Image by Andre Mouton
"No man will be found in whose mind airy notions
do not sometimes tyrannize him and thus force him
to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability."
-- Samuel Johnson
You are busily working on a critical project. It is your opportunity to prove yourself capable, and you need to concentrate and do your best. But your mind -- well, your mind keeps coming up with reasons why your efforts are not good enough, why you aren't good enough, and why this will be a complete and total disaster. Your worst job-related nightmares keep floating into your consciousness, preventing you from being effective with the task at hand.
Or perhaps you must make a decision. But no matter which course of action you examine, your mind offers up all sorts of reasons why that option is no good -- indeed, why it would be a terrible alternative and why some other alternative is better; that is, until you focus on that other alternative. Then your mind moves into hyperdrive giving you reasons why that isn't a good choice either. Decision paralysis has got you in its grip.
Welcome to the world of Monkey Mind, a place many of us know only too well. The human mind is very active. For reasons that no one truly understands, our minds tend to chatter away, describing all manner of disastrous possibilities and outcomes, particularly when faced with difficult tasks or decisions.
Monkey Mind: Where Does Its Chatter Start?
Where does the chatter of Monkey Mind start? If you observe the inner prattle carefully, focusing on the sense and tone of what is being said, you will probably discover messages from your past -- messages of your parents, siblings, teachers, and others whose criticism in your early years left indelible impressions on you. Monkey Mind tends to get strongest when we feel we have the most at stake, so it only seems logical that it would plague us the most in our workplaces.
Barraged by Monkey Mind's complaints, criticisms, and doomsaying, it is no wonder that we can become paralyzed and unwilling or unable to take any action at all. Sometimes we think that more data could help. But additional data frequently serves only to bolster the arguments of Monkey Mind. And even if we move forward, we do so with reduced confidence and increased uncertainty about the course of action we have chosen.
Monkey Mind: Antithesis of the Authentic Self
Monkey Mind is the antithesis of the Authentic Self. Its roots are most likely in our earliest and most basic outer-centered training, which, like the ramblings of Monkey Mind, leverage our own fears against us by focusing on and magnifying only the negative possible outcomes. Once you are aware of it, however, the reasoning of Monkey Mind is easy to recognize since it is circular and frequently does not respect realities, such as when we must take action. Monkey Mind will argue against each and every choice equally effectively and with fear-based counsel.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
By contrast, the Authentic Self has its roots in inner-centered reality in which we look to ourselves and our higher power to determine what course of action is right for us. The Authentic Self recognizes that fear can be conjured up at any turn and that it is in our best interest to proceed in spite of the fear -- indeed, at times, because of it. Finally, the Authentic Self is not dependent solely on cognitive reasoning of any type because it synthesizes the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realities of our lives. That synthesis provides a foundation for creative and intuitive thinking in addition to data-driven cognitive reasoning.
How Not To Deal with a Monkey Mind Attack
When faced with an attack of Monkey Mind, our natural tendency is to argue with it, just as we might argue with a parent, authority figure, or a close friend who has just attacked us. We find ourselves protesting that we are not failures and offering all the reasons why a particular course of action will work. Arguing with Monkey Mind is actually the worse thing we can do, because it is impossible to win. Like a four-year-old child, Monkey Mind turns into a wellspring of "yes, buts" and "what ifs" that deflect every logical and rational answer we might offer in defense of our own reasoning. You cannot outlast Monkey Mind's ability to produce "yes, but" arguments.
Worse, arguing with Monkey Mind turns the Law of Mind Action against you. The more you argue, the more you actually focus on the negative result which Monkey Mind is advancing. By focusing on it, you direct your energies toward it. It is just like when young children learn to ride bicycles; they do fine until they spot something they are worried about running into -- and then, sure enough, they steer right into it!
That seems to leave us with a considerable problem: We cannot eliminate Monkey Mind, and at the same time, it is useless to argue with it. But you will not be at the mercy of Monkey Mind if you learn to manage it.
How to Cancel Monkey Mind
A technique that has worked increasingly well for me over the years is to use what I call the "cancel command." When Monkey Mind starts presenting me with one disastrous scenario after another and I realize what is happening, I tell it sternly, "Cancel !" As simple as this sounds, you will be astonished by the seemingly overwhelming negative images you can disperse using this technique. Try it. The next time Monkey Mind starts presenting you with a series of calamitous images of the future, just say, "Cancel!" At first you may have to use it several times -- one time right after another. Make the cancel command an automatic habit and you will discover that Monkey Mind will begin to respond to it instantly.
Just as one would expect of a trained monkey, my Monkey Mind has gotten more responsive to the command over time, just as I have become more sensitive to the wiles of Monkey Mind itself. I am discovering that the need to use the cancel command is becoming less frequent with time.
Put it Down on Paper: Empty Monkey Mind
Another technique that works well when dealing with decision paralysis is to leave the arena of your mind and refuse to engage in the internal debate with Monkey Mind. You do this by getting the pros and cons out in a graphic form in front of you -- where you can see them all at once. They lose a lot of their mystery and power that way. And because Monkey Mind relies on sheer cunning to create confusion in your mind, you will vastly improve your ability to circumvent its arguments when you can see things more clearly.
Take a piece of paper and run a single vertical line down the center, forming two columns. Label the left column "Reasons to . . ." Label the right column "Reasons not to . . ." Then just receive all the arguments that enter your mind, with or without Monkey Mind's participation, for doing or not doing whatever the action is that you are considering. For example, let's say I am thinking about taking a two-month assignment in Panama. In the left column ("Reasons to . . .") I might write, "Good chance to travel and see a part of the world I've never seen before." Immediately, I think, "I would be away from my family for two months." I put this in the right column ("Reasons not to . . ."), It is important to place your "Reasons not to" directly opposite your "Reasons to."
The process is designed to empty your mind of everything that you have thought of around the pros and cons, and this includes all the things that Monkey Mind has suggested to you in the course of attempting to make a decision. This is not a process to determine which of the two alternatives has the largest number of reasons and then choose that one! It does not matter how many items end up in one column or the other. The sole purpose of this exercise is to get the decision -- and all the little pieces of it floating around in your mind -- out of your mind, which is where Monkey Mind plays its home games. After expressing the issues involved, as you have done in the exercise above, you are likely to experience a sense of relief, even a kind of emptiness, around the subject. In that void, you can make a choice rather than a decision, and actions based in choice are always best.
Being Free of the Tyranny of Monkey Mind
Learning to manage Monkey Mind liberates you from its tyranny so that you do not waste time attempting to counter its attacks. When you are starting new projects, you want your attention on doing your best, not on dealing with your inner demons and phantom inadequacies. You will be a better, more productive, and successful employee.
Also, learning to manage Monkey Mind can prevent you from marching into the swamp of indecision and getting mired in its quicksand. Any decision is better than no decision. One lesson from my training as an officer in the United States Army stands out in my mind more than any other. During a training exercise in which the team I was leading was moving through hostile territory, we came under attack. There were several possible responses, any one of which was acceptable in terms of getting a passing grade. The only unacceptable response was paralysis. It was hard to believe how many young officers stood completely paralyzed in the simulated heat of battle from the indecision caused by Monkey Mind.
The monkeys in your mind carefully guard the door to your Authentic Self. When you are doing battle with them, you are on the wrong side of the door. The more you engage Monkey Mind in an effort to defeat it, the harder it is to access your Authentic Self and the gifts it offers. Interestingly but not surprisingly, ignoring or otherwise managing Monkey Mind and going directly for your authenticity causes the monkeys in your mind to flee in terror.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing. ©2002.
Your Authentic Self: Be Yourself at Work
by Ric Giardina.
Can we ever learn to just be ourselves at work? In Your Authentic Self, Ric Giardina says we can. He tells how, by honoring our authentic self at work, we open the doors to hidden gifts, including creativity, intuition, and innovation. The end result is greater clarity of insight and better on-the-job performance, expanding our opportunities for advancement even as we enjoy more fulfilling work relationships.
Info/Order this book.
About the Author
RIC GIARDINA is the founder and president of The Spirit Employed Company, a management consulting and training firm that offers keynote addresses and other programs on authenticity, balance, community, and discipline. Ric is the author of Your Authentic Self: Be Yourself at Work and a book of poetry called Threads of Gold.