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Calming the Monkey Mind

Thoughtful MonkeyWhat exactly is “Monkey Mind’ and what do you do about it?  You have no doubt heard about and have more than likely experienced monkey mind, particularly if you are in the midst of big change(s) in your life.

The term “monkey mind” was first coined by Zen Buddhist monks to describe the state of mind when that continuously jumps from one thing to another much as a monkey jumping between trees.  According to wikipedia Mind Monkey “…is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. … defines Monkey mind: “Describes a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. The monkey mind is not content with exiting in the present moment, but rather engages in the thoughts that pass through.

There actually is a purpose served by our monkey mind.  The ‘purpose’ if you will, is to process as much information as quickly as possible to aid in our survival and protect us even though at times, it seems to be contributing to our demise <g>.

Monkey mind is most prevalent during times of greatest change(s) in our lives. Think of the times when you started a new job or began a new adventure, and very shortly began to feel quite overwhelmed with the influx of too much new information.

We’ve all been there.  We all fill multiple roles in our lives as mother, sister, daughter, student, employee, or entrepreneur, housekeeper, gardener, etc. and all of these roles come with lists upon lists of to-dos that float relentlessly in our brains.

In a recent blog post, “Is this noise inside my head bothering you?” Seth Godin described a few of the multiple conversations and competing priorities going on in our heads as;

  • “The ego–seeks applause and recognition.
  • The lizard–seeks safety, wants to fit in and not be rejected or criticized.
  • The artist–wants to be generous, creative and make positive change with impact.
  • The boxer–wants to poke and be poked, seeks revenge and ultimately victory.
  • The zombie–wants to turn off and be entertained.
  • The carpenter–seeks to do useful work, and finish it well.
  • The philanthropist–wants to help, anonymously.
  • The evangelist–wants to spread an idea.
  • And the hunter–wants to successfully track and bring down a target…”

Taking this one step farther, if we apply each of these ‘functions’ to each of the respective roles that we play it’s a wonder that we can function at all!  Often leading to a release of adrenaline or or robbing us of a good night’s sleep, monkey mind can zap us of much needed energy when we need it the most and at the very least, can be incredibly distracting, so what can we do about it?

First, and most importantly, recognize what is going on, that it is just another obstacle to overcome and try to stay as present as possible.  Focus on your breath and breathing, practice meditation (on a regular basis) and direct your mind to FOCUS on the most important items on your list.

Paper and pen can be your best friend.  Once we recognize what is going on, we can direct the mind to focus by getting a good number of thoughts onto paper and allowing the mind to let go of them for the time being.  Why not try some mind mapping to get everything on paper (or into software)?  If you are a ‘list person’, that’s fine, write out your lists…everything you can think of that is on your mind, or you might try writing in a journal.  If writing isn’t your ‘thing’, try capturing your monkeys via recorder.

Any of these techniques will help to get random thoughts corralled for later, adding to greater peace of mind and focus.  Remember to keep a pad and pen by the bed lest the monkeys start chattering in the middle of the night.

What do you think?  What are some of the techniques that you’ve found to be effective for calming your monkey mind? I’d love to hear from you.

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35 Responses to Calming the Monkey Mind

  1. Rebecca Johnson June 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    I like the idea of keeping something by my bed to write it out when the monkey wakes me up at night. I could have used that several times lately! I also recently learned form another blogger to make a list of the three things you will realistically do in a day and then make a list for the things the Universe will do for you that day! I wish I could remember who I read that from–I am trying that out…
    Rebecca Johnson recently posted..How You Can Really Get The Conversation Flowing On Your Blog With This HOT New Tip That Nobody Else Is Really Doing………..YET!!!!!My Profile

  2. Rachel Hall June 17, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    Yes Linnea, I have heard this before, I am definitely a monkey brain and funnily enough born in the year of the Monkey. I can associate with a lot of the descriptions and have quite a battle to concentrate on anything for any length of time. I also have difficulty settling in one place.

    I find that to get something done I have to shut off any distractions and keep at it until it is finished. Easy some might say, for me not!
    Lists are definitely a help, if I can concentrate long enough to make one.
    Rachel Hall recently posted..Work From Home Business – Are You A Leader?My Profile

  3. Jane June 17, 2010 at 4:57 pm #


    Great article on Monkey Mind and breaking down How the Monkey Brain process stuff. Like the exercises and paper to pen to calm the Monkey mind.
    Jane recently posted..Half-Way through the 30 day Blogging Challenge. Lessons Learned. Oh My!My Profile

  4. Karen Smith June 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    I like this the way you talk about the Monkey Mind. It is so useful.
    I have a pen and paper around all of the time. It helps me to keep my ideas together.
    Thanks for this great information.
    Karen Smith recently posted..Milan shows his AppreciationMy Profile

  5. Linnea June 17, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Hi Rebecca,

    I suppose I like stretch goals which is why I try to keep the top 5 things on my list (rather than 3) but then I have to remember not to be to hard on myself if I don’t get all 5 done that day. I don’t think that the number is as important as the actual practice and yes, I’m all for keeping it realistic. That may mean adjusting the goal to what works best for you.

    An interesting idea, to keep a list for the things the Universe will do for you that day. I hadn’t heard that one. Good luck with keeping your monkey mind at bay!

  6. Linnea June 17, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    Hi Rachel,

    Yikes, you have it bad if you have trouble even making the lists! I can actually tolerate quite a bit of distraction but there definitely comes a point… and of course it does depend upon the distraction. Sounds like we both tend to focus when we need to however. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Linnea June 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    Thanks, Jane.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the article and hope you find some of the suggestions to be useful for you.

  8. Linnea June 17, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Hi Karen,

    You are more than welcome. So we both keep pen and paper close by…have you tried the Moleskins yet? I have to say that I definitely love the Moleskins. I keep a couple small ones in my purse and by my computer etc. I always have one close to capture those wicked good ideas that come when you least expect them.

  9. Chris Bernardo June 21, 2010 at 12:57 pm #


    Thanks for teaching me something new, This is the first time i heard the term Monkey Mind. I love the fact of writing it down on a list “Creating a new list” for my Monkeys!! Have an Awesome Day!
    Chris Bernardo recently posted..A Lesson in Toy Story 3 impacts my Business.My Profile

  10. Linnea June 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    You are more than welcome.
    I’ve actually given some thought to naming my monkeys so I could put them in their place when needed
    Glad you like the idea of creating a list for them. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

  11. Christine Casey June 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi Linnea,

    First, welcome to TSA! I look forward to getting to know you better :-) Second, great suggestion that when you have a lot on your mind, a great thing to do is to write it all down. In times of great stress, I have personally found that my journaling, I am able to better deal with whatever is going on at the time. Thank you for sharing!

    Christine Casey recently posted..“3,317 Counter Points, Was It Worth Loosing My Family?”My Profile

  12. Linnea June 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks for the warm welcome! I’m looking forward to connecting with everyone and thank YOU for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad you found it worthwhile. I agree that journaling seems to help with everything. Unfortunately, I don’t stop often enough to really take advantage of the technique. Perhaps I’ll make that a ‘mid-year’ resolution.

  13. Johneal Rouse June 28, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Linnea, great post about the normal scattered functioning of our minds in the absence of specific training. I love the descriptions of the multiple conversations and personalities each trying to assert themselves in our minds in relation to any given task or objective..

    Getting our thoughts down on paper is a great way to get to a clean slate and to a calmer mind, and this a great practice to cultivate either at the beginning or end of each day. Thanks for the reminder. The practice of Reflective meditation as i talk about in my recent blog post, is another powerful method that helps strengthen focus and create a qualified environment in the mind.
    Thanks for the excellent post.
    Johneal Rouse recently posted..Reflective Meditation – Developing strength in controlling our Mind and EmotionsMy Profile

  14. Linnea June 28, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Johneal,

    I’ll definitely check out your post on Reflective meditation. It sounds real interesting and I thank you for the suggestion. I’m sure my readers will appreciate any additional hints. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. ~ Linnea

  15. Yorinda July 6, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    Thank you Linnea!

    What a great way of looking at our thoughts.

    I love all the other examples too

    Much appreciated!

    Love and Light

  16. Linnea July 6, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Hi, Yorinda.

    You are most welcome. I’m actually still thinking of naming my ‘monkeys’..seems like a fun thing to do.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the post and look forward to seeing you again.

  17. Nicole Rushin July 7, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    The title of this caught my eye. I love interesting titles and hate the way Google wants you to categorize everything so neatly. It is really so boring. This reminds me of a post I wrote called UFO’s and the Fifty Pound Notebook. I use to suffer from Monkey Mind in the past more so than now. I think we enjoy the distractions sometimes, we let them overtake us because we don’t really want to do the task at hand. We would rather watch the UFO’s flying around our office. It is much more pleasurable than the task at hand sometimes. For me it was about creating better play time so the work time was more enjoyable. We have to schedule breaks into our days. Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Linnea July 8, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Hi Nicole,

    I like your idea of creating better play time. That’s an interesting thought indeed. Yes, we certainly do have a tendency to let distractions overtake us at times but it’s nice to know we can control that when we need to. Your post on UFOs sounds interesting…I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for your comment.

  19. Gary Young July 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    Hi Nicole,

    I am Gary Young and new to TSA and exploring its members. I am working on being present and fully aware. I try to recognize who I am at a given moment (one of the above mentioned “Minds”) and step back, say hello and invite other minds to the party.

  20. Dr. Adam Sheck July 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for such a detailed post on the “monkey mind” concept! Your explanation is so clear and inviting. For me, being in my body is the best antidote for the mm. Whether full out cardio or a vinyasa yoga class, it gets really quiet for a while. While I have a sitting practice, it’s not quite the same. And as you suggest, sometimes writing is helpful.
    Thanks again,
    Dr. Adam Sheck recently posted..Sexless Relationship Don’t Be A Statistic!My Profile

  21. Linnea July 20, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    Hi Gary,

    Very nice to meet you. Love your approach to calming the ‘minds’. Not only is that a good practice but takes practice to get there. Would that we could all just be in the ‘now’ all the time. Thanks for stopping by.

  22. Linnea July 20, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    Hi Adam,

    You are so very welcome. Being in your body as you say, is a great antidote. I do think that sometimes burning off excess energy and/or stress can help quiet the mind as well. Thanks so much for adding this suggestion to the list.

  23. Michael Berry August 2, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Thanks Linnea for a great post and yes a pen and paper can work wonders. A method I use is to just focus on the “NOW” This is further explained in my post

    Thanks again,


  24. Linnea August 3, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I absolutely agree that focusing on the NOW is a really great tool although sometimes a bit challenging when under duress. I certainly wish that I were better at that one but continue to practice. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.

  25. Laura Paulson August 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi Linnea,

    The title of your post caught my eye :) Oh my, does this bring me back to when I first started my home business. I was used to being an expert in my field for 16 years so starting something entirely new was not comfortable (I like to know exactly what I’m doing so was jumping from tree to tree trying to learn EVERYTHING at once – just ain’t gonna happen LOL).

    I also had the issue of the different roles. While working outside of the home, I had my ‘executive hat’ and my ‘wife/mom hat’ and I was best when I wore them separately but working from home that’s not as easy so I definitely had to work on transitioning. So again, jumping from tree to tree.

    But like anything, you find your way over time and definitely paper and pen (or other medium) to help capture all those random/racing thoughts and ideas of things to do so you don’t lose focus or get so overwhelmed that you shut down is so key. Otherwise, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing – jumping from tree to tree. Love the visualization :)

    Thanks, Laura
    Laura Paulson recently posted..Secret Recipe That Make Simple Systems WorkMy Profile

  26. Linnea August 12, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    Hi Laura,

    It sounds like you had a very typical entry but were able to work your way through it all. Congrats on that. I’ve recently heard another helpful bit of advice that may help some; ‘one year, one leader, one system’. That helps to avoid what you are describing as learning and trying everything. I too, loved the visualization…just had to use it! Thanks for stopping by.

  27. Debi Talbert May 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Your title is what got me because I’d never heard of monkey mind; however sure do have one happening in my head right now. I’ve always referred to it as “shinning objects” distracting me. I’m in the middle of moving from KY to FL and my brain is so jumping from task to task right now. Paper and pen are my best friend right now.

  28. Linnea June 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Hi Debi,

    Wow, that’s quite the undertaking. I do know from first hand experience what goes into interstate moves and don’t envy you the task. Don’t blame you a bit for befriending paper and pen right now. They are my best friends when I’m struggling with the ol’ monkey mind as well. Best of luck with your move.

  29. Yasser Khan June 3, 2011 at 6:51 am #


    I’ve sure heard of monkeys having their own minds, not us having a part of theirs in ours!

    A great insight you’ve shared…

    It’s quite surprising to know someone can be multiple personalities simultaneously. The more you think about this, the more it makes sense.

    I also love the way Seth Godin conveys his ideas powerfully and simply. The man’s got it all.

    Yasser Khan recently posted..Not Enough To Go Around Think AgainMy Profile

  30. Perry A Davis Jr June 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Hello Linnea

    It has been said that the habit of being scattered is the enemy of greatness and you make that clear in this post. I was experiencing many of the things you describe until I read a 1918 classic by Theron Dumont “The Power of Concentration. I begin to practice concentration exercises each day which lead to the power of concentration. The first exercise was read a page in a book, then close the book and thoughtfully recall its ideas. The process is like developing a muscle.


    Perry A Davis Jr
    Music City
    Perry A Davis Jr recently posted..Network Marketers! What is your most important toolMy Profile

  31. Linnea June 7, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Hi Yasser,

    I do think it is really interesting to think about and explore the multiple personalities simultaneously..the way the reptilian mind works etc. It’s sometimes hard to remember that and really pay attention when we are reacting to something but we can train ourselves to do better.

    I too, am a fan of Seth’s. I do love the way he works his magic. It is something to aspire to. Thanks for your stopping by.

  32. Linnea June 7, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Hi Perry,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It makes perfect sense that we can develop the muscle with practice (as with so many things). I will definitely check out Dumont. I appreciate your comment and thank you for this reference.

  33. Anne Perez July 13, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    Hi Linnea

    I’ve never heard of monkey mind before but its an interesting concept. Being a paper person myself when I get overwhelmed I just write everything that comes into my head. It seems to work.

  34. Linnea July 14, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Hi Anne,

    Getting everything on paper does seem to help. That makes it easier for us to release the looping track in our brain and let things go once we’ve put them to paper. That’s in fact, why I keep a pad close at hand at all times. Best of luck keeping your monkey mind at bay.

  35. VaNessa Duplessie July 20, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    This is a wonderful description of Monkey Mind. I’ve heard the term before but this analysis puts it into perspective to me. There are times when we want to calm monkey mind and there are times when I think Monkey Mind can be a blessing – as when Multiple ideas are coming up. The challenge is to know when you need to be calm!
    VaNessa Duplessie recently posted..Ask and Answer The Hard QuestionsMy Profile

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