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Reaching Sky High: The Chimp Model

Why do people often perform badly in high pressure situations? What is it that makes routine tasks seem daunting for even world class performers? Rather than nerves, a lack of preparation or bad luck, it’s often down to human nature itself.

The same thing that hinders England’s footballers in the high pressure situation of a penalty shootout is what makes experienced professionals clam up in presentations. The vast majority of working environments feature stresses and overcoming these is what separates the elite from the rest.

Team Sky have put considerable effort into this area and have established an environment that enables high performance. They credit six podium principles as the factors that reinforce their winning culture and enable success. One of these is their perspective of the human mind and is heavily influenced by their work with world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Steve Peters.

A crucial aspect of Team Sky’s success is their riders’ ability to perform in high pressure environments and a significant part of this has been credited to Peters. During his work to make happy, confident and successful people, Peters developed the Chimp Model – a model concerned with the functioning of the mind and how people cope and react to emotional stresses.

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The model suggests that the Human mind is in constant battle with an inner Chimp. The Human part of the brain, or Frontal Cortex, works in truths and thinks logically while the Chimp, or Limbic System, reacts instantly in emotional, irrational terms.

While essential for survival, the Chimp is not meant for society or elite performance. Going against nature and remaining calm and calculated in situations of stress takes significant skill.

To perform consistently under high pressure it’s important to tune the Chimp out and this is why Team Sky train their riders to recognise and control their own mind. Identifying the influencing external factors and acknowledging the way your mind works are the first steps in letting your automatic ‘computer’, another feature of the Chimp Model that acts as store of training and remembered experiences, take over.

When looked at in terms of pressures, meetings and pitches in unfamiliar boardrooms are really no different to performing on crowded race circuits. By acknowledging and overcoming the Chimp – anxieties, emotions and nerves – professionals can make sure that nothing gets in the way of their performance.

So next time you get a frustrating email and write an immediate response, the kind you’d later wish you had never sent, think of your inner Chimp and use your logic rather than your emotion. It’s not always easy to control, but even being aware of the way your mind works will enable you to make better informed decisions.

We’ll be further exploring the success of Team Sky on our blog in the New Year, but there’s no need to wait until then. If you haven’t already, you can download the Reaching Sky High eBook from our site today. The booklet covers all the key points from the talk given by Fran Millar, Head of Winning Behaviour at Team Sky, at this year’s ResourceBank HR & Business Forum and explores the other principles behind Team Sky’s success.