When Tom and I were in Michigan last September for his 70.3 Ironman, the weather took a rather sudden turn for “cold” (for triathlon standards).  His test swim in 54-degree water did not go as well as he had hoped. (Note: I can’t imagine swimming 1.2 miles in a period, much less in water that is less than 75 degrees, so I tend to be careful and not pass judgment).

For race day, the projections were air temperature, 54, and water, 56.

Bottom line – it was going to be cold.

Tom knows the value of both physical and mental preparedness for races. So, the fact that the test swim was causing concern. The water temperature wasn’t going to get higher magically, and there’s only so much a wet suit can do. But going into a race worried was going to get him nowhere.

The Chimp brain was hard at work.

Scriptures tell us not to worry.

Matthew 6:25-34, part of the Sermon on the Mount, is one of the most direct teachings about worry in the Bible. Jesus tells his followers not to worry about their lives, what they will eat or drink, or about their bodies and what they will wear. He points to the birds and flowers, noting that if God cares for them, God will surely care for humans who are more valuable than these.

Jesus concludes by advising us to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given as well, and to not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Apostle Paul advises believers, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

These are nice passages. And ones we can commit to memory, and they can bring comfort and hope. But for many, they don’t completely make the worry go away.

We WANT them to bring comfort, but we still struggle.

That’s the beauty of marrying spirituality and science. Understanding how our minds work so that we can apply the spiritual principles we adhere to (like don’t worry, God’s bigger than all that).

When we worry (or experience other Chimp/emotional thoughts), an action we can take is to ask ourselves, “Do I want to feel this way?”

If the answer is no, then do something about it.

“How can I take control of my thoughts?”

In this case, Tom could address the worry about the water temperature. He reached out to his coach, got some ideas of how he could stay warmer in the water, and then kept telling himself he’d done all he could to be prepared instead of worrying.

He needed to be fully present in each moment and let those moments take care of themselves.

Our Chimp brain likes to think/ask, “But what if . . .”

“What if it goes wrong? What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t handle this?”

Chimp asks “what if” to unsettle us. Humans ask “what if” when constructing a plan.

Remember, the Chimp goes on feelings to decide future actions. That’s a bad plan of action!

The Human thinks about what needs to be done.

Then, at the end of the day, they reflect on how they used their time.

Did you DO something about stuff or just sit in worry/anger and other emotions?

Part of allowing God’s peace to overcome us oftentimes requires action on our part.

Grace and Peace


Steve Peters, “The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence, and Happiness” (London: Vermilion, 2012).