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monkey mind

Dealing with Monkey Mind

Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed by an array of thoughts that seem to come rapid fire, taxing your ability to focus on something more productive like your art, your job, or the conversation you’re trying to have with someone?

Ever looked forward to going “off the grid” somewhere, only to find that once you get there, you’re constantly reaching for your phone?

Behold. You have entered the monkey mind state.

Monkey mind is defined as restless, persistent thinking, often at a rapid pace, it’s a veritable onslaught of thoughts and thinking.

Said to have entered common parlance through the teachings of the Buddha who described the human mind as being “filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, and carrying on endlessly,” it’s a mind state many of us are all too familiar with.

It’s hypothesized that the monkey mind is actually a function that’s been with humans, well, since before we were humans, back when we were swinging from the branches. As primates moving up the evolutionary ladder, we didn’t need to do stuff that required vast amounts of focus and concentration. There were no spreadsheets to build, no lessons to take, no letters to write. On the other hand, being able to outpace environmental stimuli with speedy thinking processes that could coordinate with multiple regions of the brain and body in a nanosecond was just the kind of wiring we needed in order to outsmart our predators. The rapid fire thinking ability and thoughts that are the basis of the monkey mind state were downright crucial for our survival. Alas, we’re no longer swinging through the canopies but our minds are still ablaze with busy, oftentimes disruptive thoughts which pull us away from our targeted goals.

Want a bit of peace? Behold our tips on how you can re-calibrate and get those thoughts flowing in a less chaotic manner:

Tip 1 – Do Chores or Repetitive Movement/Exercise.

Incorporating activities that don’t require lots of conscious effort, and which have a repetitive quality to them, can help let those thoughts unwind. Long walks can be a godsend to those with terrifically active minds. While you’re doing your activity like washing dishes, folding laundry or walking, thoughts will tend to rise to the surface. Chances are, at least some of those thoughts are worth thinking about, so listen without getting anxious. Gradually the speed at which various thoughts flare up will lessen and, oftentimes, what may have seemed like pure chaos will reveal itself with greater clarity and order.

Tip 2- Take a Long Drive.

Want to really unclog those pathways? Forget about watching tv, going online, or even talking about the myriad of thoughts that are babbling in your brain. Instead, take a long drive. Driving requires ample use of our Frontal Lobe, Parietal lobe, Occipital and Temporal Lobes, and other parts of the cerebellum. And whatd’ya know, the brain actually finds such activity relaxing!

Tip 3 – Write Them Down.

Giving certain thoughts the space and respect they deserve can greatly reduce mind chatter and alleviate stress. Some people find writing a list of all their restless thoughts greatly reduces their anxiety. Because they’ve recorded their thoughts somewhere, they retain a sense of security knowing they can get back to those thoughts later. They then feel free to relax and regain a sense of calm and focus. Others find simply going through thoughts and asking “Is that important?” or “What’s the worst that could happen?” is an effective way to calm their minds.

Tip 4 – Use a Sound Cue.

If you have disruptive thoughts that are nothing more than your own particular brand of mental noise, then using a sound cue could help. All you have to do is say a word or omit a sound to yourself (like a hum) the instant you find you’re repeating or being clogged up by such thoughts. By humming or saying a specific word to yourself out loud, you create an awareness that yes you were having that unwanted thought again. Having caught the thought and stopped it, you’re then at liberty to “change the channel” i.e. change the thought to a more productive one. But note this: in order for it to work, actually audibly saying or sounding the cue yourself is imperative. Why? We don’t know for sure (probably activating the motor cortex has something to do with it) but it seems to be the body’s way of communicating with the brain and saying, in effect, “Hey, I’m taking charge right now.”

Tip 5 – Embrace Your Monkey Mind.

Remember, monkey mind is not the enemy. It’s a powerful ally that’s been with us since the beginnning, an intrinsic part of who we all are as individuals. So let it do its babbling when you can afford to give it the floor. Oftentimes it just needs to unravel. When need be, you can use the tips we’ve just shared to put the monkey mind to rest and get back to focusing on the work at hand.


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