, so in a nutshell, to try and keep this simplified so we can access the brain and use it, what you see is there is the orbitofrontal cortex, the bit of the brain above the eyes, it thinks and acts in a very impulsive way. So this is the chimp system. And it taps into the centre of the brain and calls on the brain, it’s like an orchestra playing away and depending on what music they’re asked to play different parts play loudest. But the chimp interprets all of that internally with what’s external to it and it does that from its emotions. So this part of our brain goes on feelings, intuition, body language. It’s very much an emotionally based part of our brain. It does use logic but it’s based on emotion before it forms an action.
00:16:04.17 Professor Steve Peters:
What happened is that system gets going in the early weeks of foetal life, we see this developing and reacting. So it reacts to life and it works out what works and what doesn’t. It’s very reactive, yes or no. What we find is around the age of two a second thinking and interpreting system develops and starts to question with logic as a basis. So we have these two systems, they’re not opposing but they can collide because they interpret differently. And they have different agendas. As you rightly said, a primitive chimp system is a defence mechanism to make us survive and perpetuate the species. Whereas our human system, which is the dorsolateral area of the brain, the top of the head, when this starts to develop it’s more inclined to use values and look at things such as perspective to try and say how do I see the world and let’s put things into context.
00:16:58.22 Professor Steve Peters:
The chimp brain can’t do that, it’s not possible, when we operate with that system, to get context. So that’s why we often feel when we go into this emotional state and we see the brain lighting up using the chimp system, we overreact, we lose perspective and we tend to regret, often, what we’ve done later on. With the human system, because it comes in secondary, it’s not very powerful. So the chimp has the ability to freeze, knock out, influence heavily the way we see logic. So often we know what needs to be done but our chimp brain won’t allow it. It goes on emotion. So you have these two systems which can be opposing or work together.
00:17:37.16 Professor Steve Peters:
The computer system is really at the centre of the brain which is as I explained like an orchestra, they’re like instruments that both of them can use but they can both influence those instruments. So they tell them what tune to play. So the middle of the brain is a computer system which has not got an agenda, it’s just saying programme me, programme your experiences you interpretation, your beliefs, your values and whatever you do I will feed these back to you as a reminder.
00:18:06.18 Professor Steve Peters:
So that was the basis of the model, two thinking and interpreting of the brain, tapping into the entire brain and leading on how they see the world and what their agenda is. And they can often be similar or very disparate. And then the middle of the brain, just simplifying it as being massively complex computer system, which supports either of them depending on which one you want to use. But we have to then tidy the computer up regularly if our chimp brain puts in silly thoughts or silly feeling that are destructive or unhelpful beliefs, which will then influence the way we operate.
00:18:43.03 Andy Coulson:
So the context of our conversation today is, not entirely but largely, crisis. You might argue that in crisis the chimp is probably more helpful, or can be more helpful, and it can be unhelpful but at least if you’re at the sharp end of a visceral crisis. We’ve had guests on this podcast, one guest in particular who went through the most appalling and traumatic kind of flip of a coin in her life when a boat that she and her family were in was thrown out and her husband and one of her children killed, pretty much instantly, she lost her leg, about as visceral and brutal moment of crisis as you can imagine. What got her through that, at least in the immediacy of it, presumably, was the chimp kicking in with the survival instinct and the ability just to keep going rather than to try and find perspective or to rationalise which I assume would have, you’d agree, sent her backwards.
00:19:44.03 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I mean, I try to put this across by giving the title The Chimp Paradox because I kept saying this on the cover, it’s the best friend you’ll ever have. So in crisis situations it will support us, that’s its job, to get us out of danger. It may not use logic but it uses what it knows works primitively with instincts and behaviours it’s learned. So it will kick in and I keep saying it is your best friend. The reason that I think people read The Chimp Paradox and see it as being the enemy is because it can also be extremely destructive. In cases of crisis the problem the chimp will have, it may get through the crisis but then it struggles to process what happened.
00:20:26.03 Professor Steve Peters:
So then it has the emotional turmoil, which often leads to things like PTSD, where it can’t process the reality of the situation because it doesn’t work with reality, it can’t. It works with what should be in life. So therefore it leads the chimp to become frustrated, angry, upset. So these are what we see when people can’t process information because their chimp brain won’t allow it because it keeps on saying ‘it should not have happened’.
00:20:53.03 Professor Steve Peters:
Whereas when we flick into the human brain we’re saying well it did happen, let’s start with reality and go forward. The danger is that we either address one or other system instead of both systems. So we have to be realistic and say let’s look with what’s factual and come to accept that, but at the same time we have to work with the emotional processing of the brain and we know the chimp system roughly, as a rule of thumb, takes around twelve weeks to process a traumatic event just by running through stages. And that can extend to years or it can be slightly shorter.
00:21:25.23 Professor Steve Peters:
But certainly in all of us we go through these, almost a grief reaction or a processing stage, that they have to follow. That’s the way the brain works. A bit like broken leg healing, it’s going to take three months. Six weeks to really heal and six weeks to strengthen. And it looks like the mind does something similar. Six weeks where it’s very painful and broken and hurting and then it has a repair system starting up and around three months it starts to organise again to start going forward.
00:21:53.24 Andy Coulson:
That’s interesting. That’s really interesting. So if in crisis, that would lead you to conclude, that don’t try and find the solution. Don’t try and find the or define the path through your problem until you’re three months’ in?
00:22:15.18 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I mean, I used to joke, I was Undergraduate Dean at Sheffield and the students used to come and see me and it was often in a breakup of a relationship, which I know can be extremely traumatic and it is very painful for anybody. And so my heart went out to them but I used to say, ‘look I’ve taught this, when you’re recover? So if it happened now…’ I would say right, ‘…December, January, February, March, in March come back and see me and then we can talk sense.’
00:22:39.03 Andy Coulson:
Really? You’d be that definitive about it?
00:22:41.05 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, and they all knew that…
00:22:42.06 Andy Coulson:
What’s the science there, Steve? How did you get to the, kind of, twelve weeks?
00:22:47.18 Professor Steve Peters:
Well you look at how, if you look at it experientially, when we look at grief reactions in people, we recognise stages. And experts will explain that not everyone experiences them, but we recognises stages such as anger, because this is unacceptance. So if you now look at the scanning of the brain during anger, you’ll see the chimp system lighting up. So we know this is the chimp system now, the orbitofrontal areas, joining with another group of structures in the brain, aren’t letting go. That system flicks across into bargaining and yearning, ‘if only, if only’. I’m sure the horrendous incident for your… the person you interviewed previously on the boat, she may have gone through this, where there’s a lot of frustration and anger and then the bargaining, ‘if only we hadn’t gone out that day, if only this…’. We need to do that; the chimp needs to do that.
00:23:39.08 Professor Steve Peters:
The human brain doesn’t. So the human brain can accept it’s happened. The problem is we’re not just human, we’re human and chimp. We are emotionally based creatures; our brain is emotionally based. So we have to work with that. So we then see, usually, a disorganised stage coming in under grief where the reality is dawning now and we see the chimp system beginning to accept this. So that’s how the neuroscience starts to marry in with the experiences people have and we all get these experiences. Even with a relationship breakup we bargain, ‘if you do this, if I do that, what if…’ until we come to the point we realise it’s over.
00:24:22.00 Professor Steve Peters:
And then we have this horrendous drop where we feel like the end of the world has happened because the reality’s hit, there is no way forward. But we also know, given time and we know this, time is a healer. What the brain is doing is, and Freud said this, during sleep, we having interaction between the chimp and human brains and the computer. So the brain becomes very active in some parts of sleep where it’s processing what’s happening. And in my model the human is now talking to the chimp and saying ‘look it’s happened you know and we’ve got to move on’.
00:24:54.11 Professor Steve Peters:
And we see this happening unconsciously along with the computer coming in, reassuring the chimp and saying, you know, ‘things will get better’ and showing experience in life where it does. That’s why often, when we go to sleep and wake up, we feel different, we say ‘let me sleep on it’. Because what happens is our chimp has to listen it communicates with our human during sleep and we wake up and say, ‘do you know what I feel slightly different about it’. So we know that that’s how the brain processes information.
00:25:22.05 Andy Coulson:
Steve, one of the many roles you’ve had saw you working at Rampton High Security Hospital, working with very significant psychiatric problems. An institution, if you like, full of crisis. Tell me a bit about that work and tell me what it showed you, what it demonstrated to you about how the mind works when in crisis.
00:25:46.15 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I mean…
00:25:48.15 Andy Coulson:
I should add, by the way, not just when in crisis but when a mind has, frankly, created crisis.
00:25:54.08 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I think that’s probably more like it. I mean, again, Rampton is a big hospital. It’s a secure hospital. I worked in one of the divisions within Rampton, so my work was specific. And that was in the field with men who have transgressed the law, often they’ve killed somebody and were now held as dissocial personality disorders under the law. So colloquially people may classify it as psychopathic, those individuals. So for me I think…
00:26:23.00 Andy Coulson:
And you were working one to one with these people?
00:26:25.14 Professor Steve Peters:
Yes. This is obviously under the Home Office so I can’t give any details. But what I can say is what it did for me was a sad truth that changed. I had actually believed, for a long time, that with care and affection anyone can get the best out of themselves and be a productive member of society. I’m afraid the neuroscience didn’t back me and I thought until I worked there and realised that some people’s brains are not wired the same as ours and they do not have compassion or empathy. So no matter how much you might reach out to them and try and get them to see, they don’t have a conscience. So it’s really not the way to work forward with these people. They work much more on a behavioural structure. And that was a sad moment for me because I just would love human beings to be nice to each other and have a happy world but it is just…
00:27:21.06 Andy Coulson:
Do you remember the, well was there a final moment of surrendering on that or was it a gradual process?
00:27:28.11 Professor Steve Peters:
It was gradual, I fought it all the way thinking no. Because again, some of the guys in there have committed horrendous crimes but they do actually get crisis, if they do have a conscience you wake that up by reaching out to them and they will fall apart. So it’s not unusual to find them falling apart within there and then you release this is not someone who is a dissocial personality disorder, this is someone who actually is a damaged individual that’s created a lot of havoc. I’m not saying they’re not accountable but they have remorse. But I’m just saying there were guys there who had no remorse whatsoever and no empathy and no compassion and that was a sad moment to realise.
00:28:08.10 Professor Steve Peters:
But it was confirmed for me by looking at the work done on psychopathic individuals where we see one particular structure in the brain which is very different to the rest of us. So it’s not structured the same. In our brain it’s a single tracked pathway, it’s quite wide and it has lots of interconnections. And in the dissocial brain, it’s very small and has no interconnections and for some reason, we don’t know how, this presents with a conscience to the individual. And there are other areas of empathy that did not function. They were absent or not functioning at all. So yeah, it was…
00:28:43.03 Andy Coulson:
How recently have we been able to be that specific from the mapping of someone’s brain? I mean, is that a relatively recent innovation within the criminal justice system, if you like?
00:28:54.24 Professor Steve Peters:
I don’t think it is recent, no. I think it’s been a transition where, we’ve always got to be careful as doctors and researchers, to say that we found this we need to really make sure we’re right here. Because you can imagine how damming that is if we get it wrong and we think, oh wow, now we’ve done a lot of studies on this it’s not holding at all. And the awful thing is if I were to scan somebody’s brain and say ‘oh there’s a small track that must be there for a dissocial personality’ and they’re not at all. So we have to be very careful. But I think now, over many years, this has been around a long time now, I think we’re pretty convinced that when you get someone who has not got these areas of compassion or empty or moral conscience that you need to work with them in a different way. It’s much more about consequences of action.
00:29:41.06 Andy Coulson:
More broadly though, outside of an institution like Rampton, when you look at prisons, more generally, do you hold to the view that we are a… Whatever your sort of moral view on it, on criminal justice, do you hold to the view that it just makes sense for us to better understand and to support the mind of people who end up in prison? Outside of those extremes that you’ve just described?
00:30:08.16 Professor Steve Peters:
I mean, they were obviously extreme extremes. These are very dangerous people; it was known as dangerous and severe personality disorders. So yeah…
00:30:17.19 Andy Coulson:
For the general prison population which … how we approach the mind?
00:30:23.05 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I did work in prisons as well when I was a general and adult psychiatrist and that led on to Rampton so covering that. Yeah, I think everyone is unique to me and some people inherently have no values or morals and they will stick with that. But it’s a spectrum so a lot of guys or women who are in prison, if you reach out, my experience, it’s only my experiences, they’re often very damaged individuals or people who’ve made serious errors and then don’t know how to get out of it. So it’s a track that leads nowhere. And we’ve got to get intervention to salvage the people who are able to get back on their feet and get out and be productive. And help those who need support. I don’t have this belief that everyone could be independent I think some of us need support and we need to provide that support, particularly in crisis, when the chimp brain can take over. It’s brilliant to have someone to fall back to.
00:31:19.03 Professor Steve Peters:
So if we have a support network for these people, and I’ve seen that working, and it’s very good. But also you use discretion that we still have to sift out those individuals who we’d be wasting our time with. But this is only my opinion. My approach is always the same that I try and treat everybody as if they’re salvageable to get them back on their feet and get them in a great place so they have confident self-esteem, that is always my start. And then as I fail to do that or we fail to work together you start to compromise and say, okay what’s realistic now?
00:31:54.08 Andy Coulson:
Crisis is a word that gets thrown around an awful lot these days. Especially in public life. From a neurological point of view what constitutes crisis in your view?
00:32:06.08 Professor Steve Peters:
This is where it gets difficult because whenever I’ve done like interviews on radio, television, whatever, people always say ‘give us five tips for our readers’ and I can’t do this. And the reason that I can’t and won’t be drawn is we are unique individual. So a crisis to one person is not a crisis to another. So you’ve got to put it within the setting. So if you have, for example, somebody loses their house, they can’t pay the mortgage, many people would take a deep breath and say, ‘okay, we’ll start again or we’ll do this…’ and it’s not a crisis to them, it really isn’t, it’s just one of those things that happens. Whereas other people can be absolutely destroyed by that event.
00:32:46.01 Professor Steve Peters:
And the same with relationship breakups. You know if you’re in a relationship and your partner is unfaithful and you find out, some people it can damage them for life, they’re what I call emotional scars. Whereas others just seem to get over it and think ‘you know, I’ll move on’. Bu the same person who gets over it and moves on may find that they’ve lost a position at work that they felt they deserved and an injustice happened and they can’t get over that. So we are unique to what constitutes a crisis and we’re on the spectrum.
00:33:14.18 Professor Steve Peters:
Clearly, for most of us, losing our home or losing a partner would be a crisis of some kind. We’d certainly feel emotional people, most of us. But my feeling, the way I operate is I need to hear it from the person, what is the thing that’s causing the crisis in their eyes? Is it that they feel let down by someone who was unfaithful? Is it that they feel they’re going to be alone for the rest of their life? Is it that they’ll never get confidence to get another relationship? So it’s very important to look at what’s underneath the crisis to determine why they’ve interpreted it as a crisis.
00:33:51.10 Andy Coulson:
Professionally I’ve sort of wondered about this, you know I do a bit of work around crisis management among other things. And the closest I could get to it was really, it’s a crisis if you feel that at the course of your life is no longer in your control, right? That you’ve lost control of the direction, the desired direction of your life. And that can be something quite small, can’t it? You know, that can be a relationship breakdown, or it can be a complete unravelling at the highest end. They’re both crises. Does that sound in the right area?
00:34:29.17 Professor Steve Peters:
That’s absolutely right and I think, from my point of view as a psychiatrist, obviously I’m going to dig down and keep going because you might find two people might have a crisis when a partner is unfaithful and leaves them. And one of them has a crisis in their own self-confidence, thinking nobody will want me, they have low self-esteem. Whereas the other one might have something going on that much more sinister. Such as they were adopted as a child, they were then moved around in various homes. So they’ve never had that security and so they now feel like there’s nobody there for them. That’s a very different interpretation of what they’re experiencing and what’s creating the crisis. So I think it’s very important to dig down and say what is it this person is experiencing and put it into context within their life and see why that has constituted a crisis.
00:35:16.16 Andy Coulson:
So in a bit more detail, if you don’t mind Steve, give us the sort of chimp crisis management model, if you like. Let’s not be specific about the type of crisis. Actually, let’s keep it as a professional crisis, because that might be useful for listeners here. A feeling that their career is kind of rattled out of control for whatever reason and is now impacting their lives in a significant way. What’s the crisis management model that we should be trying to develop in our own minds?
00:35:48.00 Professor Steve Peters:
Because I have gone down the neuroscience route and as I said, this is not for everyone it’s just the way I operate and if people resonate, great. We need to almost draw on a piece of paper, I like to get things out of our heads because it’s very hard to keep things in your head. So we know that therapeutically it’s good to talk out and even better to write down. So I would draw three columns with someone in crisis and say let’s look at what your human brain is doing, the chimp brain is doing and what your computer brain has got. So we’re going to look at three different systems.
00:36:16.16 Professor Steve Peters:
Because the human system is going to say this, once we’ve accepted, which we’ll do quite quickly in the human circuits, what has happened, what’s the plan of moving forward? What am I going to do and what’s the reality of moving forward? That’s straightforward for the human. However the human has to now manage the chimp system which won’t cope. So as I explained earlier the chimp system is very likely to go into a melt down and go to an emotional turmoil. And the job of the human is to accept that, not to fight it and try and rationalise it, that doesn’t actually work because it’s not a system that works with rationality. So it’s almost like talking to someone in a foreign language and saying why don’t they get it?
00:37:00.12 Andy Coulson:
It’s just not listening, yeah.
00:37:01.20 Professor Steve Peters:
Oh the chimp can’t listen. So that’s why I often say, no I know, I understand what’s happened. And then the chimp says but it’s unfair and they come again. And you can see literally, the two systems. And the answer is don’t battle with it because you won’t win. Work with it. The way we work with it is to give TLC. Let’s accept that whatever it is we’re experiencing, let’s give ourselves TLC. Because if we know like at work a crisis happened with, an unfairness is probably the best example, the chimp in all of us when unfairness happens is built to react. We know chimpanzees do this, even monkeys do this, they will react to unfairness. So it’s a primitive thing.
00:37:44.03 Professor Steve Peters:
The big success here is the computer system for us. Because what we can do there is use our human to programme it with our values, with reality, with the truths of the situation, but also the fact the chimp needs to grieve and it may need to grieve a number of times. So I don’t say stop, I say get it off your chest and talk it through. And under these three columns I would write down ‘you need to talk it out’. So get someone who’s going to listen, who’s going to understand, not judgemental, but someone who genuinely will understand you. That really helps our chimp system. Being understood is imperative to the chimp. It wants people to acknowledge what we’ve gone through and it wants them to understand why things happened the way they did.
00:38:27.22 Professor Steve Peters:
And then the computer system brings in other things such as perspective. You know, we all know that in a crisis situation, for example in my world, which obviously as a psychiatrist is not a happy world, these are not people that come to see me because they’re happy, so therefore I’m at crises all the time of different kinds and different levels. And I know that one of the key points is, and I will, if I listen and understand that person and feedback that will help immensely. I can also act to support them by which their computer can do to say these days will pass. And we all know they do; they feel like they won’t, the key is, this is not great news but I’ll keep going, we do get emotional scars. And these will raise their heads. Soo it’s unrealistic to think that the brain will heal. Because you won’t heal.
00:39:17.14 Professor Steve Peters:
So I can give an example. I’m working with some parents who lost their child, it died in its sleep. And they will not recover this. I don’t think it’s fair to say ‘you’ll come to terms with it’, none of that’s going to happen, they’re scarred for life,. It’s a permanent scar. What I can say is, if we accept that and we start learning how to manage that scar when it raises its head and we learn different ways of managing it and which is the most appropriate on the day it does, then life can get better and we can get good days but we’ll also have some really tough days.
00:39:51.06 Professor Steve Peters:
So that’s the way I approach things. So a crisis, whatever it is, I would look at what the human is saying rationally, accept and work with the emotions we’ve got to work through, and then look at the computer system to give us our perspective on things and to reinforce a reminder to the chimp, especially when we’re sleeping. But also to accept there may be an emotional scar from this. And it will come back to haunt us occasionally, we just need to recognise it is haunting us, it is not actually happening to us again.
00:40:21.05 Andy Coulson:
Right. Using that example that you gave, that sad example, what’s the advice that then flows out of that. So when that moment, when that scar flares up again, or opens up again, what are you saying to those parents that they should do to try and manage their way through that moment?
00:40:41.12 Professor Steve Peters:
Okay, so if they’re accepting that it will raise its head again, and I think those of us who have emotional scars know whatever we do the brain will throw these up. It’s not us thinking it and it’s no good suppressing it, it doesn’t work. We know this. So the answer is two tracks can be done initially. One is to sit down and talk it through again. Re-live it because each time we re-live it, it does help us to start coming to terms with it. And particularly specific moments that we want to say right, let’s review that again, let’s see it differently and also to put it into the past. It’s not happening at the moment.
00:41:18.24 Professor Steve Peters:
So we would talk this through. And again, if people were struggling, they really ought to work with a specialist which is usually a grief counsellor, it’s often a psychologist whose specialised, and they will do this perfectly. So we help people. Alternatively, there are days when you think, you know what, I don’t want to engage this scar and we are able to say, I acknowledge it, I’m not surprising it but I’m going to say, I’m going to just park it up because I want to just distract and get on with the day. And actually just by distracting it may settle down again. So it’s learning which approach to use on which day.
00:41:52.21 Andy Coulson:
So denial has its place?
00:41:56.11 Professor Steve Peters:
That’s not denial, denial is when we refuse to accept. So if you notice, I said accept it happened but we’ll park it up. So that’s not denial, we’re parking it up. We’re going to say there’s no point in engaging it at moment because it’s not going to do me any good. And at this point I don’t feel I need to engage it; what I feel I need to do is accept it’s there and I’m scarred. Let me get on and see if I can work past it and if I can’t I’ll come back to it.
00:42:21.00 Andy Coulson:
It’s interesting, I used the word denial because one of our first guests, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, she had an awful car accident that almost claimed her life and she still carries the injuries from that accident. And she said that she puts denial to work. She said that she will have days where she just doesn’t want, and it’s not denial actually it’s exactly what you’ve explained, because she’s totally accepting of what happened to her, that she parks it. But she might park it for a period of time and just not let it in at all. And that will get her through. And other times she’ll take a different approach. And I think that’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? It’s just at the centre of it is understand that it happened, never forget that it happened, but choose your response according to where you are and how you feel at the time.
00:43:12.08 Professor Steve Peters:
Exactly and that’s a skill to do and sometimes like as a doctor I may be able to help them to learn how to make those decisions. When is it appropriate to accept and put it on the back burner? And when is it appropriate to say no come on let’s get this out and talk about it again? And the process it. So it’s not just talking about it, it’s talking about it and revisiting it so we can add some rationality to it.
00:43:36.12 Andy Coulson:
Yes, great. Crisis, of course, can bend our relationships out of shape. It can cause real fractures in friendships and families. There’s one particular insight in your book Steve, that I’ve carried with me in the notes on my phone for a number of years now. This idea that you need to identify your own troop and look after it, family and friends that really matter. But also to accept that there will always be people that don’t much care for you. And that’s just fine. You say in fact 20% of people that you meet will love you, 60% will approve but don’t really have an especially strong view and 20% won’t like you at all no matter what you do or say. And that feels about right to me.
00:44:22.10 Professor Steve Peters:
I make these figures up based on some research but also…
00:44:26.07 Andy Coulson:
That was my question actually, having carried it around with me for a while I’m intrigued to know how you got to those numbers.
00:44:32.24 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I mean, there is research to show that personalities can clash and it’s the way we look at our values, to be honest. And therefore if you think about this if we know there are psychopathic individuals we will never really get on with them unless they’re using us and then we’ll feel awful that we realise that they didn’t have our values. So when you start looking at this, I’ve tried to make it simple otherwise we can’t apply it, but the principle is there to say we all know this but it’s worth reminding ourselves that there are a significant number of people out there who are not pleasant people and all they want to do is undermine. It’s often the same people that don’t like all of us, they would be very happy.
00:45:11.17 Professor Steve Peters:
Like social media’s a good example. We meet very unsavoury people, who are out to destroy and criticise and be unpleasant and they almost take a pleasure in this. And there’s no point in listening to them. The good guys, as I’m calling them, and the good guys are the ones who don’t want us to go unaccountable but they want to be on side. They want us to say look we love you; people make mistakes or people get things wrong. Or even if you do one of these programs where, I don’t watch them, but where they sing and people just criticise. And you just think at the end of the day they’re doing their best.
00:45:46.24 Professor Steve Peters:
So I think if you recognise that then it helps you to remember they’re often the silent people. The people who are approving of us tend not to tell us this. Can I just say in case we stray from this, I put this in the book, when I wrote The Chimp Paradox I gave a concept and idea and a lot of people said to me after, it doesn’t go into depth. So I think it’s important, especially in this interview, that we talked of grief and the stages and processing, that’s in the follow up book, A Path Through The Jungle.
00:46:15.23 Andy Coulson:
Yes, I want to talk about that now, because I want to talk about stress.
00:46:18.13 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, because it lacked the detail in The Chimp Paradox.
00:46:21.03 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, so A Path Through The Jungle is the almost it feels to me the manual that sits behind The Chimp Paradox, in a way.
00:46:30.24 Professor Steve Peters:
00:46:31.15 Andy Coulson:
It’s the Haynes Manual to the brain, I think, and it’s got brilliant stuff in it. One aspect, you talk quite a lot about stress, I’m very interested in stress. I’ve held to the view, again because of various experiences that I’ve had, that stress was very helpful to me. Partly, I think, because I’ve done some reasonably stressful jobs as a newspaper editor and then in politics. And so I felt, when things started to unravel for me, that my stress muscles were well exercised. That’s how I sort of visualised it really, as a muscle. Was I delusional in thinking that? Is stress a muscle? Can you train yourself to be stress-fit?
00:47:22.19 Professor Steve Peters:
I think you’re psychologically training yourself. And I think this is the problem when you write books and that’s why I do a lot of public speaking to explain the devil in the detail is when we use the word stress it’s not a negative thing. It’s only stressful if we move to what I’ve called the stress stage where we’re stuck in this position where we’ve got a lot of negative hormones and chemicals going through us and we’re in a bad place. And we all understand that. But the initial point of stress is to wake us up and say do something about it.
00:47:51.00 Professor Steve Peters:
And I explain within A Path Through The Jungle that we do have a resilience hormone that kicks in and it actually drops above the cortisol to squash it down. And at that point if we move into a plan of action and recognise stress is actually a helpful thing a lot of the time, then the cortisol levels drop and we don’t do any damage to our system. The problem is if we don’t recognise that that resilience moment is in front of us, then we know scientifically that cortisol starts to rise again and overpowers this DHEA hormone.
00:48:22.08 Professor Steve Peters:
So what I’m trying to say to people is, yeah, don’t not welcome stress, it’s part of life, but when it does hit, pause, put the pause button and say, right, what’s the plan? And start moving with the hormones that are helping you to give you that energy. And I think what you’ve done, what you’ve described, and I’m guessing here, is you’ve learned that when that resilient stage comes in you’re optimising that hormone which is dropping your cortisol and actually energising you.
00:48:48.00 Professor Steve Peters:
And it’s of interest that cortisol and noradrenaline are the two chemicals we talk about, hormones, that tend to be there in stress and can be damaging. But noradrenaline is peculiar in that in short bursts it’s actually very good for us. In long term it’s not good for us. So it’s noradrenaline that we release when we go on a Big Dipper and it gives us that alert, lively feeling, it’s a thrill, it’s serious stress but it’s great stress. However, noradrenaline keeps going if we don’t resolve a problem in our life and that can create damage to the system. So again, I’m trying to educate people, within the book, to say have a look at this and welcome stress, don’t start thinking it’s terrible, think what do I do with this?
00:49:32.10 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, I mean, the fashion at the moment is to avoid it, right? Not just to see it as a bad thing, which you know, if you spend an hour on Instagram these days or any other social media and the fashion is very much about avoidance and particularly in the work place as well now. My question, I suppose is, is a certain amount of stress actually a good thing for us? Should we be not just dealing with it in the way that you’ve described when it comes, but perhaps even seeking it out, making it a part of life?
00:50:09.18 Professor Steve Peters:
That’s why I put in the book, there are three stages. The first stage is not of importance in terms of health or well-being, it is the stress that comes in initially. And initial stress, no one’s trying to avoid that, I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about. Because we get that every day. If you get an email that says please respond in ten minutes then you will get a flush of stress hormones but that’s not stress. I think what we’re all talking about is going from that first stage to the second to resilience, missing the resilience to go back to stage one and out of it, we drop into stage three which I’m causing the stress stage. Everyone’s trying to avoid that because I agree as a doctor, that is dangerous and unhelpful. It can be extremely damaging to our system.
00:50:54.08 Professor Steve Peters:
So what you’re saying, quite rightly, is initial stress is neither here nor there, it’s what we do with it once it’s appeared. What we can’t do is miss the resilience stage and end up in a stressed state which is now not stress, it’s a stress state. It’s a stage that’s damaging. But the initial belt of cortisol and noradrenaline it won’t do us any harm, in fact it tunes us up. So you’re right in what you’re saying. It tunes us up and you’ve moved into that resilience stage and optimised it, so that’s your stress muscle. You’ve learnt a system of how to go into stage two, turn it over and think that was productive.
00:51:34.18 Andy Coulson:
Great, we touched on social media. Are you concerned, Steve, that we’re that the sort of drive of technology, social media being one element of it, is sort of playing into the hands of our chimp if you like?
00:51:52.07 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I am concerned. I think the biggest concern is this for me, there’ll always be unpleasant people. But it’s almost like we’re influencing the middle group to start being highly critical, very suspicious and then as the chimp brain does, goes on its intuition which is often wrong. And then putting things together in such a way that is so negative and so wrong and then the damage is done to people. So you can see it on the internet where some are overt criticisms but some are allegations and innuendo and suggestion. And that’s, it’s almost, in my opinion, it’s quite evil because there is nowhere for you to defend yourself against an opinion. You can’t do anything with that.
00:52:38.07 Professor Steve Peters:
So therefore, if you engage with it, which a lot of people do, it will create horrendous stress of a very unhealthy nature. And for young people who are on the internet all the time and doing social media, this can be extremely destructive. Because during the ages of around twelve to seventeen, we’re extremely suggestible in terms of our, you mentioned a true pearl here, it’s critical that we’re accepted within a group. To be rejected from a group or by a close friend or to be criticised publicly is horrendously damaging to the brain. We will find brain changes and we see this in younger children as well.
00:53:18.20 Andy Coulson:
Just explain that in a little bit more detail for us. How does that damage actually kind of occur and how does it manifest itself?
00:53:28.05 Professor Steve Peters:
Okay, when the brain picks up information the orbitofrontal area which I’m saying is the thinking part of the chimp, we know that it specifically has one function and that is to be socially accepted. So it’s a primitive defence to stay within the troop, as a chimpanzee would. And as humans we do the same, we like to be within our circle. So we like to be accepted. We know that if that part gets damaged say with a bleed, for example, a stroke, and that part is damaged, people start losing that and they’re not bothered and they’ll social faux pas, they’re not aware that people might be laughing at them or think that’s inappropriate comment. So they’ll make these inappropriate comments because they’re no longer in that position where they need to be accepted.
00:54:12.02 Professor Steve Peters:
So in young children, particularly where the brain is developing, this part of the brain, if it gets rejected from a group then it files that in the rest of the brain, it actually puts it in as being, I am going to be rejected, or I’m now vulnerable. And we know that a part of the brain just next to this, the ventromedial area in young people, doesn’t actually develop. So this rejection by the group inhibits that from developing. So that it can’t function later in life. It has a window to develop. And once that is damaged then it tends to make us more nervous and jittery later in life. So we know that being rejected by the group or being criticised on social media or in the press as we’ve seen, if the press go for someone and it’s not justified, particularly it’s not justified, then what happens is that person will get damage to the system. And so there is therefore a residual damage to the emotions and scars and it takes a lot to turn that over.
00:55:14.16 Andy Coulson:
So what do we do about this Steve? I mean, in terms of if we just focus on young people?
00:55:18.20 Professor Steve Peters:
I mean it’s a culture change that we need to make to start getting more complimentary about things and also trying to train people in the middle group, and we’ll never stop people who are unpleasant doing it. We’ll never stop that, you know. The middle group need to be influenced to say do you realise the damage that’s being done? What are you doing to these people when you make these adverse comments and remarks?
00:55:42.10 Andy Coulson:
So your view is that the answer has to lie in behavioural change, the technological horse has bolted, to mix my metaphors. We’re not going to be able to do anything about that. What we possibly can do is bring some behavioural change into play?
00:56:00.13 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, because again, most people like I say, my made up stat of 80% to say this is roughly where we’re at, do not want to hurt somebody. We have a conscience and a moral and the last thing we want to do is be dishonest, lack integrity, be not empathic, we want to be all these things. So why would we then put these comments on? And it could be I don’t know the stats enough to know that these 80% are actually against the rest of them and we’ve got 20% doing all of the vocalising. But that 20% are creating the damage. But if we can actually say as a human being, as a force, we can say, look its unacceptable behaviour and reflect it back to those who are doing it, then we have a measure of control to say there are consequences to you doing this because we’re going to expose the people who keep doing this. Because they’re damaging other people.
00:56:50.07 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, do you see the chimp at play in politics? Have you ever been tempted to offer your services in Westminster? Personally, I take the view that you should have a permanent office there, maybe in Number 10 with your desk next to the Prime Minister.
00:57:01.19 Professor Steve Peters:
I’d love to but… I’m not sure I’d do a good job. Again, I don’t tell people what to do I ask them to explore what they’re doing.
00:57:10.01 Andy Coulson:
It’s a serious point though, isn’t it? I mean, the change that you’ve just described we need to make can only come, in the first instance, through public life, right?
00:57:18.05 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, and obviously I’m doing what I can, I do a lot of public speaking, I do a lot of work now with schools and my team does. And we’re going out there trying to turn the tide but it’s a big tide. Yeah, I mean, it’d be great if, at the top, people would look and say… Particularly for me, it’s a passion that we bring this into schools. So we start at a young age to say, let’s look at what you’re doing to people and the way our behaviours and conduct affect others and society. I think that’s, to me, crucial alongside all the other activities that we’re teaching people. But I’m only one voice. I’m sure there….
00:57:54.07 Andy Coulson:
But you’ve worked, in fact, let’s talk about it very quickly, your work in sport because it’s fascinating. British cycling during the golden period under Dave Brailsford. Numerous, highly successful athletes, Liverpool Football Club and of course the England Football team. Tell us how it works, Steve, when you walk into… Well let’s take the England set up for example when you walk into a room full of very talented young footballers who are successful, wealthy but underperforming. What’s going on in the minds there of those young athletes and how do you approach it?
00:58:30.22 Professor Steve Peters:
Okay, first is I respect the fact that the most important is their physical skills and the talents employed and the tactics and so on. That isn’t my domain. So I always go in, hopefully in a humble way, and say to them all I can offer is to say let’s look at how your mind is functioning do you believe it’s working optimally, and if it isn’t can I show you how to gain those emotional skills? But if you think I’m operating well as I am, then there is no role for me to play. I don’t come in and say, these are the processes. What I do is ask individual people, regardless of whether it’s football, whether it’s cycling, whether it’s a professional business, a doctor, a teacher, I ask them, let’s look at scenarios where your mind isn’t doing what you want it to, you’ve not got the behaviours you want, you’re not operating with the thinking that you want. Then we’ll look at that and get the person in a good place. My philosophy is always the same, don’t tell me what you do until we find out who you are, how you function, how you want to function and get your skill base. Then take me to your work place. And I do that in sport. So I work with the person first then they tell me what their sports are and how their machine is operating within that sport.
00:59:41.11 Andy Coulson:
Okay. And do you focus on the points of pressure as well? I mean, obviously with England I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a thousand times, what’s going on in the mind of an England footballer when he takes a penalty in a cup final?
00:59:53.17 Professor Steve Peters:
I only offer services when I’m invited. So if I work with a team and they say no we’re okay on this, then it’s not my role to go in and do it. I can challenge and say would it help? But if I’m told well no it won’t help then obviously I wouldn’t impose. If they say it might help then I go to individual players to say would you like to do it? So as a psych I think this is only the way I operate, your hands are tied on the person in front of you because that’s how it should be. I’m a minion in the game, I’m not the leader. The leader is the person. All I can do is then support them and if they work well with me, great, if it’s not for them, great.
01:00:31.24 Andy Coulson:
Steve, look, I think your formula for a happy life is about the best I’ve read which, if I’m summarising this correctly, I hope I do, make healthy plans that counter these primal urges that you’ve described. Let yourself vent in a safe space, if you like. Get it off your chest. Communicate as much as you can with wisdom and love and celebrate all your successes along the way. I think that’s…
01:01:01.06 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, I like that.
01:01:02.02 Andy Coulson:
I think that’s a piece of genius. I hope I’ve got it.
01:01:05.22 Professor Steve Peters:
Quite simple really.
01:01:06.17 Andy Coulson:
I hope I’ve got it about right, it does sound wonderfully simple. Oh, that it was. But I mean as a guiding light, I think it’s just fantastic. Look, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for you joining us today. I really enjoyed the conversation, thanks so much for your insights. Before we go I’d like to ask you for your three crisis cures. These are three things that you keep in mind.
01:01:31.12 Professor Steve Peters:
Yeah, if I hit something which is creating some form of what people might call crisis in my life, there are three things I turn to. The most important for me is my values. So I do actually stop and I get myself on my own and I think, okay, have you done the right thing? Have you got integrity? Have you got honesty? Are you working with compassion? I go through this. If I know that to be true, I can’t stop the world thinking what it thinks. So therefore whatever the crisis is that helps me when it’s thrown around.
01:02:00.00 Professor Steve Peters:
If it’s something where there’s been an incident, such as the boat incident or something tragic happens and it creates a crisis, my second one is to learn as a skill to accept a situation as soon as I can so that I can work forward with the situation, rather than fighting the situation or the injustice or the crisis that’s happened, the incident. So acceptance is number two.
01:02:26.09 Professor Steve Peters:
And finally it’s perspective, that at the end of the day we have very short lives. And I didn’t used to think that as a young man, now I’m an old man you think wow, what happened? It just went and you’re trying to get through your life and suddenly it’s disappeared. So perspective for me is really crucial for maintaining a status quo within my mind and giving me peace of mind.
01:02:52.12 Andy Coulson:
Wonderful. Steve, thanks so much for your time today, it was an absolute pleasure talking to you.
01:02:57.10 Professor Steve Peters:
Thank you for inviting me.
01:03:21.20 End of transcription