We all have one… a monkey mind. What is it? It is the phenomenon of the uncontrolled, unquiet mind. The mind that is constantly bombarded with thoughts of every kind. Sometimes the thoughts are related, and a lot of times they are not. In fact, when we are not actively engaged in some specific activity that requires concentration – and sometimes even when we are – many of our thoughts are random. And there are lots of thoughts!
And these are just the thoughts we are aware of! (See my blog post on unconscious thoughts).
Why is monkey mind bad?
Many (most?) people live their entire lives with a monkey mind. Some people have such a bad case of monkey mind that they cannot focus, or become overly anxious about everything. In the extremes monkey mind can cause mental illness, lack of sleep, irritability, and general lack of direction in life.
But for most of us, the effects of monkey mind are not as extreme as that. We may loose sleep occasionally as we worry about how our boss will react to a presentation we did, or about an argument we had with a spouse or good friend, or about a major life decision. But we typically don’t obsess for very long on anything, so the fluid movement of our minds from one topic to the next may happen without our even noticing.
Still, even this unconscious stream of thought can have effects on our attitudes, beliefs, motivations, and path in life. (Lots of links here that should be useful to understanding how the unconscious mind, beliefs, and motivations affect the way we think and live our lives – I highly recommend you check them out).
How can you tame the monkey mind?
Taming monkey mind is simple… but not easy. All you have to do is learn to quite your thoughts. Simple. Then again, Buddhist monks spend their entire lives trying to do just this, and most never really succeed totally. But the good news is that total victory is not required to really improve your life. So here are some possibilities:
1. Learn to accept the monkey in your mind. One of the problems with monkey mind is that we tend to pay attention to all those thoughts, judge them, and let them play with our emotions. Once we do this, they are likely to cascade into even more thoughts, and the monkey mind starts to really play. One way to get over this problem is to simply acknowledge thoughts that are not relevant in the present moment, and let them pass without judgment or too much attention.
2. Be calm… learn to meditate. If you have read my blog at all you probably know I am a big fan of meditation. Well, there is actually a ton of research (literally) that supports the claims that meditation (specifically mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation) significantly effects the continuity of our thoughts. What I mean by this is that regular meditation helps us focus our thoughts. One possibility of how this happens, shown on EEG’s (measurements of electrical activity in the brain) is that meditation actually synchs up the different regions of the brain responsible for working memory, meaning that the brains activities become more focused on the tasks or problems at hand.
Regardless, regular mediation can have profound affects on how we think and respond to our worlds. I highly recommend looking into it!
3. Eat right and exercise. The mind-body link is undeniable. Even MD’s that once discarded the power of the mind over physical well being are now coming around and accepting holistic practices. One of the key findings in the “new medicine” is that our diet, and our physical fitness, seriously influence the way we think and react to things that happen to and around us.
I think it really comes down to chemistry. We know that exercise releases neurochemicals in the brain that are related to mood and concentration. We also know that exercise and diet regulate our blood chemistry. Anybody who has had a low blood sugar attack knows how blood chemistry can affect our moods and ability to think in a coherent way. So look at your diet, and get your body moving. You will be amazed at how much doing these two things can help tame the monkey mind.
So these are three possible ways to tame the monkey mind. There are no doubt many others. Please share your ideas!