How managing your ‘inner chimp’ is good for you, and good for your business

For most people, the human body is an incredible machine. One head. Two eyes. Four limbs. Twenty digits.

We spend money on hairstyles, designer spectacles, laser surgery, fancy clothes, and sparkling jewellery. It’s all meant to enhance our bodies.

More and more, we’re spending money on healthy eating, fitness regimes, and exercise clubs. Some of it is style-driven. Much of it is health-driven.

Recent press attention focused on the impacts of failing to look after the human body during the working day. Sedentary lifestyles and office inactivity actively increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers. The costs to families, workplaces, communities, the public sector and the economy are vast. Everyone is now advised to exercise physically for an hour every day.

But consider this . . .

Did you realise that it takes 83 billion neurons and collaborative centres in each brain to make one whole body work? That’s right – 83 billion. Yet, how often do any of us spend an hour each day exercising our brain, or take time to look at the needs of our minds?

The logic is a revelation. The very engine-room that drives our physical bodies is one that we, rarely, take time to rest and repair. Your physical health does not operate in isolation from your psychological health. Your brain and mind are with you 24/7.

In the work context, they afford you the problem solving, forward planning and budget-setting skills that are so valuable professionally. And yet, the brain and mind can also give you the stress, anxiety, worries, and concerns that interrupt your ability to operate at full potential. There are not many people who constantly enjoy the impacts of such stresses and worries. The links between physical and psychological ill-health are well known.

The problem is this: unlike the simple tools and exercises we can apply to help with the impact of a sedentary lifestyle, not many people know how to look after our psychological health.

We rarely think about our thinking machine, and then we end up taking it for granted. That’s a mistake – personally and professionally.

So what can you do about it?

My challenge to individuals – especially business leaders and managers – is to increase your understanding of how the brain actually works, and to develop your own skills and techniques for managing your emotions, thereby increasing the outcomes that you want.

For starters, try to think about the expectations you’re placing on yourselves, your colleagues and the world around you. Think about how much in each scenario is actually within your control – whether it’s closing the deal, succeeding in the promotion, or managing staff. Having emotions in these instances usually isn’t helpful and can actually get in the way.

Similarly, when your outcomes don’t meet your expectations, the impact is often a negative emotional state, worry, and anxiety. Yet, that’s often caused by factors you can’t control. This is where mind management, and managing your inner chimp, is important.

The sooner you can realise that emotions are not helpful, the quicker logical, problem-solving thought can take its place. And being ready for it in advance – being proactive – increases the chance of getting the best out of yourself and others around you, if that moment arises.

By managing our minds towards outcomes that are reasonable and realistic, we can start to understand and manage our psychological fitness and health in the same manner as we do our physical bodies.

If you’d like to find out more about your inner chimp, and how you can manage it, Aidan Kearney, Psychological Skills Mentor with Chimp Management, is one of the speakers at the 2016 Responsible Business Summit at Belfast Waterfront Hall on Wednesday 5 October