I was contemplating anxiety and fears, and how these "Mind Monkeys" hold us back in life, keeping us from realising our full potential. Don't get me wrong, they do have their place, especially if you are being chased by a hungry lion (I hope this is not a regular occurrence in your life). However, day-to-day, often these monkeys do not serve us well. I was wondering if age and life experiences have anything to do with how our monkeys react to situations?
When I was 11 years old, and my parents sat me down, they said they needed to ask me an important question. The question was "how would you feel about living in the United States of America"? If someone asked you this question today, what immediate thoughts and feelings come up for you? As an 11 year old girl, my response was "can we go to Disneyworld"? You see, I was focussed on the possibilities of what could be. I did not give much thought to leaving friends and everything I knew behind. I did not think about having to go to a new school in a completely different country or whether or not I would be accepted by kids there or whether I would do well. What I felt was excitement, the prospect of a new adventure.
I had a similar experience at 38 years old, I decided to go backpacking on my own around the world. I was so excited by the possibilities of ticking amazing experiences off my bucket list, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures, that I did not give much thought to potential dangers or "what if" scenarios (I could not understand why friends and family were so concerned). So off I went for 5 months and had the most amazing experiences of my life! On reflection, this trip offered me an insight into true mindfulness, every day I was living in the moment, grasping opportunities as they arose and just soaking up the wonders around me, without holding onto yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. It was so liberating, I felt really happy and content.
I wish I could say I approach everything this way, but sometimes my mind monkeys take control and get a hold of me. For example, when I start a new job, my mind monkeys start chattering "what if they don't like you"; "what if you can't do the job", "what if you make a fool of yourself" and "what if you fail"? None of which is helpful and certainly does not make me feel very confident or good about myself. Such thoughts can arise in all kinds of situations. Can you relate?
Mind Monkeys love negatively focussed "what if..." questions, so it is a good way to notice that they are playing up. They have good intentions, they are trying to protect you from perceived danger, but the danger they perceive often does not even exist. So how do you tame those mind monkeys to help you break free of fear and anxiety and move forward in the world? The monkeys are very strong, so don't try to arm wrestle them or shout at them to go away, they will probably have an all-out tantrum if you try! First and foremost, remember that your monkeys have good intentions (even though that is not the result), so be kind to them. Here are some tips to help you calm your mind monkeys down: -
1. You are not your monkeys - remind yourself that thoughts are just thoughts, they are not who you are or who you want to be. If you can, keep some distance between yourself and those mind monkeys - try not to engage with them, let them move on through the jungle.
2. Grasping monkey - if you do not like the way you are feeling or lots of negative "what if's..." are popping up, it is likely that you have grasped hold a monkey from the trees. Notice what thoughts you are having about yourself or circumstances.
3. Monkey hugs - so you find yourself being gripped by a monkey, give it a little hug. When we are upset and overwhelmed, we need to be heard, so listen and be a kindly coach to your monkey. What is it afraid will happen? What is the worst that can happen? How likely is that to occur? What does that mean to your monkey? How important will this be in 3 months time? What could you do to still move forward with an action, but keep your monkey feeling safe?
4. Give your monkey a banana - be kind to your monkey, they are feeling insecure and uncertain, so need some reassurance. Present your monkey with an alternative positive scenario - what if we succeed? What would success look like? How would success feel? What if we make a positive difference to people? What if we learn new things along the way? What if we meet some amazing people? Turn feelings of fear into excitement (they have very similar physical sensations).
5. Story time - think of times in the past that you have perhaps been fearful or anxious, but you had a good outcome. Remind your monkey of these stories, and reassure your monkey you have got this under control and everything will be fine, nothing really bad is going to happen, you are not in any real mortal danger.
6. Thank you and goodbye - remember your monkey is well intentioned, so thank it for its concerns and then let it go back into the jungle.