The Monkey Mind is a term that was coined by the Buddhists and means “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. Ann Pizer, describes the monkey mind as the part of our brain that “dreads something that may occur in the future or fixates on something that happened in the past. It jumps around, resting briefly on one of the many thoughts that pop up before moving on to something else.” Sound familiar? If our minds are so preoccupied with thoughts about the past or the future, it becomes almost impossible to focus on our current tasks, and as soon as our focus begins to suffer, our productivity is dragged down with it. However, the good news is that there are two common ways of caging the Monkey Mind: journaling and morning pages.
Tim Ferriss (author of bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek) has an excellent podcast where he talks about learning How to Cage the Monkey Mind (if you are short on time go directly to 10:36). He highly recommends ‘journaling’ – spending 2.5 minutes in the morning and 2.5 minutes at night to handwrite the stream of consciousness that rattles around in our heads. No one will ever read it, so the quality of the content is not important, instead it’s the physical act of pouring our thoughts down onto paper. Ferriss says it is a “brain dump of thoughts, complaints, insecurities so that it is not caught on repeat for the rest of the day”. By doing this, the morning routine becomes a focusing and planning exercise and the night time routine becomes a gratitude exercise. In particular, Ferriss cites Type A personality types who are so focused on achievements, that they rarely sit back and take enjoyment or pleasure from accomplishing something. Instead they race on to the next achievement or goal on their list and continue to race through life like this. Ferriss advocates hitting pause every once in a while and journaling is the perfect way to do this.
Similar to ‘journaling’ is the idea of ‘morning pages’. Developed by artist Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, she advocates writing exactly three A4 pages in longhand first thing each and every morning. Just like ‘journaling’ what you write does not matter, however the following are essential:
Write first thing in the morning before the ego gets fired up
Write long hand (no typing and no devices, laptops or tablets)
Must fill exactly three A4 pages
Repeat each morning
There are numerous fans of this method, including journalist Oliver Burkeman who said he wished he had started long ago, and entrepreneur and productivity writer Chris Winfield who has an entire blog post dedicated to the dos and don’ts of morning pages, and lists the following as his personal benefits:
Centres and clears the mind
Helps us to discover our creativity
Helps to silence our biggest enemy (our inner critic)
Make us less anxious
Help us become better idea generators
So, tomorrow morning as soon as you wake up, instead of reaching for your mobile phone and scanning through social media sites, why not swap it for a pen and a notebook instead and see what happens. Who knows, you might become more creative, more productive and less anxious as a result. Have you started journaling or morning pages or do you have any other tips for calming the ‘Monkey Mind’? I’d love to hear your feedback. Please let me know in the comments section below.