Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys jumping around between thoughts and chattering endlessly. Whilst this analogy seamlessly depicts my mind on a daily (even nightly) basis, it was actually coined to describe the chaotic state of the untrained mind. What the drunken monkey analogy tells us, other than the issue of mind chatter has been plaguing humans since at least 6th century (the time Buddha created his analogy), is that we can train and therefore control, our mind. The overactive mind is a choice, not a circumstance.
How To Train The Overactive Mind?
1.Have a conversation with your thoughts.
I know this seems weird but when your overactive mind is in full swing, calm it down by having a conversation with it. Stop. Take a moment and just listen. Why is it erratic? Why is it angry or upset? Then, do the following:
- Is it trying to remind you of something that needs to be done? If so, make a note of it and release it from your mind.
- Is your mind projecting anxiety, making your thoughts erratic and jumpy? If so, pinpoint the stem of the anxiety. Reassure your mind. Carry out a worst case scenario and form a strategy plan based on that scenario. Empower yourself by taking control.
Sometimes your mind just needs to be listened to. Once it feels like it's been heard, it will settle down.
2. Establish A Diary Routine
This is also listening to your mind but it's a more deliberate way of doing so. By establishing a regular writing practice you'll be routinely allocating a specific time of the day to address your overactive mind's concerns. Do the following:
- Set a time every day (morning is best) and listen to your thoughts for around 15-20 minutes.
- During this time, write down what you're thinking, feeling and anything else that surfaces during this window.
- Do this for the total time you've allotted to this practice (around 15-20 mins) and then stop.
Once the time is up, let your mind know that its had it's say for the day. Any erratic or unfocused thoughts will not be tolerated until the following days diary session. Then, keep to your word. Refuse to pay attention to any other unfocused/irrational thoughts until the allocated time.
3. Practice the A-B-C technique
This approach was originally created by psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis. It was then adapted by Dr. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania professor. It encourages you to question your beliefs and the consequences of your beliefs.
ABC stands for:
In short, we encounter Adversity (or, an Activating Event, as per Ellis's original model). How we think about this adversity creates Beliefs. These beliefs then influence what we do next, so they become Consequences.
An example is - you yell at your P.A because they forgot to print a key report before your meeting (Adversity). You then think, "I'm a really terrible employer" (Belief). You then perform poorly during your meeting, because your self confidence has plummeted (Consequences).
The key disconnect occurs between Adversity and Belief. When you encounter adversity, how you tend to explain it to yourself directly impacts your mindset and your relationships. Seligman calls this your "explanatory style," and he says that it is a habit that influences your entire outlook on life.
Be mindful of how you communicate events to your mind. Your explanatory style can lead your mind to drastic assumptions based on your own incorrect beliefs. Understand your explanatory style here. For example, pessimists are more likely to assume that the causes of bad events are permanent, for example, if a pessimist has an an "off day" at work, it would be perceived as "I shouldn't bother with my job because I'm clearly incompetent" whereas, optimists would interpret the situation as "Yes, my work today hasn't been great but that's because I'm having an off day". The difference may be subtle but it really matters for your outlook.
A good way to be mindful of how you communicate events to your mind is to track your inner dialogue. For every adverse incident you encounter, write down the beliefs you formed and the consequences of those beliefs. Consequences can be anything from happy to unhappy thoughts, to specific actions. This process can really help you to understand where you go wrong between adversity and belief.
Meditating is, by far, the most effective way to train your mind. There are lots of different methods of meditation, they are by no means easy to master. However, once you familiarise yourself with the mediation practice, you'll become skilled at controlling your thoughts.