The human brain processes 12-60,000 thoughts per day. According to a study published by the National Science Foundation, 80% of these thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. Now, if you suffer from anxiety, the inside of your mind is probably as crowded as the New Delhi Railway Station during the holiday season.
Thinking is obviously a useful function and necessary to the successful completion of almost every pursuit in our life, but the negative and repetitive thoughts constantly buzzing through our mind constitute nothing but noise. It’s constant and it’s deafening! Thanks to our brain’s negativity bias, the thoughts about fear, past failures, and danger are the loudest of them all. Our mental energy is engaged in either obsessing over the past or the future leading to depression and anxiety.
This is what we refer to as the monkey mind, and this is a problem because of multiple reasons –
- It impedes productivity. According to research, the average human being has an attention span of eight seconds which is worse than that of a goldfish. Inability to focus leads to a direct decline in productivity, more so, if you’ve got a job focused on innovation and creativity. A mind that’s focused on your inabilities and failures will stifle all positive instincts. It will prevent you from taking risks and investing in new, bigger ideas.
- It can lead to physical and mental exhaustion. There is a connection between the mind and body which means, if the mind is an unhealthy state, the body will suffer.
- Not to mention, when we look for answers in a difficult situation, perhaps, when we are facing a major life crisis or a relationship in jeopardy, we need clarity. We need to be able to pin down our next move with our mind clear of any residual drama. In a crisis, your monkey mind may be no help at all.
Basically, if you can create one superpower, let it be the power to calm the mental chatter. Learn to silence your monkey mind long enough for you to hear the voice of your inner Yoda. Yes, we all have one. Every new experience, every new book, podcast adds to our knowledge. We also have a conscience that tells us right from wrong. You just need to be able to connect with your inner wisdom and for that, you must know how to silence the mental chatter.
In this post, I share a few tried and tested techniques to help you silence the monkey mind and find clarity-
Meditation is the best technique to calm the monkey mind. If you find it difficult to meditate, start small. Here are a few ways to meditate if your monkey mind is especially distracting –
1. Focused Attention Meditation
It is a type of meditation which requires you to pick an object and consciously focus on it. For example, you can choose to focus on your breathing and if your attention wanders away, simply release the distraction and go back to focusing on your breathing. You recognise distraction as soon as it occurs and you redirect your focus. Over time, as you get better at this practice, it will help you control your emotional responses to external stimulus.
When I tried meditation for the first time, I found it extremely hard. I suffer from anxiety which makes meditation harder for me, and it’s not always the best solution. Visualisation is, even for an anxious mind, one of the best forms of meditation. If you choose to focus on a strongly positive visual, you will find yourself feeling happier and more optimistic. Learn about the technique here.
3. You can use a guided meditation. Simply follow the instructions and keep your attention on the voice of the speaker.
4. Brainwave Entrainment
As shared by Insight Timer, Brainwave Entrainment is an assisted form of meditation using pulses of sound. Brainwave entrainment works by pulsing a different sound in each ear to stimulate the brain into altered states of consciousness. The brain tries to match the frequencies of the two beats. This technique takes away the struggle from meditation. The brain does what comes naturally to it, respond to an external stimulus, but a stimulus designed to lull you into a trance-like state.
#2. Sleep optimisation
I have found sleep to be the number one solution for most of life’s problems. There is a reason why we are advised to ‘sleep on it’ whenever we are about to make a life-altering decision. Sleep may be elusive for those of us struggling with the monkey mind; on the other hand, a sleep-deprived mind may just be more susceptible to mental noise.
If you don’t get an adequate amount of quality sleep, your self-control is impaired leading to an increase in procrastination and indecision. If you sleep better, your mental and physical resources are maintained at an optimum level making it easier for you to focus.
There has been a lot of research linking sleep deprivation with depression and anxiety. I suggest you try optimising your sleep and see the change in your mental health for yourself. If you need help falling asleep at night, try the tricks shared in this post.
#3. Try a mental and digital detox
Nothing is as intrusive as the digital device we keep glued to our hands. It brings with it a whole barrage of nonsense that takes up mental space for all the wrong reasons.
This post discusses in detail how best to practice a mental and digital detox.
Writing has been often been recommended as therapy for those with anxiety. It compels you to sort through the thoughts in your head and create a narrative around them that actually makes sense. Whenever your inner monologue begins to overwhelm rational thinking, grab your journal and put it down on paper. This helps you vent and instantly soothe lingering anxiety.
A Journal can also act as a recording, a tangible store for all unresolved, abandoned ideas and emotions. You can use it to create a plan for the next day. This plan will allow you to smoothly go from activity to activity and avoid getting side-tracked with new decisions or distractions.
#5. Acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude —> joy
When the mental chatter gets especially painful, it’s worth considering that you may be experiencing trauma due to a past event. Repressed emotions can be incredibly powerful. What you resist, persists! If your conscious is plagued by memories of a past event or active fear of a potential failure, there may be more to it than just your inability to focus. In such cases, you should consider working through your unresolved issues. Depending on the nature of your mental battle, try channelling the power of acceptance and forgiveness. Practice gratitude as a way of promoting more optimistic thinking.
The only way to create a life of joy is to let go of all fear, past bitterness, and negativity. Accept what can’t be changed. Forgive what can’t be forgotten. Be grateful for what you have, and hopefully, all that chatter will cease to have as much power over you.
Most importantly, you must remember that focus is a skill like any other and therefore needs practice. Even if you shut down the mental chatter for all of 10 minutes and focus on just one thing, it’s progress. You can steadily build on this and with consistent training, add to your ability to concentrate.
People make wrong choices in moments of anger, confusion, and exhaustion. If your mental faculties are overwhelmed, it’s unlikely that you will find the right answer amidst the chaos. So, start today, put a leash on that monkey. Cultivate mental calm and focus, and let it be the super power that makes you unf*ckwithable.