Want to restore your wasted energy? Start by refocusing your monkey brain. Monkey brain is a term for repetitive thinking that uses up energy or fuels negative feelings without solution. There’s a difference between compulsive thinking devoted to problem solving and brooding without a purpose. At its least destructive, monkey brain wastes time precious time and energy. At its worst monkey brain prevents you from taking care of yourself when you’re in danger, feeling joy, solving problems, restoring relationships, even having success at work. Here are 7 monkey brain traps and tips for escape.
Indecisive Monkey Brain
Say you’re ecstatic about getting married next year but brood about the details so much that even your fiancé is exasperated. Monkey brain is the difference between getting all your choices together and deciding and… well, not deciding, but rather having an endless debate about the same things. You could write a book, plant a garden, save the world in the time you let tiny details take up residence in your head. People who have trouble making decisions often have monkey brain. They think about the pros and cons of everything not just once, but endlessly. What do do about indecisive monkey brain:
- Set a timeline for every decision you have to make
- Gather your information
- Seek the advice of loved ones
- Divert your attention by giving yourself something new to decide on once this decision is made
- Make your decision and move on to the new project
Procrastination is so common. We all do it. Some things we just don’t like to do and put them off. We do the things we have to do first, and sometimes not even them. What about those things we don’t like to do, think about endlessly, get nagged about, but still do nothing? Dwelling on unfinished tasks is monkey brain that keeps you feeling bad about yourself. You can’t check items off your to-do list and say, “done.” What can you do about procrastination monkey brain?
A lot of practice is needed to stop procrastinating and just set a deadline. If you’re procrastinating because it’s a lifetime habit, writing down a date for completion might help to get it done. But setting a date might not help. If your secret intention is simply not to do it, therapy might be needed to move you along.
This is related to procrastination but has a slightly different outcome because you’re telegraphing your monkey brain to others. It’s not task-oriented in terms of things you need to do and think about but can’t get done. When your monkey brain is attached to unrealized goals and you talk about them endlessly, it can be irritating to others. You think obsessively about wanting to lose weight, exercise more, make better food choices, resolve relationships, get the leaves raked, or just accomplish something. You think about both the wish and failure to act, both of which make you feel horrible. And then you talk endlessly about both the want to do it, should do it, and don’t do. What to do about your annoying monkey brain:
- Give yourself goals you can accomplish: read a book, do the laundry, do something for a friend. Go to a movie. Distract yourself in a good way. You won’t lose weight by obsessing about it, so do something else. Really. Get in the habit of giving yourself goals you can fulfill.
- Find new topics to talk about with your friends and family.
When someone develops negative thinking, say in the political arena, monkey brain can fuel passion and prevent people from finding common ground. No examples needed here. We know how what systems justifying is. It means your system of belief is the only one and you will do anything to make others feel as you do. Facts don’t matter, and core issues don’t matter. You can listen to and think only about you system. Monkey brain in the political arena is a deeply distressing daily challenge because there is no unity, compassion, kindness. Only winning. Take deep breathes every day, and do something productive. On both sides of the equation monkey brain is a problem. What can you do about it.
- Obsessing to justify your position or to stoke your rage simply hurts everyone
- Do something practical. Volunteer and help whatever cause you believe in
- Find another subject or hobby for discussion with friends
It’s one thing in that first year after a divorce or death of a loved one to feel the feelings and think about them every day. Grieving is important. You need to feel the feelings. Humans have feelings, so it’s all right to mourn a loved one, a relationship, employment, and so many other things that may have gone wrong in your life. Some people watch the same movie over and over to help them grieve. But if, five years later you’re still thinking the same thoughts and can’t move on, you have the grieving monkey brain. Help is called for. If you have monkey brain about a loved one or someone whom you can’t help you are on a treadmill that goes nowhere. You’re traveling on a train that’s stuck in a tunnel and you can’t see the light of day.
- Get some help. Find a therapist
- Help someone in need. Reach out and focus your mind on something outside of you
- Do something to improve the lives of others
- Read a book
- Return to the things you used to love and get involved with them again
Can’t Let Go
Ever hear someone tell you to let it go, but you keep raging, hurting, worrying about the same thing? Say you’re angry at a sibling and dwell on an event from the past in such a way that rage bubbles up frequently, keeping you in a state of constant hyper reactivity. You keep remembering the words, the way it happened, the humiliation or rage you felt. You build a case against that person and embellish on it until you live in a city of grievances and angry thoughts. What do do about letting go:
- When you volunteer or help others, you will find positive experiences and friendships that can replace and lessen the disappointments from the past
- Imagine yourself without the grievances, would it make you a happier person
- Awareness of the issues inside of you (not the other person) may help you move on
If someone is hurting you, either physically or emotionally, or hurting your children you need to take action. If someone in your life is a substance user or has other behavioral disorders, you need to do more than think about it and wonder if you’re crazy. Monkey brain only makes the abuse cycle worse. You need to get help, even if it’s just to accept what’s happening and to make a plan. It’s difficult to accept that someone you love is hurting you. It’s difficult to make the decision to get away. It’s even harder to actually take the step.
- Tell your family and friends
- Get a therapist
- If you’re in immediate danger call the domestic violence hotline
Monkey brain is dwelling with no purpose. Remember broken records, when the needle was caught on a scratch? Now, we might think of monkey brain as a road to nowhere, or something like a gif that plays the same thing over and over. Most people don’t have monkey brain about accomplishments, gratitude, wonderful relationships with others, and successes at work. Instead, on a more negative track, focus and thought repetitions tend to reinforce feelings of insecurity, poor self esteem, helplessness or anger. What I do to stop obsessing about things I can’t control:
- About politics: I hit the pause button on social media and watching the news
- About work: I give myself timeouts. After 6PM On Weekends, I do something I like that makes me feel good. I admit I do like TV
- Refocusing the brain—I learn new things. I read a lot. I cook something every day. I walk outside. I will get back to playing the piano again soon. I promise.