Ever felt overwhelmed by your own thoughts? Like your mind is a noisy place full of incessant chatter. One thought leads to another and another… You try to focus on the present moment, but your attention wanders far away. This phenomenon is known as “the monkey mind”; a state of inner restlessness and distraction. You may experience a restless mind every now and then; everyone does. However, in this day and age, the constant influx of information tends to intensify the monkey mind. So, with ads, news, and social media posts competing for your attention, it’s difficult to settle your mind on a single thing for more than a few minutes. This leads to a lack of productivity, difficulty making decisions, and an inability to find serenity. Luckily, there are many helpful activities and techniques for calming the monkey mind. Keep on reading to discover the most efficient ways to channel your attention and achieve daily clarity.
What is the “monkey mind”?
Let’s start with the basics: what is the meaning of the monkey mind? You already have a general idea of it, but let’s get into details. Thousands of years ago, the Buddha discussed this mental state, saying:
“Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.”
In other words, your attention is like a monkey. Every day, your mind produces thousands of different thoughts. So your attention struggles to remain in one place. Instead, it swings from branch to branch (thought to thought). For instance, you may be working on a task at work, trying to channel all your attention into it. But, suddenly, your mind wanders somewhere else… You think about your partner’s birthday next week; what should you get them? Or, you have an important presentation tomorrow, will you do badly? Will the electricity bill be expensive? What else is there to pay?
So, as you see, the “monkey mind” is an inner state of restlessness, agitation, and confusion. It’s the part of your brain that struggles to pay conscious attention. Ultimately, this hinders your productivity and creativity. What’s more, the monkey mind is connected to your inner critic. That swinging monkey of yours loves to grab onto bad branches or pessimistic thoughts. The brain is programmed to fixate on negative thoughts after all. So it’s no wonder why the monkey mind can lead to pessimistic, inner states.
What causes a monkey mind?
The human mind is truly wonderful. You have the innate ability to think about many things in quick succession. One thought branches into many other related thoughts. This is normal, and it isn’t necessarily bad. It keeps you on top of things and allows you to navigate your busy life. However, when your inner chatter takes over control and becomes too negative, there’s a problem.
Nowadays, developing a monkey mind is easy. We live in a world that bombards us with information and audiovisual stimuli 24/7. Just when you scroll through your social media feed, you’ll see lots of ads competing for your attention. Similarly, you have access to live updates on everything that’s happening in the world.
Imagine all of that as eye-catching fruit hanging on a tree branch. They are tempting and luring. They attract your inner monkey and tempt it to continue mindlessly swinging and swinging.
How to calm the monkey mind
Now that you know the meaning behind the concept and its causes, it’s time to talk about solutions. Buddha’s answer for how to calm the monkey mind was to develop “a mind like a forest deer”. Buddha observed that deers are gentle creatures, which remain aware and alert regardless of the situation. They are able to silence any distraction in the background to focus on what truly matters.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to do this? While calming the monkey mind is difficult, it isn’t impossible. Practices such as mindfulness meditation and deep relaxation help you understand your train of thought. Through these techniques, you become aware of how easily your mind wanders and that pessimistic and self-destructive thoughts are just that: thoughts. It isn’t necessarily about beating your inner monkey to submission, but taming and using it in your favor.
7 helpful tips for calming the monkey mind
If you are addicted to the monkey mind or struggle with your attention from time to time, follow these helpful tips.
1. Understand your power
Calming the monkey mind is possible once you understand what you can and cannot control. This beautiful life is full of ups and downs. Hence, we experience uncertainty, rapid change, and 180-degree turns on a daily basis. Dealing with all of this can be stressful and even frightening, and that’s normal!
So, you need to distinguish between what you can and cannot control. You can’t expect to control wide-scale events such as economic crises, wars, and natural disasters. What you can control is your restless and anxious mind. When your internal dialogue takes over your mind, you have the power to bring yourself back.
Studies prove that, after neurochemical triggers excite your brain, your brain chemistry returns to normal in 90 seconds. So, whenever you experience a rapid train of thought, you can mentally say to yourself, “stop”. Then, take three or four deep breaths. This will clear your mind and help you move on.
This simple, but powerful exercise helps you realize that you can cage the monkey mind. You do have control over your reactions and understanding this is empowering.
2. Use positive affirmations
The second step in your quest of calming the monkey mind is using positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are statements that help you challenge self-sabotaging thoughts. When you repeat and truly believe in them, you can start seeing positive results.
Try the following affirmations to stop feeding the monkey mind:
- I can control how I respond to things that are challenging.
- I believe in the infinite potential of my mind.
- The more I focus my attention on the positive, the more positivity comes to me.
- If I am focused and committed, there will always be a way.
- Conscious breathing is my anchor.
- I’m still learning and it’s okay to make mistakes.
- Letting go creates space for opportunities to come.
If positive affirmations are challenging, you can try positive affect. This helpful linguistic technique re-works negative thoughts. Instead of thinking “I’ll never make my dreams come true”, re-phrase the statement saying, “It’s going to be challenging, but I’ll work hard to make my dreams come true”. Studies suggest that positive affect stimulates goal-oriented behavior.
3. Cognitive defusion
Another useful linguistic trick for calming the monkey mind is cognitive defusion. Essentially, cognitive defusion is about re-framing or repeating a statement until it loses its meaning. You take a phrase you constantly say to yourself, for example, “I always mess up”. Now, transform it into “I’m having the thought that I always mess up”.
Remember, much of what causes the monkey mind are negative thoughts. So, this simple trick takes the negative edge out of your internal narrative. Similarly, saying over and over again the negative words you say to yourself may reduce their power.
4. Practice gratitude
Those who are addicted to the monkey mind tend to wander to the negative past. That is, all the mistakes they’ve made, all the missed opportunities, and their personal defeats. They also compare themselves to people who are seemingly the opposite: wealthy, happy, and successful. Luckily, gratitude is an excellent remedy to these self-sabotaging thoughts.
Every morning, focus your attention on the things you are grateful for. This may be your family, job, education, your daily cup of coffee, or having a roof above your head. Write them down in a journal or type them on your phone. This will shift your focus to what you have instead of what you lack; the positive over the negative.
And the great thing is that science supports the idea of gratitude. Engaging in gratitude can significantly increase your well-being.
5. Try journaling
Journaling improves memory, reduces stress, calms anxiety, and helps you cope with the symptoms of depression. Establishing a regular journaling routine can help you address your monkey mind’s concerns. Simply write down what’s been nagging you: any worries, thoughts, emotions, and so on. Do this for 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll find this is an effective way to discard all the spam your mind accumulates throughout the day.
6. Focus on your breath
As mentioned before, taking deep breaths is excellent for calming the monkey mind. Pranayama is an ancient, yogic practice that consists of controlling your mind’s power by regulating your breath. Prana translates to breath, while Yama has several meanings, including expansion, length, and rising. Pranayama has many health benefits, including better stress and emotional regulation, less anxiety, and more mindfulness.
There are many varieties of pranayama you can try. For example, there’s Ujjayi Pranayama or “ocean breath”. Practicing it for up to 10 minutes a day can help you fully expand your lungs. Moreover, focusing your attention on your breath helps you calm your restless mind. Here’s how to start:
- Sit down comfortably with a straight spine and close your eyes.
- Inhale deeply and steadily through your nostrils until you reach your lung capacity.
- Hold your breath for one or two seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your nostrils and feel the air on the roof of your mouth as you do so.
- Repeat up to 20 times.
Remember, there are lots of pranayama variations out there! Try out the one you feel most comfortable with.
7. Practice mindfulness meditation
Meditation is one of the best practices for calming the monkey mind. Many meditation techniques focus on a thing (usually the breath) to train attention. If you’re familiar with breathing techniques such as pranayama, this will be easy for you! For instance, whenever your mind wanders during meditation, you bring it back to your breath or the object of your focus.
Mindfulness meditation integrates deep breathing techniques and awareness of the body and mind. The goal is to observe your thoughts non-judgmentally, acknowledge them, and then let them go (metaphorically). Is that even possible? Here is a helpful tip. Whenever you’re thinking that you aren’t good enough or life is too unfair, change the script. Instead, say “I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough”. This makes your inner critic less powerful. Similarly, try to label your emotions (anxious, angry, stressed, etc). This can help you shift your brain’s activity from emotional areas into thinking areas of your brain.
In general, research shows that mindfulness meditation has a positive effect on physical and mental health. Those who practice it on a regular basis experience fewer stress symptoms, better sleep, and improved immunity. Of course, the effects may not be immediate. Practice makes perfect. So, making mindfulness meditation a regular habit will help you experience these wonderful benefits.
The monkey mind and relaxation
Our minds are easily overwhelmed and overloaded every day. It doesn’t help that in this day and age, we’re forced to be productive day and night. We push ourselves to be more successful, more knowledgeable, and more everything. Naturally, this is incredibly stressful. The constant rush and stress feed your monkey mind, making it difficult to tame. That’s why relaxation is so important.
By “relaxation” we don’t mean laying down in bed and ignoring your problems and responsibilities. This kind of relaxation is about nourishing your mind and body. It’s about taking the necessary steps to reduce harmful stress and boost your well-being.
Many of the activities listed above promote a certain degree of relaxation. Now, Synctuition has created the ultimate sound technology for this specific purpose. Cage the monkey mind and find serenity by listening to Synctuition’s immersive “sound journeys”. Each journey combines the best of meditative techniques and original music. This powerful mix stimulates your mind, helping you tame any restless or negative thought patterns. Download the app and say yes to deep relaxation and greater well-being.