Three Ways to Quiet Your Mental Chatter (aka Monkey Mind)

Posted 03.24.2014

monkeymindHas this happened to you lately? You’re in a conversation, or a meeting or working on an important project. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner or the email you forgot to respond to or the March Madness game you watched over the weekend or an errand you forgot to run or someone you need to call or that crazy episode of House of Cards you watched last night. The likelihood is you’re having a whole series of those thoughts, not just one. It sure happens to me; that list of random thoughts I just wrote comes straight from my current playlist.

In doing the research for my new book on mindfulness for overworked and overwhelmed leaders and professionals, I’ve learned that the average person has 70,000 thoughts a day. So, seriously, what’s the likelihood that all those thoughts are going to lay themselves out in an exquisite sequence of hyper focus? Not very likely.

We all have mental chatter. There’s even a Sanskrit word for it – vritti – that the ancient yogis came up with thousands of years ago to describe the whirlpool of thoughts that constantly swirl through your mind. Another great term for the condition we often find ourselves in is monkey mind.

Monkey mind or mental chatter is a fact of the human condition. The trick is to create conditions that make it less likely, recognize it when it’s happening and then change things up. Here are three ways to do that:

Schedule Short Segments: As much as you can, schedule your work and conversations in short segments. Research shows that the average person can stay on task for somewhere between 45 to 90 minutes before their attention starts to diminish and their performance starts to degrade. Don’t set yourself up for monkey mind by expecting yourself to work beyond those natural limits without a break.

Set Your Alarm: In a guided meditation session, the leader will often sound a gentle chime at random intervals throughout the 20 to 45 minute sit. One of the reasons for that is to help the meditators bring their minds back into the room because the likelihood is their minds are wandering. You can do something similar by setting your phone or another device to chime every so often during a scheduled work session.

Create a Distraction Free Zone: If you’re working at your desk, shut down email and your web browser. This is huge for focus as research shows that people who are working while their email is open switch screens an average of 39 times an hour. That’s about once every 90 seconds. Talk about monkey mind! If you’re in conversation with someone face to face, turn away from your screen and remove your smartphone from your person. If you’re on a conference call, turn your computer off, put on a headset and walk around your office while talking and listening.

My guess is you have lots of other good ideas for quieting mental chatter. What are they?