Monkey mind or mind monkey, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mindmonkey“], is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”.

“I am burdened with ‘the monkey mind’ – the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit, and howl.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Our brains produce 12,000 – 50,000 thoughts per day. That’s a lot. No wonder that the inside of our head sometimes feels like a monkey – jumping around from thought to thought, only resting briefly on each of them before moving on. Turns out, the so called Monkey Mind is a real thing! It’s a Buddhist term meaning whimsical, confusing and uncontrollable.

The Characteristics of the Monkey Mind

The Monkey Mind loves to jump between the past and the future. Instead of peacefully resting in the present moment, it makes us think of the things we could have done or should have said and constantly worry about what might happen. Paired with it’s inability to focus on the task at hand and it’s soft spot for riding loops in the carousel of self-doubt and worries, the Monkey Mind is a major blocker for our productivity and happiness…until we learn to control if effectively.

Here are 9 powerful strategies to calm down your Monkey Mind and finally find some peace of mind:

Strategy 1: Dump your Thoughts in Morning Pages

How it works:
It is basically a big brain dump first thing in the morning where you write about everything that’s on your mind. You can buy a specific journal like this one or just use blank pages. By capturing your confusing, uncontrollable and restless thoughts on paper you are able to to face the day with clearer eyes. Highly recommended — not just in the morning, but whenever you are monkey mind is on over-drive.

Where to learn more:
Tim Ferriss is a hug fan of Morning Pages. He walks you through his process here and talks more about it in this podcast episode.

Strategy 2: Create a Powerful Morning Ritual

How it works:
Starting your day with a morning ritual is a great way to calm your thoughts and get energised and fully focused on what is most important in your day ahead. You can build your own custom ritual by combining one or more of the following elements:

Mindfulness practices like meditation, journaling and yoga
Energizing and uplifting activities like cold showers, exercise, practicing gratitude and inspirational reading.

Focus and intention setting activities like reviewing your goals, visualizing your dreams, writing down your most important tasks, reviewing your calendar and setting a specific intention for the day

Where to learn more:
Chris Winfield wrote an extremely comprehensive, step-by-step guide to creating your own morning routine. He walks you through his own morning routine, gives insights into the routine of successful people like Richard Branson and Tony Robbins and offers tips and tricks on how to make your new habits stick. You can read it here. Zdravko Cvijetic also wrote a great pieceabout morning routines with some nice ideas to get started.

Strategy 3: Meditate

What it is:
Meditation is probably the most effective technique to calm your monkey mind. When you sit down in a quiet space – even if it is just for 5 minutes – you get a first row seat to your monkey mind. Especially if you are new to meditation, you might experience the monkeys at their most whimsical and uncontrollable, jumping from your to-do list to random memories to worries to problems and back. But the goal of meditation is not to control your thoughts but to just witness them without judgement and let them pass. This will help you train your brain to stop over-identifying with your thoughts and getting lost in pointless mental loops.

How to get started:
There is countless options to practice meditation but I highly recommend getting an app like Headspace or Calm that offers guided introductions for beginners. If you are not convinced yet how powerful meditation can be, check out the science here and read about successful people that swear by meditation here.

Strategy 4: Practice Deep Breathing

Why it helps:
Connecting with your breath is a powerful way to relax your nervous system and calm down. Breathing exercises are particularly relieving if your monkey mind is causing you anxiety and excessive worrying.

Where to learn more:
Here are a few breathing exercises to try. There is also a few great apps that offer guided breathing exercises like Calm and Breathe from Kenkou.

Strategy 5: Use Affirmations to Over-Write Obsessive Thought Patterns in your Brain

Why you should do this:
The monkey mind loves repetitive negative self talk that creates a never-ending loop of self-doubt and worry. Identifying the patterns in your negative self-talk and consciously re-framing them into empowering affirmations can be a powerful way to break out of these self-destructive thought loops.

Where to learn more:
For a quick introduction to using affirmations, check out Stefan’s guide including a list of powerful affirmations. If you need more guidance to identify your negative mind loops and transform them into empowering affirmations, check out my Self-Coaching Workbook. The book guides you through a step-by-step process to understand, identify and transform your self-limiting beliefs.

Strategy 6: Zap out of pointless Worries instantly

“Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe” – Mark Twain

Why you should try this:
Worrying about something often gets you stuck in a negative thought spiral that you can’t get out of. It takes away the focus of the present moment and makes you anxious of the future. This is your monkey mind on steroids! You most likely won’t be able to stop worrying thoughts entering your mind, but you CAN decide to zap out of them as soon as they appear.

How to do it:
Whenever a worry enters your mind, use this 3-step process to zap out of it instantly:
Acknowledge that you are in fact worrying about something.

Ask yourself if there is something you can do NOW to change the situation. If yes, do it right away or set a time and date when you will do it. Then, move on to point 3 without further obsessing about it to much.

Tell yourself that worrying is pointless now. There is nothing you can do RIGHT NOW and worrying about it won’t stop it from happening if it actually were to happen – because research shows that as much as 80% of our fears and worries never come true. By reminding yourself that worrying is an unproductive way to use your mental energy, you will find it easier to let your worries go and focus on something positive.

Strategy 7: Shift your Perspective to stop Obsessive Thought Circles

What it does:
Shifting your perspective is the secret to escaping the negative spiral of over-identifying with a problem or situation in your life and seeing no way out of it. It transforms your thinking from seeing everything black and white and kicks you out of the self-loathing “poor me” state.

How to do it:
Take a problem or situation in your life where you feel stuck and do this 2-step process based on the mantra “Change your mind to change your world”.

Come up with new solutions: Ask yourself these questions that will make you think beyond your normal sphere of solutions:

– What would I do if money was no problem?
– What would I do if I was not afraid?
– What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
– What would I do if I did not care what other people think?

Re-frame the situation in your head: If you have exhausted all options to change your situation through question 1 and weren’t able to improve your situation, then it’s time to change the way you think of the situation itself.

Ask yourself the following questions:

– How could I see this differently?
– What are the good things about this situation? What am I learning from it?
– How would my hero/someone I admire think about this situation?

Strategy 8: Pull yourself into the Present Moment

Why this is powerful:
Your monkey mind is particularly skilled at obsessing about the past or the future. But true happiness can only be found in the present moment. Mastering the art of living in the moment is a powerful way to interrupt your monkey mind and find some peace in the here and now.

How to do it:
Whenever you notice that you are lost in thoughts instead of focusing on what is right in front of you, try this powerful exercise that works like magic: Focus on all your 5 senses to pull yourself into the present moment. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are you smelling? What are you tasting? Who is with you? How does your body feel?

Strategy 9: Do an Activity that requires your Mind’s full Attention

Why you should try it:
Your mind is a lot more likely to wander if you are doing low key activities like walking, working on boring tasks, running errands or attending tiring meetings. But by engaging your brain in activities that require its full attention, you train your mind to shut off the constant chatter and focus on the task at hand.

How to do it:
Make it a point to regularly seek out activities that require your mind’s attention for a couple of hours without distractions. This could mean getting into the flow state while working (you can learn more about it here), doing an intense workout that challenges your coordination skills or immersing yourself into an activity you love — like reading a single book, playing with a child or expressing yourself creatively with painting, making music, writing or cooking.