If your mind is currently master more often than servant, you probably want to whip that monkey into shape sooner rather than later.
The expression ‘monkey mind’ is a Buddhist term for a mind that is characterised by any or all of the following states and conditions: unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.
Any of that lot familiar to you?
Let to its own devices, our minds will have us:
- Feeling anxious or insecure, through unexamined thoughts gone wild.
- Helplessly overthinking, ruminating or projecting future anxieties.
- Being a magpie for even moderately tempting procrastination substances.
I suffered with all of these, and now significantly less so. It didn’t even occur to me that things could be different; that I could change the way my brain worked in the same way I could develop muscle strength through physical exercise.
These days, as I am more aware of my own monkey, I can also see the scavenging effect of other people’s. It creates a sort of perma low level harangued effect, powerlessness and lack of self discipline.Not training the mind, like not training the body, makes it flabbier and generally less attractive Click To Tweet
But the good news is, given a little intention and practice, everyone can make their mind their servant. And it is the Buddha again that offers us the solution: concentration and awareness (or meditation and mindfulness).
This post deconstructs the basic exercises to do to get your mind under your control, and goes on to talk about some of the miraculous stuff that happens when you do.
The two components of brain training
Mind training has two key aspects:
- Being able to observe thoughts instead of being in them.
- Building the ability to consciously direct your mind.
As I mentioned, the way to exercise the brain is through meditation and mindfulness. Here is a very noddy description of each:
Meditation: Keeping your awareness on your breath for 5-15 minutes each day. When the mind wanders, don’t judge it, just return to the breath.
Mindfulness: ‘Thinking about thinking’; this is being on the balcony of your thoughts and feelings as you do your activities.
For an in depth guide on how to practice mindfulness, read this.
3 sings you tamed your monkey mind
If you have been practicing meditation and mindfulness a while, then you’ll recognise the following benefits. If you have just started, this is what you have to look forward to.
1. You’ll be able to select which thoughts you feed
We cannot control our thoughts. However, we can control which thoughts we feed.
We are all like gardeners tending to the various plants in the garden. You can either be selective about it, or you can allow the weeds to steal water and nutrients from the soil, so that everything good in the garden eventually dies. A violent analogy, but strangely appropriate!Your brain is neuroplastic, which just means that over time you can change it Click To Tweet
Because our brains are neuroplastic (which just means they change shape with repeat patterning), after a while of consciously selecting more constructive and beautiful thoughts/plants, you may even start to notice less of the thoughts/weeds arising to begin with. (You can also help yourself out with this by taking more care about what you read).
Don’t make the mistake of underrating the ability to chose which thoughts to feed. Being able to consciously direct your attention this way basically changes your life. You’ll have a clearer, more accurate grasp of reality.
2. Your fears and insecurities will no longer define you
Part of training your brain is becoming ultra aware of the kinds of thoughts and feelings that you experience on repeat. Those add up to who you are – your identity and behaviour. And if you want to change some aspect of yourself, it starts with changing at the level of thought.
As mentioned above, there is an extent to which we cannot help the kinds of thoughts we think. We must accept this and do what is in our power to improve. And what is in your power is likely to be more than you think.
Practicing mindfulness helps you appreciate the impermanent nature of your thoughts and emotions. This is what helps you gradually not to allow them to dictate your actions or enjoyment of life.
3. You’ll be able to achieve what you set your mind to
This is a bit of an old school expression that reminds me of something my dad would say.
Meditation really helps your willpower and self-control.
A lot of us are struggling to concentrate a lot more than we used to (our brains haven’t caught up with technology). And being able to concentrate for extended periods is the secret to producing great work. For further inspiration on this topic, read this post about ‘deep work’.
Developing ‘mind over matter’ is more than about your work though. It affects everything you do. We need discipline for everything, from changing our bodies to managing ourselves better in relationships.
3 books that helped me to train the monkey mind
Here are a few books that helped to inspire me to do brain training. Because it is all too easy to forget and let things slide, to stay motivated, I’d definitely recommend reading a mindfulness/meditation book periodically.
10% Happier (Dan Harris).
Breaking the Habit of being Yourself (Joe Dispenza).
Power of Now. (Eckhart Tolle).