Zen Buddhists refer to the constant chatter of the mind as monkey mind.
The Buddha held that the human mind is filled with drunken monkeys flinging themselves from tree branches, jumping around, and chattering nonstop. He meant that our minds are in constant motion. Typical mind chatter sounds like the following:
- Your mind reading off a laundry list of to-do items.
- Your mind listing its fears, both real and imaginary.
- Your mind recalling hurtful things that have happened in the past.
- Your mind judging the present.
- Your mind creating catastrophic “what-if” scenarios of the future.
As a result of this monkey mind, it’s nearly impossible to slow down and enjoy the present. In addition, all that negativity affects our mood—making us unhappy, angry, restless, and anxious; it hampers our ability to concentrate; it has a negative impact on our behavior; and it interferes with our ability to have positive interactions with others. It’s also very stressful to have a barrel of monkeys screeching in our head all day long. The good news is that there are ways to get the monkey mind to calm down.
Taming your monkey mind will do all of the following for you:
- It will give you clarity of mind.
- It will allow you to focus on the present and on the task at hand.
- It will improve the quality of your sleep.
- It will increase your sense of calm and of well-being.
- It will make you happier.
So, let’s get to it! Below you’ll discover 10 ways to tame your monkey mind and stop mental chatter.
1. Know that Your Monkey Mind Can Be Tamed. The first step in your quest to calm your monkey mind is to know that it’s possible to do so. It’s very likely that up until this point you’ve allowed your monkey mind to run wild. But now you’re going to put an end to that. After all, your thoughts don’t rule you. You rule your thoughts.
2. Talk to Your Monkey Mind. When your monkey mind is in full swing, calm it down by having a conversation with it. Stop for a moment and listen to what your monkey mind is saying. Why is it upset? What’s all the raucous about? Then, do the following:
- Is your monkey mind trying to remind you of something that needs to be done? Make a note of it and schedule the item so that your monkey mind doesn’t need to worry about it any longer.
- Is your monkey mind anxious about something in the future? Reassure your monkey mind that everything is going to be fine. Conduct a worst-case scenario with your monkey mind, and come up with a contingency plan.
- Is your monkey mind voicing resentment over something that happened in the past? Realize that you need to create an action plan for dealing with your past so that your monkey mind stops bringing it up.
Sometimes your monkey mind just needs to be heard. Once it feels that it’s been allowed to voice its grievances and concerns, it will settle down.
3. Establish a Journaling Practice. This is similar to the point above, but it’s more deliberate. By establishing a regular journaling practice, you’ll be setting aside a window of time each day specifically to address your monkey mind’s concerns. Do the following:
- Let your monkey mind know that every morning you’re going to give it 15 to 20 minutes to run amok.
- During this time, write down what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, and anything that you’re worried about.
- Do this for the amount of time that you’ve allotted to journaling, and then stop.
Once the time is up, let your monkey know that it’s had it’s say for the day, and that you will not pay attention to anything else it says until the next day’s journaling session. Then, keep your word. If your monkey mind starts screeching at any other time of the day, refuse to place your attention on whatever thoughts the monkey mind is generating.
Tell your monkey mind the following: “Your session for today is over. Wait until tomorrow’s session. I’ll listen to you then.” Soon, your monkey mind will realize that it’s completely futile to make a fuss at any time other than during your journaling sessions.
4. Meditate. Meditating is the most effective technique you can use to calm your monkey mind. By meditating you’ll be training your mind to become still, and you’ll be regaining power and control over your thoughts. If you create a daily practice of meditation you’ll become skilled at quieting your mind and at silencing the monkey mind at will.
5. Practice the A-B-C Technique. A lot of the time, monkey mind is caused by your thoughts disagreeing with what’s going on. That is, there’s a contrast between your thoughts and your surroundings. When the present moment doesn’t align with what your monkey mind wants, your monkey mind begins to spit and howl.
The A-B-C technique can help you deal with the disparity between what your monkey mind thinks should be happening, and what is actually happening. Here’s how it works:
- A is for “activating event”. That is, something happens.
- B is for “beliefs”. Your monkey mind starts interpreting what’s happening based on your beliefs.
- C is for “consequences”. As a consequence of the thoughts that you’re having about what just happened, you feel certain emotions.
The key to taming the monkey mind by applying the A-B-C technique is to question the beliefs that the monkey mind is relying on in order to reach the conclusions that its communicating to you. Here are three examples of questioning your beliefs:
- Are people really obligated to act at all times in the way in which I want them to act?
- Is it realistic to believe that things must always go my way?
- Is it true that I have to perform well all the time?
If you reject the beliefs that your monkey mind is relying on to justify its temper tantrum, the monkey mind will no longer have a place to hang its hat on. And it will have no choice but to quiet down. You can read more about this technique in my post, A Powerful Tool for Your Happiness Arsenal: REBT.
6. Stop Assigning Meaning. The Spanish abstract artist Pablo Picasso once said the following: “If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.” Although that’s a rather grotesque image, pause for a moment and reflect on the quote’s meaning.
What Picasso is saying is that you should simply allow your senses to take in what’s going around you, and then stop. Skip the step in which your monkey mind jumps in and starts judging, critiquing, and assigning meaning. Once you start doing this on a regular basis, you’ll notice that you begin to see things more clearly. In addition, you’ll be able to see much more than you did before.
7. Recite a Mantra. Interrupt your monkey mind mid-sentence and distract it by reciting a mantra. When you recite a mantra you draw in your scattered attention and focus it on a word, phrase, or sound. A mantra that I like to use is “Peace” (but you can use whatever mantra you want).
Although you can recite your mantra silently, it’s more effective if you it say out loud. That way, you’re also listening to the word, phrase, or sound, which engages your sense of hearing. The more senses you can stimulate, the easier it will be to distract your monkey mind.
In addition, by repeating a positive phrase–either to yourself or out loud–you’ll be listening to something positive, instead of listening to the negativity being spewed by your monkey mind.
8. Play a Game of Fives. The moment in which you hear the first monkey howling in your mind, you’ll know that it’s very likely that your mind has wandered off and that it’s no longer in the present moment. You can get the tribe of monkeys in your mind to quiet down by bringing your mind back to the present.
One way to bring your mind back to the present is by playing the Game of Fives. Pause your train of thought and notice five things in your environment. It can be five things you see, hear, or smell. Then, fully experience the sight, sound, or smell. You can do this by pretending that it’s the first time you’ve ever experienced that sight, sound, or smell, and by adopting a sense of awe.
The moment in which you do this all of your attention will be placed on the present moment, and your monkey mind will be silenced.
9. Engage Your Mind. I’m sure that you’ve experienced moments when your mind was completely still. Perhaps you were so involved in a book, or in a movie, or in your writing, that the monkey mind went silent. You just experienced directly what was going on, without your mind chatter giving you a running commentary of events, as they occurred.
This is because one way to silence your monkey mind is by engaging your mind. The next time your monkey mind is driving you nuts, look for an activity that draws you in completely, so that all of your attention is placed on what you’re doing, and there’s no attention left over to listen to the monkey mind.
10. Try Piko-Piko Breathing. Piko-Piko breathing is one of the basic practices of the ancient Hawaiian Huna philosophy. “Piko” means “navel” or “center”. The technique involves doing the following:
- Breathe in deeply. As you inhale, place your attention on the crown of your head.
- As you exhale, center your attention on your navel.
- Keep breathing in and out as you switch your attention from the crown of your head to your navel.
- Do this a few times.
The act of breathing deeply, centering the attention on one spot, and then automatically moving the attention to another spot will help you to calm your restless mind.
As was stated in this post’s introduction, taming your monkey mind has many benefits. Although calming your mind will take some practice, it can be done. The 10 strategies and techniques explained above are a great place to start. Live your best life by taming your monkey mind.
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