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Is a Monkey Managing Your Money?

By Catherine Pope

December 20, 2019


Do you feel as though you know what you should be doing with money, but it’s not quite happening? It could be because there’s a monkey in charge. We start out with great intentions, then those plans go awry.

The Chimp Paradox is a mind management model developed by Professor Steve Peters. Under this model, the mind is separated into three teams, each with its own agenda and way of working:

  • The Human (that’s you) is located mainly in the frontal lobe. It’s associated with logical thinking and appreciates facts.
  • The Chimp mostly occupies the limbic systems and prefers feelings, emotions, and impressions. Our chimp is a permanent sidekick who craves stimulation.
  • The Computer, spread throughout the brain, is where we store programmed thoughts and behaviours. Both the Human and the Chimp have admin rights to the computer.

The Human and the Chimp can act independently, in cahoots, or against each other. The Chimp paradox is that our monkey sidekick can be either our best friend or our worst enemy. If we repeatedly sabotage our efforts and act impulsively, it means the Chimp has the upper hand. The challenge is to store information in the Computer to help us manage the Chimp.

OK Computer

The Computer part of your brain is where you store the processes that govern the Chimp. Once you recognise the tactics your Chimp uses, you can program scripts to ensure that you, the Human, remains firmly in charge.

For most of us, scripts are essentially routines – a series of tasks we follow without thinking. What routines could you establish for managing finances?

Here’s a template you can use for building routines:

Preparation – what you do to create the right environment. This might involve organising paperwork so you can do your accounts, or ensuring a clear workspace. It’s much easier when all the information is easily accessible.

Trigger – a signal that you’re going to do something. You could either link it to other activities – e.g. after dinner – or set an alarm. You probably have a device that’ll give you a nudge.

Action(s) – this is what you want to do. Actions could include recording expenses, chasing invoices, or reviewing budgets.

Result – what you aim to achieve by completing this action. That might be clarity, higher income, or peace of mind.

Reward – an incentive for you to pursue these actions. Peace of mind might be a sufficient incentive in itself, but some of us require a stronger motivation, such as a glass of wine, a chocolate biscuit, or a Netflix binge.

Monkey Management

As we’ve seen, our chimp isn’t a good influence. Here’s how we can exert our human authority:

  • Give it some bananas. Chimps like rewards and respond well to praise. Our Chimp is more likely to let us get on with our work if there’s an incentive. If you promise your Chimp a reward and don’t follow through, it’ll be hellbent on thwarting you tomorrow.
  • Measure your progress. Chimps also enjoy evidence of achievement. Giving yourself a big tick each day for completing a task delivers a banana-like emotional high. You could even award yourself gold stars on a chart. Think back to when you were at school. Earning a gold star probably made you feel pretty pleased with yourself. It’s no different when we become adults, it’s just less acceptable to demand a badge.
  • Avoid distractions. Sometimes we indulge the Chimp because it’s easier than getting on with our work. After all, chimps are fun. We can learn to recognise when this is happening and take steps to avoid it. For example, ignoring social media when we’re dealing with finances is a good way to keep the Chimp quiet. Otherwise, it’s not long before we’re caught in a spiral of righteous anger and impotent despair.

The 30-Day Challenge

The best way to build a routine is through dogged repetition. Once that routine is stored in your computer, you’re less susceptible to the chimp. Repetition is especially important during the early stages – this means doing it daily.

Download and print this 30-Day Challenge sheet to measure your progress. Every day you complete your task, put a cross in the box. The trick is not to break the chain of crosses. You could use this with the Pomodoro Technique to improve your focus and set a time limit. By Day 30, this’ll be an established habit and you might not need the chart any more. Or if it’s helpful, keep using it.

You can build this in to the routine template I outlined above:

I’ve just had dinner, so now I’m going to record all my expenses. This means I’ll reimburse myself for everything and not end up out of pocket. When I’ve done it, I’ll put an X in the box.

You’re doing this automatically and not giving your chimp an opportunity to decide the agenda. Once you’ve done it, then the chimp can decide what to watch on Netflix.

Monkeying around is fine, but only after you’ve addressed your priorities.

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