Quit Monkeying Around

My mind is out to get me. It tells me things I’d rather not hear about my worthiness, my abilities, and most of all my success (or, as it tells me, my lack thereof).

Do you ever feel that way? If so, you are not alone. Buddhists have a name for it—Monkey Mind—and describe it as a self-criticizing inner voice that swings us from doubt, to worry, and back to doubt. According to Maria Nemeth in her book The Energy of Money, “Monkey Mind chatters the most loudly when we threaten to change the status quo—even if the status quo is something we long to leave behind.”

Monkey Mind tells you to be satisfied with what you have and where you are. It’s one of the reasons we find it difficult to change things when our lives are going reasonably well.

For example, let’s say your boss is nice, you get regular raises and your work is pleasant. But you know in your heart that it’s not the right job for you, Monkey Mind will kick in and tell you things like “You’re ungrateful,” or “You expect too much.” It will even challenge you: “Who do you think you are?”

As a result, we’ve turned into a society that only endorses change if things are going very badly. If they’re going well, friends and loved ones will agree with your Monkey Mind—you should let well enough alone.

That is the tragedy of listening to Monkey Mind. You settle for good when you could have great.

The Law of Attraction says you attract more of what you focus on. When your mind is giving you negative reinforcement and you focus on it, you begin to attract more evidence that your mind is telling you the truth. It’s a bit like the chicken or the egg conversation—do things go awry because you expect them to, or are you feeling so down that you can’t produce anything but negative results?

In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Soygal Rinpoche compares Monkey Mind with a beehive. He says we can easily provoke the bees into chasing and stinging us, or we can leave them alone.

We provoke Monkey Mind by our attention to it. We can either gently say, “Thank you for sharing,” and go on about our business or we can allow this mind chatter to trigger negative emotions and send us on a downward spiral.

Monkey Mind has its greatest power over us when we are unfocused. Approaching life aimlessly, we are most vulnerable. When, instead, we approach life knowing what we are trying to accomplish, then our mind concentrates on how to do so.

It’s important, therefore, to put your full attention on what you want, even when Monkey Mind is doing its level best to get you to listen to why you shouldn’t want it. When you put your full attention on where you want to go, Monkey Mind’s volume drops lower and lower. Very soon there are entire stretches of time when you cannot hear it at all.

When you become aware that Monkey Mind is in full voice inside your head, ask yourself the following question, “What do I want to accomplish in the next hour and why?” The what will provide you focus; the why will give you the motivation you need to do it.

Everyone has to live with Monkey Mind. To achieve your goals, it is important to learn how to adjust its volume. When you do, you will find yourself moving steadily forward to the life of your dreams.

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