Day 127 – Chimpy

This is Chimpy

This is Chimpy

I first heard about the chimps we all have inside us back in the summer of last year. During my clambering out of the dark craziness which descended after my experience at the hands of Rosie (the tropical storm) and the aftermath of coming home, Dr Briony Nicholls – the fab psychotherepist on my team – talked about this chimp theory by a certain Dr Steve Peters. I bought his book, ‘The Chimp Paradox’ and sighed with relief. It all made sense.

His mind model describes the way our brains are divided up into three main centres which work in different ways and it is the interaction of them and our ability to control that interaction and referencing, that determines our state of mind and therefore our performance, amongst other things. He is pretty hot stuff by all accounts, being the psychologist with the British Cycling Team.

So – the three centres are:

  • The      animal centre (the chimp) which makes decisions and acts based on desires,      instinct and emotion. It is impulsive.
  • The      human centre. This is logical, rational and makes decisions based on facts      and truth.
  • The      computer. This is the reference centre of memories of past experience.

Chimp vs Human

The essence of the book is how best to balance the interplay of the human and your chimp. It is all about finding out what makes your chimp tick, what winds it up and calms it down etc and how to control it when it isn’t being useful, and let it out to work it’s magic when it is useful. Hence the ‘Chimp Paradox’ – your inner chimp can be your best mate or your worst enemy at times, depending on whether or not it is appropriate to have it in or out of its cage i.e. whether it is appropriate and necessary for you to be driven by emotion and instinct or reason and truth at any given time.

Ever since reading the book I have talked to my chimp. During the madness last summer when negative thoughts bombarded me and shouted day and night, I realised it was my chimp that was going a bit crazy and coming to terms with all that we had been through and the adrenaline. Shouting ‘Shut up Chimpy – this isn’t useful right now and I am trying to sort it out’ actually started to help.

My latest phonecast tried, in my very tired state, to describe just how Chimpy and I have been getting on recently.  Chimpy took on a tangible form the other day when I opened my ‘halfway’ present from my pal Mylene Paquette, currently out rowing from Canada to France, alone. Given that I had suddenly found myself over half way with the new turn to Canada, I thought I was well allowed to open it – and drink it! It was a teeny bottle of fancy cider with a little finger puppet of a knitted chimp.

Wired and tired

The last week has been very emotional and adrenaline charged as my brain tries to make sense of our course change to Alaska. There is excitement, anxiety, a torrent of thoughts and chatterings. And not all of it is helpful. Poor little Chimpy has had a lot to say about everything as he tries to figure it all out and come to terms with everything. Chimpy likes to feel safe, secure and have fixed goals and feel in control of things – though of course my rational self knows that out here on the ocean control is not always very possible of anything other than, ironically, my chimp.

It all came to a head yesterday – Chimpy and I were utterly exhausted, having only slept about three hours in 24 since last Friday through our totally wired states. My usual tricks of thinking on ‘Good Things About Today’, and reading and music weren’t helping. External comms from my team needed tweaking too, so that they synced with my state of mind in the boat.


Wrapped up against the cold for some night rowing

Wrapped up against the cold for some night rowing

It’s Ok Chimpy

The one thing that was helping was to put Chimpy on my finger and talk to him gently and reassuringly, encouraging him to chill for a bit and snooze. After all, we need all the sleep we can get it we are to row as much as possible as effectively as possible, and be in the best shape to make safe, sound decisions. As it was, on Wednesday in rough seas I made the potentially fatal mistake of clipping my safety line to itself rather than the rail as I worked with some sea anchor lines. Going too far down that state and you get meltdown – not a good thing on a wee boat.

Clip and Pull - a reminder to be safe when I step outside

Clip and Pull – a reminder to be safe when I step outside

So, I pulled out my trump card – a phone call with Briony. We have worked together since the Indian Ocean and Briony has helped me through the ups and downs of expedition life and homecomings, successes and failures and leading and managing my team from afar. Being as emotionally balanced and aware as possible is the key to success on an expedition – or at least the human part of it – and I think there is much to be said for taking time to figure out how you work, think and react in different situations and how to get the best out of yourself under stress. Bri helps me do just that.

Calm again

I am pleased to report that after my long chat with Bri and refocusing on a few things, and reiterating to the team various points on communications, that Chimpy was a lot calmer. He slept inside all day yesterday while Happy Socks and I rowed and we both curled up together, totally spent and much much calmer at 11pm and slept a full six hours. Then this morning we went back to sleep for another four. I was also really happy to let out some tears too – which flowed freely while listening to that wonderful humming track from the London Olympics opening ceremony last year.

So for now, Chimpy and I are calm and feel in control of ourselves again. There is still lots of adjusting to do, but we are getting there. If we always come back to this calm state of equilibrium then that’s OK, though the massive swings are exhausting and all the more so for being alone in a tiny wee boat miles out to sea.

We are currently 330 miles from Adak Island on a really good course. The weekend brings with it a fairly chunky storm, so progress will slow for a few days while Chimpy and I sit tight in the cabin.

Then it is back to the cold wet foggy rowing of the last few days as we eek our way northwards.

Foggy and wet rowing

Foggy and wet rowing

Thanks for all the lovely comments to the Alaskan plan folks.  Chimpy and I are stoked to be so well supported.

All best,

Sarah, Happy Socks and Chimpy x

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13 Responses to Day 127 – Chimpy

  1. Nat Cleator says:

    HI Sarah
    I have been following you and your amazing trip for ever… Question.. why did u start your row so far south. On the map there are a ton of islands that seem to following a bow to alaska.. Would it not be easier to follow these? Huge hugs.. the impact of your whole journey will stay with us for such a long time.. Never underestimate the power one person holds.. xx Nat

  2. virgil l funderburk says:

    hi again, in my younger days that is in the 80’s when I was a marine biology student, Our general biology teacher told us the following ‘ if you feel that something is not right when you are collecting samples get out of the water” he explained that humans tend to forget how to listen to their instinct, their survival instinct .that would be a good use of the chimp theory,what gets us in to trouble is that we forget how to use, the rage chimp is what I see in the Emergency dept as a Nurse when patients become full of rage. Now a former commercial diver, one suggestion about your safety line, pull the line and look at it,soyou are pulling from the right direction, keep safe, my wife asked “what is that girl doing out there” I answered : rowing”, but also doing what I dreamed of when I was a younger person. good luck,keep same.God bless

    virgil f

  3. Christine & Kathleen says:

    Hello Sarah

    Not only are you good at rowing but wow what a wondreful writer you are along with so many other things. It was great to read your epic words. think you had better do psychology instead of biology. So pleased to hear that you manaeged a good number of hours sleep, it certainly makes a difference. Gool old Chimpy perhaps not so old but he / she will always be there with you, so will we even though we rae many miles away.

    Happy rowing in the best weather

    Big Hug

    K & C

  4. Gigi Walentiny says:

    Great explanation! And I shall always think of little knitted Chimpy’s face when I remember this!

    I’m glad you were BOTH able to get some good, solid hours of sleep…so necessary and so restorative.

    Hope the storm peters out or skirts around you altogether. You and Happy Socks (and Chimpy!) keep each other safe out there!

    ~Gigi in Virginia Beach

  5. romano says:

    This is actually one of the best posts to your journal. And like K&C say you’re writing is very good. I know during my adventures and the accompanying down times that writing really helped me. To be truthful, let it all out and expose yourself is not only therapeutic but a interesting for readers.

    Good to see you are making raped progress finally. Just hoping it doesn’t get too chilly before Alak Island.

  6. judy burdett says:

    Just read your Chimpy explanation and think it is a such a terrific way to keep focused and to sort problems that are all part and parcel of life and particularly huge undertakings such as rowing across oceans!!! SO glad you’ve managed sleep at last and that Chimpy is rested also – now watch out Alaska!

    Keep safe, we are all thinking of you and know that you and Chimpy are a great team – Happy Socks has got the best!

  7. Ros Mulholland-Gullick, Rutland Sailability. says:

    May God be with you throughout all your adventures. I have had tough times in my life, some of them seemingly endless leaving me without hope. A Priest told me that God only sends you what he knows you can withstand and come through. If ever you feel overwhelmed & things feel too much for you, just send the burden back to God. The very idea did not seem promising at the time but things were so bad for me it was worth a try. Believe me Sarah, it worked and my smiles returned. Any time life throws at me something which threatens to overwhelm me, I turn to God and offer the burden back to Him. Yes, it is a matter of faith, and that is exactly what you have Sarah as you plan each venture and then each day when faced with difficult decisions, just like changing course. Faith is what your father had as he faced each day and lived it to the full. Take care, be safe. Believe in yourself. Know that you can bring so much to so many of your followers. You are opening up the world to all of us.

  8. Bruce Ellen says:

    Hi Sarah.

    Hang in there. YOU CAN DO IT.
    Decisions to change directions in life are always hard and we wonder if it is the right decision at the time but at the end of the day it means that you have opened up another chapter of your goal to circumnavigate the world and we are all waiting to read your words on the next experience.
    Have you heard from the locals yet on help on reaching land.
    Remember the old saying
    You will never never know if you never have a go.
    Bruce from sunny Queensland

  9. Sarah Wilson says:

    Hey I just heard there has been a big earthquake near Adak island so I hope everything is ok. I’m presuming that you and chimpy don’t feel earthquakes at sea!

    Great post. Thanks

  10. christina watts says:

    Amazing detail to the Chimp Paradox Sarah ~ I know what you are talking about so well and I am sure so many others are too … you have a wonderful way of explaining it though …with your experience now of how we also need to talk to our Chimpy ~ we are all now going to learn how to balance the interplay with ourselves and the chimp !!!!!!

    Not easy but we will do it along with you too.

    You are not alone we are all there with you xxx

    (Funnily enough I have a thin tiny monkey that I gave to Guy to hang upside down in his cabin in 2009 ( monkey has long gangly arms that can be velcro’ ed together so he can look very thoughtful 🙂 and cuddly ~ we should all find a chimp to help us along our way.

    Sleep tight – positive thoughts to you Sarah ~ lots of love

  11. Chris Nolan says:

    Hoping for smooth but productive waves! Let’s keep good thoughts on good weather and safety! Wishing you well and happy landing!

  12. Hilary says:

    I’ve thought about you and your voyage regularly this summer (and ever since I heard you speak at Hugh’s); glad to hear you’re aiming for Alaska and a safer route. Hang in there, and think about the sunny days you’ll spend on the bike next year, riding through my crazy home country!

  13. Hi Sarah,

    I have only just come across this blog on the Internet (so it is a little late), but I have immediately made Prof. Steve Peters aware of it. He has now read your blog and is very impressed! He also wishes you the very best in all you do.

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