< Back to Blog


Published 21. Jun 2016 by Erland Rendall

I don’t know about you, but as I get older I’m learning more and more about how I work, when I work best and what environment, influences and triggers generate high performance in my inputs to realise excellence of output.

Psychology is a fascinating area and clearly evidenced when applied to sport.  With physical conditioning, coaching and a disciplined diet, natural talent can be developed to a point where you can achieve ‘Elite’ status.  But at this point, your mental strength can make the difference between winning and losing.

You may be aware of Professor Steve Peters.  He is the man credited with contributing to the success of Team Sky ProCycling and realising the vision of David Brailsford – to win the Tour de France, within 5 years of starting the team.  They won the Tour in 2012 – within 3 years! In addition to popularising the approach of “aggregation of margin gains”, the notoriety of Prof Peters and his “Chimp Paradox” drew attention to the psychological advantage that his approach delivered.  But his approach is very much based on reliable neuroscience that provides both insight and guidance on what is going on within our brains and why we respond in certain ways.

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system and brain but for the layperson, a basic understanding of how our brains work provide a terrific insight and knowledge to manage our thinking and develop mental strength.  The brain has three main parts:

  • Cerebrum – the large, outer part of the brain, controls reading, thinking, learning, speech, emotions and planned muscle movements like walking. It also controls vision, hearing and other scenes.  The Cerebrum is divided into two halves: left and right.  The right half controls the left side of the body.  The left half controls the right side of the body.  Each half or hemisphere has four sections, called lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital.  Each lobe controls specific functions. For example, the frontal lobe controls personality, decision-making and reasoning, whilst the temporal lobe controls memory, speech and sense of smell.
  • Cerebellum – located at the back of the brain and controls balance, coordination and fine muscle control e.g. walking. It also functions to maintain posture and equilibrium.
  • Brain stem – at the bottom of the brain, it connects the cerebrum with the spinal chord. It includes the midbrain, the pons and the medulla.  It controls fundamental body functions such as breathing, eye movements, blood pressure, heartbeat and swallowing.

So, with this basic knowledge, we can appreciate that the large grey matter that we all benefit from has both a logical component linked to our personality – what makes us, us – located in the prefrontal cortex (just behind our foreheads).  You will know this area which tends to ache, when you’ve been doing a lot of thinking!

The processing of nerve stimulation information and data is contained within your parietal lobe, which sits behind the prefrontal cortex.

However, sat within the core area of your brain is the limbic system.  This area is quite different to the rest of your brain as it’s an independent operator and operates on feelings, impressions – emotional thinking.  Your inner voice (or Prof Peters Chimp) lives in this area and is a strong component of how we act and react.  The amygdala drives our response to those stimulants and connected to the hypothalamus, regulates the release of chemicals into our blood e.g. adrenaline.

All very fascinating but what relevance is a basic biology lesson?

Put simply, through a combination of getting to know your own personality, how you think, act and engage will provide knowledge of what works best for you.  Apply this same approach to other people that you engage with.  Remember that everyone also has that emotional component to their brain that will take over logic and apply emotion.  This will always happen first, before your logical thinking can engage. So, with this sequence, acknowledge that you and any other person will feel emotion first – F.  Realise this and allow your logical brain to engage so that you can think – T.  Only then, formulate your response or allow the other person to do so.

So, get to know yourself better – keep a diary of when you work best, when you eat, drink and sleep.  Log when you sense your emotions overtaking your logical thinking.  Do the same for others that you engage with.  Apply this and you have started to learn to manage your “inner chimp” and develop emotional intelligence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *