13 Steps To Quiet Your Monkey Mind
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You have a project due in the morning. As you get ready for bed, you start to think about it.
“What will I wear? That blue shirt should work.”
“Man, it was a busy day at work today. So many people needed my help.”
“Oh yeah, I need to remember to help Jake with his science project before Thursday.”
“Thursday is my sister’s anniversary. We should take them out to eat to celebrate.”
“I’m hungry; what’s in the fridge?”
“Wait, is that clock right? I need to get to bed. I have to get up early to finish that project before work!”
The monkey mind strikes again, taking you on a mental escapade without your fore-knowledge or permission.
Even if you’ve never heard the term “monkey mind,” you’ve no doubt experienced it. Monkey mind is a Buddhist term used to describe how fast our thoughts change.
Much like a monkey swinging from branch to branch, our thoughts swing from topic to topic. Sometimes our monkey mind swings back and forth between two topics, as we try to figure something out subconsciously while talking to someone about a different topic.
Other times, usually when it’s quiet and we’re alone with our thoughts, our monkey mind hits every tree in the jungle of our brain! Often these thoughts are negative or painful, leaving us mentally exhausted, stressed, and unhappy.
Is it possible to tame the monkey in your brain so you can enjoy peace of mind, focus, and more productivity? It is possible with awareness and practice.
13 Steps to Quiet Your Monkey Mind
What’s a person to do once that monkey starts swinging?
It’s not healthy to shut out the world so you can follow that monkey from tree-thought to tree-thought.
Living “in our heads” (focusing internally more than externally) can lead to distraction, miscommunication, and even unwarranted anger or fear (paranoia).
So how do we quiet our monkey mind? How do we slow down our thoughts long enough to think through them clearly? The following 13 tips should help.
1. Belly Breathing
When the stress of monkey mind sets in, you may notice that your breathing becomes shallow.
If possible, stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath.
Breathe deep, pulling the air in with your diaphragm, so your belly inflates instead of your rib cage.
Count to five as you inhale, and then count again as you exhale. Mindfully focusing your attention on your breathing will help slow down that swinging monkey and ground you in the present moment.
2. Look Around
Often, when our monkey mind is in full swing, we tend to “zone out.”
To combat this, take time to look around, to really see the world around you and everything you might not notice when you're distracted.
Read Related: 5 Mindfulness Exercises To Reduce Stress
Take note of the furniture, look at the colors of the clothing people are wearing, really see your surroundings. Look around, pay attention to details, and let your monkey rest.
Being fully present in the moment helps you declutter your mind so intrusive thoughts don't wear you down.
3. Jot a Note
Usually, our monkey minds are most active when we are trying to focus on something important.
When this happens, grab a piece of paper and jot a note about whatever keeps interrupting your thoughts.
If you’re at work, and you keep thinking about what you’ll pack for your vacation next week, jot a note about it.
If you’re making supper and remember a task you need to do at work the next day, jot a note.
Doing this allows you to get back to whatever you’re doing without the stress of worrying that you’ll forget something later or the next day. Just don’t forget where you wrote it down!
4. Think Positive Thoughts
Worry is an activity that stimulates our monkey mind.
We worry about what will happen if our car won’t start or if we lose our job or our child gets sick.
Taking control of our thoughts by thinking about positive things will help calm the monkey.
If your car doesn’t start, you have friends who will help, or you can call Uber. You enjoy your job, and you’re thankful that you are employed. Today, everyone is healthy.
Rather than worrying about what “could be,” be glad about “what is.” Grab hold of those positive thoughts whenever your monkey mind is on overdrive with rumination and worry.
5. Recognize Negative Thoughts
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. As you’re thinking of positive thoughts, be alert for negative ones.
Why are you worrying about your car not starting when there’s never been a problem with it?
Why are you worrying about your spouse getting sick if he or she rarely catches a cold?
Read Related: Mindfulness Meditation: The Path to Inner Peace
Don’t let your monkey mind swing toward those negative thoughts! Actively choose to change your negative thoughts into positive ones.
If you need a reminder to help you become more aware of negative thinking, put a rubber band on your wrist and gently pop it as a physical interruption of monkey mind.
6. Imagine the Worst
It may sound counterproductive, but sometimes it helps to imagine the worst that could happen.
Let’s say you need to take a test for your job, and your monkey mind keeps swinging to all the negative branches and telling you how you’re going to fail and how your life will be ruined.
Imagine the worst: you fail the test. What would happen then? Would you lose your job? Would you never find another job again?
Sometimes thinking the worst helps you see how foolish—how negative—a thought is, and that makes it easier to stop that monkey from swinging back that way.
7. Create a Plan B
When your monkey mind continues to swing wildly, when you recognize the negative thoughts and imagine the worst, it’s then time to take action.
Instead of worrying, create a backup plan. Create a Plan B so that those worst-case scenarios never happen.
If your monkey swings to thoughts of unemployment, polish up your resume and build up your emergency fund.
Be prepared so you can counter every negative thought with a plan of action. This is a great way to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.
8. Call a Friend
Keeping our thoughts to ourselves often causes our monkey mind to swing more because we can think faster than we can talk.
Call a friend and discuss what’s on your mind. Taking the time to transform your thoughts into spoken words will help to quiet your monkey mind.
If you’re worried about or excited for an upcoming activity, talk to a friend about it.
9. Use White Noise
Peace and quiet are often a refreshing change from our noisy world, but sometimes that’s when our monkey mind is the most active.
If you need quiet, but also need something to focus on, try white noise. Run a fan, pull up some ambient music or find a white noise app.
Give yourself something to think about and you’ll quiet your monkey mind.
10. Change Your Surroundings
Maybe your monkey mind doesn’t react to sound. Perhaps you need a change of scenery.
Step outside and go for a walk. Changing your surroundings is the perfect way to quiet your monkey mind because you’ll be busy observing what’s new.
What do you smell, see and hear? Focus on your five senses to override the busy thoughts in your head.
11. Start a Journal
Sometimes your monkey mind will swing between the same thoughts over and over and over.
Start a journal and write down those thoughts. Look for a pattern, for positive and negative ideas.
Often, if you “see” your thoughts on paper, you’ll be able to discern what’s idle chatter and what’s really important. Also, you will need to slow down your thoughts in order to write them out.
Just the act of formulating your thoughts into written or spoken words will help quiet your monkey mind.
12. Accept What You Cannot Change
Rather than allowing your monkey mind to swing back and forth between tree-thoughts you have no control over, chop those trees down!
Thoughts are thoughts. They are what you perceive, but they may or may not be based in reality. Challenge your thoughts to see if they have any basis in reality.
If they do, practice realistic but positive acceptance.
You can’t change things simply by thinking about them; you can only change the way you respond to them. Accept what you cannot change and change what you can (that may be Plan B).
Knowing the difference between the two will quiet your monkey mind.
13. Try to Be Objective
When your monkey mind starts swinging between tree-thoughts, it can sometimes get irrational.
Negative thoughts will become personal, and you’ll start attacking yourself mentally.
Try to be objective. What if your best friend started saying these things? You’d stop him in his tracks and either tell him he’s crazy or to calm down.
Being objective will help you see negative thoughts for what they are, and it will help you create a Plan B if needed.
Recognizing Your Monkey Mind
An overactive monkey mind presents itself through worry, anxiousness, and confusion, to name just a few. When you work to quiet your monkey mind, it helps remove these things from your life.
Your thoughts will always bounce around like a monkey swinging between trees—that’s just the way our brains work—but they don’t have to swing out of control.
You can keep control of your thoughts, even if it means talking or writing. Once you understand that and put these tips into action, you’ll find you have more and more control over that wild monkey mind.
Do you have a favorite tip for quieting your monkey mind? Join the conversation on our Facebook page and let us know what it is.
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