“Monkey mind” is the experience of jumping from thought to thought, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch, lured by yet another piece of fruit even while the piece in his hand is only partially eaten.
In interpersonal conflict, monkey mind is the numbing, confusing chatter in your mind every time you think about the difficult situation at home or work. Your mind jumps from thought to thought, analyzing this and that, worrying about what will happen, replaying who said what and how you reacted, until you find yourself overwhelmed and stuck.
Monkey mind is one of the reasons people avoid a conflict instead of dealing with it when it’s still manageable. When you let monkey mind control your thoughts, the conflict gets so complicated in your mind that it’s hard to know how to deal with it. Monkey mind paralyzes and confuses.
Taming monkey mind
Taming monkey mind is the act of noticing a thought without attaching to it. It’s the practice of observing a new thought without letting it take hold of you. It’s the habit of choosing to release a thought, to let it go, instead of running with it.
If an interpersonal conflict is weighing on you, you want to concentrate on thoughts that help you sort it out and let go of thoughts that create mind-numbing chatter. Here’s a practice to help you tame monkey mind and detach from thoughts that are getting in your way:
- Identify a question you want to answer for yourself. Pick one that, if answered well, will give you real insight into the conflict.
- Write the focus question down so it serves as a visual cue in front of you.
- If writing helps you think, begin writing to craft your answer. Remember, you’re writing only for yourself. If you prefer to think without the interference of writing, begin trying to answer your question while also keeping the visual nearby. Glance at it often to re-focus yourself.
- If you prefer to process verbally, give your question to someone you trust and ask them to help you focus on answering it for 5-10 minutes. Ask them not to do anything but help keep you focused on just the one question. Specifically instruct them not to give you advice.
- When you become sidetracked by a thought that doesn’t relate directly to your question, gently bring yourself back to the question, letting the monkey mind thought go. Some people even say to themselves, “Thanks for that thought, but I’m setting it aside for now.”
- Don’t be hard on yourself if you have trouble calming the chatter at first. Just keep redirecting back to your focus question until you answer it and feel satisfied with your answer for yourself.
Do you have questions about this practice? Please share them in the comments.