How to Quiet the Monkey Mind

3 min
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When the mental activity of the “monkey mind” won’t switch off, life inside our own heads can become an inescapable nightmare. An analogy from Buddhist teaching, this term describes the restless animation of non-stop thoughts that crash around our interior world like monkeys swinging from tree to tree. A racing mind can keep us up at night, affect our work and personal lives, keep us paralyzed in inaction, steal our inner peace, drain our energy, and have longer-term consequences on our well-being. We can even get addicted to the incessant activity of the monkey mind, which reinforces the stress cycle rather than solving it. According to both Buddhism and modern clinical research, mindfulness is the most effective way to quiet things down. By “training” the monkeys to be calmer and less distracting from moment to moment, we can actually think more clearly and act more effectively. Here are some mindful methods for quieting the monkey mind.

Get offline

The barrage of information we receive when we are online is like flinging an infinite stream of bananas at the monkeys – it gets them riled up, feeds their excitement, and has them fighting and screeching for more. Our nervous systems did not evolve to cope with so many images, ideas, comparisons, and tragedies every single day, so to ensure that we don’t drown in the flow or feel overwhelmed by it, we have to take care of our own consumption. Spending more time offline might not come easily at first, so be conscious about replacing the urge to scroll with activities that help bring you into the present moment.  

Meditate

Meditation is the ultimate mindfulness practice as it brings awareness to the mental monkey gymnastics of the mind. Plenty of research proves that a daily meditation practice is the most effective way to calm the monkey mind – think of it as though you are satisfying the monkeys by giving them the attention they are desperate for. Look at each monkey for what it is – just a thought – and then firmly suggest that it finds somewhere to settle down. You could adopt a very literal mantra, such as “calm down”, to repeat for each thought that tries to take up too much space in your mind. You can then come back to that mantra at any time of day, when the monkey chatter starts getting too loud. 

Establish a breathing intervention

Breathing techniques are another mindful practice that can quiet the mind very quickly – any time, anywhere. As well as being effective in the moment, the benefits also accumulate over time the more you do them. Heart coherence breathing is a great technique to try. Place your hand on your heart and connect with your heartbeat. Take a deep breath in for the count of six, imagining your heart expanding as you do so – as if you are breathing directly through your hand into your heart. Breathe out for the count of six and imagine your heart contracting as you let go. It works best if your eyes are closed, but if you don’t feel safe to do that, you can simply soften your gaze. Repeat this several times until you feel calmer.

Do a regular brain dump

Journaling about all of your thoughts and fears, and wins and woes, takes away a lot of the power of the monkey mind. The monkeys are all fighting over how to gain control of our circumstances, but ultimately we can only control how we react and respond to them. Get it all out of your head and down on paper, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, holding space for them. You could also send yourself voice notes while out walking, talk to a counselor or coach, or find other creative ways to express your worries.

Get playful

You know how the best ideas and solutions often come to us when we aren’t specifically or actively thinking about them, like when we’re in the shower? This is because in these instances, the subconscious mind, where around 95% of our cognitive processing happens, has had a chance to be heard. This wisdom is much more likely to come through when we’re relaxed, calm, and more in tune with our bodies. So instead of wrangling with the monkeys, play with them: move in ways that get you feeling more than thinking, such as hula hooping, dancing, a freestyle boxing flow on a punching bag, or anything that brings you joy in your own body. 

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: The Brain On Silent: Mind Wandering, Mindful Awareness, And States Of Mental Tranquility; Effects Of Mindfulness On Psychological Health: A Review Of Empirical Studies; Cultivating Mindfulness: A Comprehensive Approach.

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