The Chimp & The Peanut

Have you ever heard the story about the chimp and the peanut? Its very interesting and relates to us all in some way.

Allow me to share the story…


Once upon a time a researcher observed the behaviour of a group of chimps.

I’m not sure why, but the researcher provided the chimps with paint, brushes and paper.

They demonstrated to the chimps what should be done with these new “tools”.

Then, if a chimp made an attempt at a paining (paintbrush on paper) they were rewarded with a peanut.

The researchers noticed that the chimps initial paintings were made up of multiple brush strokes before they handed them to the researcher to receive their peanut.

However after just a few weeks it was noted that the chimps paintings were made up of single brush strokes, which they duly handed to the researchers to claim their reward.

Over a short period of time, the amount of enthusiasm shown and effort the chimp put into the painting had lessened, for the same reward.

This is something we all do at different times and in different areas of our life, it’s what I understand as The “Law of Diminishing Returns”.

(our enthusiasm (and effort put into work) diminishes as time goes on, and so may the results)

I was first told the chimp and the peanut story when I was talking with a human resources manager for a HUGE company in London (he was really interesting, they know some cool stuff these human resources people).

(He said “If you are an employer it is essential you have things in place to protect yourself from your chimps getting lazy”)

Let me explain.

(this doesn’t relate to all employers but certainly the bigger employers like the local authority come to mind (I was there for over 10 years)).

In the first few months of a new job you’re all enthusiastic and you work your ass off, trying to impress.

With all the impressing done, it’s onto easy street for many, without them even realising.

Ever heard this saying? “Get a reputation as a hard worker and you can sleep all day”. It’s true if you ask me.

Over a period of time (the following months or years) you get comfortable and reduce your effort BUT you do still get the same daily output in work, maybe even a bit more, and of course you get the same wage every month, maybe a bit more.

Congratulations you have gotten better at your job!


The truth for some of us who have been in our jobs for a while, is we could potentially get a days work done in 4-6 hrs if we really wanted to (remember how much you get done the week before you go on holiday?! or is that just me?).

We Are Capable Of Much More

I believe if we are honest with ourselves, many of us are working well below our capabilities or real capacity. Maybe because people are so out of shape and tired or maybe because people have lost their enthusiasm for their jobs, either way people are capable of much more.

(and if you are not working below yours and ARE working every hour god sends, I would congratulate you and point you towards this article I wrote – workaholic or peak performer? It gives you a few points (key performance indicators) to check to make sure you are on the right track, health, energy, sleep, libido).

The Law of diminishing returns is a path which potentially leads to problems.

In the gym you may be feeling that your not getting any noticeable results for all that (perceived) effort, therefore have lost enthusiasm?

Maybe in work, you will find you are watching the clock and hate your job, maybe because it doesn’t really challenge you anymore?

What has all this got to do with our health, energy levels and fitness?


As a coach and a trainer of over 15 years experience I have seen this happen to people in the gym and even to some of my clients.

They input less effort over time, either start to slip backwards, just about manage to maintain their shape or some even see small results, but they all put less effort in over time.

They too have gotten better at staying in shape, more efficient, which is good.


What if you did actually finish your full days work in 4 hrs? Then go to your boss and god forbid say, “is there any more work?”.

It could cause a shit storm in some workplaces, maybe even leading to people getting sacked (hopefully not you).  I would hope it could lead to a promotion too.

What if my clients, instead of lessening their effort and enthusiasm as their knowledge and skill grew, increased it or at least maintained it?

They would get better results I would think!

This is why I have strategies to protect my clients from slipping into that very human behavioural pattern, becoming less enthusiastic about something over time.

  • Fitness tests
  • The amount of time it takes to complete a certain workout
  • The amount of weight and repetitions they lift
  • Reboots (mini detoxes)
  • Plenty of new recipes to freshen things up
  • How many press ups or pull ups can be done straight off
  • I make the workouts fun and different every session
  • I have lots of motivational “rants” during sessions to keep up the enthusiasm/motivation/fear 😉

They say enthusiasm is contagious so spend time with the right people and chose your training partners wisely.

Try getting yourself a coach or a personal trainer who can help you stay enthusiastic and interested in your programme.

Chimps Are Chumps

People who let themselves become a lazy chimp TOO often (I believe there is a chimp in all of us, which we have to keep under control.  Read a book by Steve Peters called the Chimp Paradox) are foolish because it’s a recipe for failure NOT success.  In today’s competitive workplace, if you can keep yourself fit, healthy and energised you will thrive and be far more successful than your peers.

You’ll be surprised how having more rest will affect your results in a positive way. I don’t train everyday but on my rest days I enjoy doing things like foam rolling, long walks, sauna and cold showering.

I still feel like I’m doing something but I’m allowing my body to still recover fully.

When you decide to change your eating habits just a few little changes can lead to significant fat loss. Then once you have lost the ‘easy weight’ things get a bit tougher and you need to work a bit harder on your eating to get results.

This is often the big stumbling block point for the majority of people and where people if they haven’t got the right mindset or enough motivation give up.

You may of heard people saying that the last 5 pounds are a lot harder to lose than the first 5 pounds!

There comes a time with more or less every goal when things start to get tough, you will be doing a lot of hard work and it seems as if you aren’t getting much reward for it. This is where some people thrive and some people fail.

Remember – All good things come to those who wait. ESPECIALLY WITH REGARD TO EXERCISE.

An important thing to try and do is recognise the power of the law of diminishing returns and then re-evaluating things, in an attempt to get your enthusiasm back.

It is better to do this rather than putting all of your extra effort into something, seeing no results and getting frustrated and giving up.

No matter what your goal is, the best results happen over a period of months/years not in a couple of days.

So don’t be another person who fails due to the laws of diminishing returns.

Keep working, keep fighting and strive to achieve in life what you want and don’t give up.

Things are very rarely a smooth ride.

Please comment below if you need any extra advice.

If you enjoyed please click the social media buttons and share with your friends, family and network.

Thanks for reading,

Richard Clarke

PS – Check out this cool short motivational video “The Greatest Speech Ever Made” Length – 3:38.

3 thoughts on “The Chimp & The Peanut”

  1. Richard, as usual with your articles a great thought provoker, it seems we all need to find that driver that keeps us pushing forward or it’s peanuts all round for the chimps among us!

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