Finding Peace After 60: How to Teach Your Monkey Brain to Be Quiet
Monkey Brain. I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, but I envision a half dozen monkeys jumping up and down, swinging from tree to tree and chattering and screaming at each other.
Sometimes that is just what it feels like in my head. It gets very crowded and quite noisy in there, with so much chatter that I cannot follow the thoughts. Here are some examples of monkey brain.
I sit down to read and 15 minutes later, I realize that I’ve been reading the same paragraph over and over and have no idea what it’s about because my mind was going over a to-do list.
While driving I suddenly don’t know where I am because my mind was arguing with the driver who cut me off five miles back.
Walking into a room, I cannot remember why I am there. My mind was off arguing with someone I heard make an irrational comment on the news.
I’m writing an article about one topic, but my head is thinking about a trip I want to take next year, dinner plans for tomorrow and the clutter on my desk.
The Monkey Brain Club
Monkeys can swing from tree to tree, effortlessly chattering away to their family. But my brain is not a tree. The monkeys (my thoughts) get in each other’s way and become agitated. Their chatter makes no sense. I end up frustrated – with a headache – and unable to focus or finish the task at hand.
The good news is that I am not the only one with monkey brain syndrome. Can you relate to three or more of these symptoms described on Brain Pathways?
You rarely stay on-task longer than 10 minutes, or are checking email and social media or texting more than five times an hour. You can’t remember what you did 30 minutes ago.
You have difficulty solving problems and making decisions, or feel pulled in too many directions. You jump from one task to the next without finishing anything, or there’s not enough time to get things done. You make frequent mistakes.
It’s nearly impossible to quiet your mind when it is time to go to sleep. You have strained relationships with people you care about.
If you answered yes to three or more items, welcome to the Monkey Brain Club! It is not very exclusive club, and we can drop to being a low-level member. There are ways to quiet the voices and get those monkeys to chill.
Learn the Quiet Monkey Brain Two-Step
Any time that I realize my monkey brain is active, I do this mental dance.
Step One: Stop and Observe
I ask, where am I? What do I see? What do I hear? Bring out all the senses and engage them in this moment.
Even though we believe our brain is going in a thousand directions at once, it is not. The brain is a magnificent processor, but it is a serial processor. One thought at a time. Although those thoughts are capable of flashing through at unbelievable speeds and making connections in multitudes of directions, it is still only one thought at a time.
If you consciously set that thought on the now, it will be there. It will follow you. Not a minute behind. Not a minute ahead.
You may need to close your eyes to shut out the visual stimulation (Please, not while driving!) and push a different part of your brain into activity. This conscious activity will put all those monkeys to rest.
Step Two: Take Deep Slow Breaths
Now take a few slow, deep breaths to refresh the oxygen in your brain, slow your heart rate and continue to slow the brain down to a more efficient processing pattern.
This works every time. It can be done standing in a long line at the grocery store. It works while going to sleep at night. I am actually learning how to fall asleep without having to read for hours to calm my mind. It is also good while driving in traffic. Maybe the guy who cut me off had a major emergency to get to. No harm. No foul.
I’ve been working at the Monkey Brain Two-Step for a couple of years (while learning to limit my multi-tasking). I try very hard to stay in the moment, think about the task at hand – be now.
Sometimes the success is fleeting and the monkeys start up quickly. While observing, my brain may latch onto a snippet of conversation and swing away, or the movement of a bird on the roof across the way will distract me, but if I swing back into the moment, the monkeys become quiet.
It really is like learning anything else. Practice. Practice. Practice. The Monkey Brain Two-Step gets easier and easier to call up. I frequently stop in my day to experience the peace that this little dance brings. My blood pressure is lower. I sleep more soundly at night.
I am a long way from professional dance competitions (i.e., long periods of meditation), but I am more peaceful knowing that I can quiet all of that chatter in my head.
Do you ever experience “monkey brain”? How do you manage the thoughts that overlap in your brain and stay focused on one thing at a time? Do you do any kind of meditation or breathing exercise to manage and control the chatter of an overactive brain? Please join the conversation.