There are a many tools out there to help sort through what matters from what does not, and that can focus our time and energy in the right places. But what happens when we already know what is important, but the mind can’t settle to get to it?
The Monkey Mind is a brilliant metaphor for describing how our minds can jump from one branch to the next. When we jump around too much in our thinking, we can feel unfocused, like we are not getting the important things done, even stressed. And the end result is that we lose sight of the bigger picture. When get stuck in ‘busy’, we can get very little done that matters over time.
So how do we work with a restless monkey mind, in creating a life and work of intent?
Learn to value the pause
Create more pause points in your life. Think about where you are, how you are, how you want to show up. A very practical way of implementing this in our ‘Zoom’ culture is to avoid booking meetings back-to-back. Schedule a 5 or 10-minute buffer. Another suggestion is to get comfortable with a pause in conversation and not rush to fill the space.
Counterintuitive, almost, as we are always being told to speed up and work smart. But what if you sent a message to yourself to take a deep breath and give one task your full presence? We know from studies into human psychology and brain science that we cannot multitask, not when it comes to tasks that require focus or place any significant cognitive demands. A better description of how the mind works would be to say we juggle. Switching between tasks takes time. If you must juggle, decide which ball you are prepared to drop.
Create a practice of inquiry around intent
What is my intent? This can be focused on a meeting / conversation / project – what do we want to come away with at the end? Or it can be on a larger scale – what is my intent in this role or in this phase of my life?
Remove some of your primary agitators
The mere presence of a smartphone, on silent, lying face down, or switched off, can reduce cognitive capacity and impair cognitive functioning. Although your conscious mind is not thinking about the smartphone, having it within sight or within easy reach reduces your ability to focus and perform tasks. This is because part of the brain is actively working on not picking up or using the phone, a wasteful drain on the ability to hold and process data. Don’t let clever tech make you stupid. Put some controls around what you get notified about, and when. Experiment with these resources from Center for Humane Tech if you need ideas.
Make friends with your mind – show it a little kindness and compassion
Be curious about your mind, observe, try not to judge. In place of thinking, I should, I could, I ought to, just ask the question: What is my mind telling me? Be with the thoughts, let them percolate and then let them go.
Shift that feeling of distraction and restlessness. If you create a calm and curious space for your monkey mind, you may just give it permission to show up with whatever it wants to tell you, and then settle down.