Five Questions to Ask Yourself to Tame Your Monkey Mind

Photo of two monkeys on a hill in India by Ahmed Zayan on UnsplashMonkey Mind is a Buddhist term to describe a restless, unsettled or confused mind.

Sometimes I head to bed at night wide-eyed alert, but tired. My mind is still going even though I desperately need sleep. I play a hypnosis app that usually works well to talk me down and into sleep, but there are nights my monkey mind opens the door and lets in a squirrel and a hamster for good measure to party with the monkeys. Together they work through scenarios and problems, and in general, take up where I left off before going to bed. It’s exhausting!

Who needs sleep? (I do! You do!)

This often happens when I’m avoiding something and/or my mind is a cluttered wasteland of to-do’s, pending deadlines and unclear goals. One particular week, I was behind in my planner. The long list of tasks I had assigned to each day had created a log jam, with no time carved out to actually do them. In my enthusiasm for achieving my goals, I apparently had not allotted time for sleeping and recharging, ergo the unwanted visitors now carousing in my mind each night. I had unrealistic expectations for what I could accomplish each day.

Taming my own Monkey Mind

This is probably not the scenario you’d expect from a professional organizer or productivity coach, right? No, it sounds like I desperately needed to become my own client! But really, I just needed to tame my monkey mind.

When this happens, I crawl out of bed before the alarm, make some coffee and sit for meditation. It may sound incongruous to wake up only to sit and nearly close my eyes again for 20 minutes, but meditating in the morning helps clear my mind for the day so I have better focus. Once I am done, I ask myself these questions to evict those marsupials and their noisy friends:

  • What deadlines are approaching?
  • What events are coming up and what do I need to do to prepare for them?
  • Are there any phone calls I need to make?
  • Which tasks am I avoiding?
  • What am I taking on that isn’t mine?

Deadlines:

The first thing I do is check my schedule for upcoming deadlines. If I haven’t already done this, I treat them as projects and break them down into tasks. Then I assign each to a day. If more than 30 minutes is needed, I block out time on my calendar. Whew! It’s a relief to have things scheduled!

One Chimpanzee down.

Events and be-there’s

Years ago I attended a Frankin-Covey What Matters Most seminar where calendar events were referred to as “be-there’s.” The main difference between be-there’s and project time on the calendar is that be-there’s involve more preparation. So, I consider what I need to do to be ready and engaged in this event. Do I need to drive somewhere? What do I need to take? What do I need to do beforehand (order supplies, pack car, charge up my headset, etc.)? Anything I need to do to be prepared goes into my planner.

The squirrel scampers away.

Reminders

Uncertain schedules really keep my monkey mind going, so I set reminders. For webinars I attend online, I set one-hour and 15-minute reminders. For client coaching calls, I set one-hour and 30-minute reminders so that I have time to review notes. For be-there’s I need to travel to, I set two-hour and 30-minute prior to travel time reminders. This way, nothing sneaks up on me!

A Rhesus monkey swings away through the trees (hopefully away from north Florida).

Phone calls

When a client is overwhelmed with either how many things they need to do or not knowing where to start, I suggest they ask themselves three questions:

  • What will reduce my stress if I take care of it today?
  • What will have a big impact on the future (could be as simple as making doctor’s appt or searching for a new one)?
  • Which completed task will make my significant other/friend/family member happy?

It could be something as simple as a phone call, and those don’t take very long! So pick up the phone and make the appointment, order the prescription, or get an answer to your question. Then you can move on with the rest of your day and get the wheels turning.

A Howler monkey quiets down and disappears (seriously, I think all the monkeys in my mind are Howlers!).

What am I avoiding?

One weekend I bought two potted herb plants from the grocery store. I set them down on the porch for repotting later. Every day as I walked passed them, I remembered I needed to plant them before they died. But the thought of putting on gloves, filling pots with dirt, planting and watering just made me procrastinate more.

Because they were in little peat pots I had to water them frequently. No, they didn’t die, but two weeks later they were definitely unhappy. So, out of curiosity, I set a timer. Then I grabbed my gloves and less than five minutes later, they were repotted and I was done, including scrubbing under my nails. Just FIVE minutes!

I’ve timed a few normal household tasks and found I could make my bed in less than two minutes, put away dishes in three, and unload a laundry basket (actually hanging and folding, not dumping) in less than five.

So what are you putting off? Unloading the dishwasher? Putting away clean clothes? Opening mail? Set a timer and get it done, and you’ll have a better awareness of how long tasks really take.  Then perhaps you won’t avoid them in the future. Have a bigger task to tackle, like cleaning out the garage, filing taxes, or filing anything? ? Try the Pomodoro technique and set a timer for 25 minutes. You can stick with just about any task for 25 minutes!

The hamster gets off the wheel and curls up to sleep.

What am I worrying about that isn’t mine?

One of my favorite sayings is “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” Sometimes, when working at warp speed, we add things to our list of things to do that really shouldn’t be there. Although I try not to ask my clients a question starting with “why” (it can sound a little judgmental), it’s okay for you to ask yourself this key question:

"Not my circus, not my monkeys" quote with little monkeys falling through a circus background

“Why am I doing this?”

For full impact, ask it out loud! If your answer is a little unconvincing, follow-up with these:

  • Is this going to help me reach my goals?
  • If I don’t do this, what will happen/not happen?
  • Am I the right person to do this?

Hopefully, you’ll trim that list just a little more. And with that, the three remaining little spider monkeys traipse off together. I’ve always wanted to use the word traipse in a blog post so here it is! #lifegoals

Am I recommending that if you can’t sleep you get up and do all these things? Absolutely not! But writing it down will clear your mind and ease any anxiety about what you need to get done the next day, and absent a monkey mind, you might just get some sleep!

Need help getting organized, whether with physical or mental clutter? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, life and productivity coaching. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Life/Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO