Do you ever find yourself jumpy, anxious, and overwhelmed with a million thoughts racing through your head? Is the feeling so overpowering that you become paralyzed and unable to take action? The monkey mind.
The origins of the monkey mind date back to the buddha. The expression is used to describe the inability to quiet our mind when there are many thoughts, ideas, and worries swirling around in our head. Our tendency to multi-task and our addiction to technology exacerbates the problem.
Some symptoms of the monkey mind include inability to sleep, exhaustion (maybe due to lack of sleep), memory issues, and inability to focus. Now that we’ve identified the problem and the symptoms, what can be done?
Three ways to tame the monkey mind
By practicing these strategies on a daily basis, you can quiet the monkey mind:
Taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly or follow a guided meditation helps to quiet the mind. When meditating, you breathe in and out through your nose. The idea is to inhale deeply and exhale slowly, focusing only on your breath. This is where you might say, “but there are a million thoughts flying through my head.” Exactly…that’s the monkey mind! If you have tried meditating before and thought you were not doing it correctly because your mind wandered, give it another chance. Your mind is expected to wander and it is in no way an indication that you are doing it wrong. Let the thoughts drift to the side, with no judgment, and bring yourself back to focusing on your breath. As you do this repeatedly, you strengthen your ability to focus. Imagine how this can help you throughout the day when you are trying to concentrate and other thoughts fly into your head. If you have trouble meditating on your own, try a guided meditation such as insight timer.
Do you ever find that when you are in a meeting or waiting in line at the supermarket your mind starts wandering to (and stressing over) what you have to do later that day? We have all been there. You have so much to do before leaving the office…when will this meeting end? E-mails, phone calls, quarterly reporting…why is that vice president still talking? Or, perhaps you are still stewing because the barista at Starbucks got your coffee order wrong this morning. Either way, you are contaminating the time you are in. Your participation in the meeting is marginalized because you are not focused on the content – you are busy worrying about other things. The monkey mind has taken over again. Wherever you are, be totally present and try to only focus on what is being discussed. This conscious state of being is mindfulness.
3. Attitude of gratitude
According to research, repeated thoughts create neural pathways. The more you identify positive things in your life, the deeper and more pronounced those pathways become. Consider keeping a gratitude journal. I started one last summer and have already seen a change in my overall outlook on life. At the end of each day, i write three things for which i am grateful. Over time, this daily practice trains your brain to look for the positive in things…it becomes a reflex. So, even if you feel like you were born or raised a pessimist, you can start to see your cup as being half full and even overflowing. Summary The combined daily practice of meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude brings a sense of peace and order, keeping the monkey mind at bay. The more you practice, the greater your ability to focus and react calmly in stressful situations.
Sharon Danzger is the founder of Control Chaos and author of ‘Super-Productive: 120 Strategies to Do More and Stress Less’. Her firm helps clients improve personal productivity and performance through corporate training programs and individualized coaching.