Have you ever noticed that in your mind you sometimes say terrible things to yourself? Or, that you may replay an incident or argument over and over, imagining the things you could have said or believing that you knew exactly what the other person was thinking, with little regard to the words they used? Buddhists have a term called, “The Monkey Mind” to describe the human condition of allowing our minds to chatter on and on so
that we are not living in the moment. The Buddha observed, “Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.” A problem occurs when our thoughts become unhelpful and self-defeating. We cannot stop our brain from chattering, nor would we want to, but we can replace the unhealthy branches of the tree that the monkey swings on with healthy, realistic ones.
Stopping the unwanted, often self-defeating, thoughts that careen through our minds daily can be extremely difficult. Fortunately, there are valuable tools that we can use to make the task easier. Perhaps the most important tool is awareness.
Awareness of the behavior that you want to change is the first step in the process. Just for fun, spend the day listening to the monkey that is chattering away in your mind. What does your monkey say? Does it chastise you? Does is constantly remind you of all the things on your to-do list? Is it repeatedly reminding you about the mistakes that you have made in the past or that you may make in the future?
If you found that there are specific thoughts that you want to stop, take a reality check and try rephrasing the thoughts. For example, your monkey may go into panic mode and
start calling you names or pointing out all the disastrous things that might happen to you when you make a mistake. If this happens to you, first thing to do is to stop the monkey. Then think about the reality of the situation. If you can fix the mistake, fix it. If you can’t fix it, apologize and remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, that’s how we learn. Tell yourself that even if the worst case scenario happens, you are strong and you’ve jumped over many hurdles before with success. Do this every time you notice that you are thinking about the incident. Just the process of stopping the negative chatter will help you feel calmer. Changing the thought will help you refill your reservoir of self-esteem.
Perhaps, your monkey likes to re-enact every conversation or argument that you’ve had. It may imagine different scenarios with the things you could have said. It may pretend that it’s a mind reader and that it knew exactly what the other person was really thinking. When this happens, bring yourself back to the present through mindfulness. Look around you, notice what you see. Check in with your body, if it’s tense, do some stretches and deep breathing. Or, get up and go for a walk. The distraction will help disrupt your thoughts and bring you back to the present.
A therapist can help you learn about techniques that will work best for you. Just
remember, that staying aware of your thoughts is the key to gaining control over them. So, pay attention to the monkey in your brain and when it starts behaving in a way that brings you down or makes you anxious, gently quiet the monkey and bring yourself back to the present. Remind the monkey that from now on, you will only listen to true, realistic, helpful thoughts.
For more assistance in using awareness as a tool for change, call Caroline Kurkcuoglu or Kim Scott for an appointment. Both Kim and Caroline are Licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapists. Let them help you change unhelpful behaviors or thoughts that may be holding you back from becoming the strong, resilient person you want to be. You don’t have to do this on your own. We are here to help.
Caroline Kurkcuoglu, LMFT, (License #: 32095) (818) 635-7662
Kim Scott, LMFT, (License #: 21184) (818) 309-7780