If you’ve been following any of my social media or blog posts, you’ve seen that most of my title covers and posts in the Facebook Group, ChallengeMe: Live Healthy and Vibrant – without Dieting feature a cute little monkey.
What’s with this guy? Besides the fact that he’s cute, there’s a couple reasons why I went with the monkey in a lot of my posts.
First is a personal reason. My dad’s nickname for me growing up was (and still is) Monkey. You know, it had variations like Munkin and Monkster, but I was Monkey.
The other reason I like the monkey is because it reminds me of the little voice always present in the back of my mind. You know the voice I mean, because you have it, too. We all do. It’s Monkey Mind.
In fact, the concept can be traced back to ancient Eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism and Taoism. It’s the part of your mind that’s restless, confused, doubtful, indecisive, impulsive, uncontrollable. Like a monkey, it’s jumping up and down, chattering away. It’s the voice or thoughts you try to fight against if you’re meditating.
Another thing Monkey Mind is good at is imitation. Monkey See Monkey Do. It’s the part of us that likes to conform, or copy others in attempt to fit in. It might be the part of you wanting to diet to lose weight so you can be accepted, like you see in movies and magazines, or like you saw those you looked up to doing.
Monkey Mind likes to keep things at status quo. Anytime you try to make a change, even if that change is for the better, Monkey Mind gets all riled up and chatters away at you: “You can’t do that! That’ll never work! That’s too hard! You’ll just quit and fail again anyway! Who do you think you are?” It feels safe when things don’t change.
The good news is that you are not your Monkey Mind. Monkey Mind is one aspect of having a human brain, but it’s not the only part. It’s not who you are at your core.
While Monkey Mind can’t be stopped or controlled, you can learn to turn down its volume. You can learn to tune it out. You can learn to see it for what it is. Instead of buying into it, you can acknowledge it: “thanks for your input, Monkey Mind, but I’ve got this,” and go on with your plans.
Here are some ways to tame your Monkey Mind so you can get back to the important stuff:
Now before you groan and roll your eyes, let me say that there are a lot of misconceptions about meditation, making it seem more challenging than it has to be. A lot of people assume meditation is trying to silence your mind, keep out any thoughts, and go to some sort of altered state.
And if you’ve tried meditation with those rules in mind, it didn’t work so well, did it? That’s because we can’t stop our thoughts, our monkey mind, any more than we can stop the waves of the ocean. So you don’t even have to try!
Instead, in meditation, you shift your focus away from monkey mind, and onto your breath. Focusing on the breath gives you something to focus on besides the ongoing chatter in your mind. You can also focus on a candle flame, or use a guided meditation to focus on the images suggested.
The goal is to learn how to tune out the Monkey Mind, and shift your focus elsewhere. The breath is a great place to put your focus, because it’s always there, it’s pretty rhythmic, and it keeps you in the present moment, alert to your body rather than your mind.
Meditation is a practice, and you have to start slow. It’s like building up a muscle, so you don’t want to tire yourself out by starting with 30 minutes a day. Start even with 2 minutes a day, and it will gradually become easier.
The reason why meditation is so effective for calming Monkey Mind is because it begins to work even when you’re not technically meditating. The more you practice in meditation, the more automatic it will become to recognize your Monkey Mind in everyday life. The easier it will be to shift your focus away from it, and not get caught up its nonsense.
Have a Conversation
Yes, I’m telling you to talk to yourself. At least to the Monkey Mind. When you notice the thoughts that hold you back, keep you stuck in fear, stuck in indecision, see if you can picture that part of your brain as another being. It can be a monkey, or it can look like you, or another person, whatever seems right to you.
Imagine that being talking to you, saying whatever it is it’s saying. Then start asking it questions. Here’s an example:
Monkey Mind: What are you doing?? I can’t believe you ate all that cheese and then had dessert! You’re going to gain weight! You better not eat much tomorrow!
Me: Hi Monkey Mind, I seem to recall you saying that several times before, and several times I listened to you. Do you remember how it went when I restricted my food after a day of eating a lot?
Monkey Mind: Yes
Me: And what happened?
Monkey Mind: Well, you just overate again the next night.
Me: Right. That’s biology for ya. Do you think this time will be any different?
Monkey Mind: Probably not.
Me: What would happen if i just ate normally, and listened to my hunger and fullness?
Monkey Mind: Well, you might still overeat, like today.
Me: Well, I’m new at this, and it’s a skill. If I were learning to play the guitar but kept making mistakes, would you think I should just give up?
Monkey Mind: No, I guess not.
Me: Ok, so do you think it’s a good idea to keep practicing this whole listening to my body thing?
Monkey Mind: I guess…
This can really quiet Monkey Mind – for a time. Monkeys have a short attention span, so it’ll start to make noise again about the same exact thing, but when it does, just calmly remind it of your conversation with a word or phrase, like “we’re practicing remember?”
Remember You’re Totally Normal
Finally, it can help to know that you are not the only one with a crazy Monkey Mind! Since humans existed, Monkey Mind existed. It’s a natural part of your brain that probably had the function of keeping us safe from predators and keeping us part of the crowd.
And Monkey Mind has its uses, it’s just that more often than not, it gets in the way of making real progress and change. Because its job is to keep things as they are, where it believes it’s safe.
Once you realize everyone has a Monkey Mind to deal with, you can relax and breathe a little. Even very successful people who have made great change and progress in their lives had to learn to cope with Monkey Mind, and move forward just the same.
I would love to hear from you in the comments below, what does your Monkey Mind stop you from doing? How have you learned to manage it?