Resilience Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

Monkey Brain

It is now a known fact that thought comes before feeling. That means negative thoughts start negative feelings, not the other way around as is commonly believed. So you end up feeling what you are thinking.

It so happens that we have 30-50,0000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot of stuff going on in your mind. Here’s the bad news: asking people to diarise their thoughts reveals that about 70% of those thoughts are negative. It would seem that most of us spend a disproportionate amount of time dwelling on the past, worrying about the future and obsessing about mistakes, all of which kill our happiness and wellbeing. The Buddhists call it the ‘monkey mind’ – dozens of chattering, screeching monkeys competing for attention, usually with the fear and worry monkeys winning our attention outright.

But there is also good news. The monkey mind can be tamed. Rather than responding to every alarm that goes off in our minds, we can learn to calm the noise and tip the balance in our favour by practising daily brain dumps. This is often referred to as the practice of mindfulness.

Useful fact: Research by The British Medical Society clearly shows that mindfulness practice significantly decreases stress and improves feelings of wellbeing.

Mindfulness is simply experiencing the present moment, without trying to change anything.

Here’s a simple three-minute exercise to get you started:

  • Set your phone or watch timer to three minutes.
  • Sit comfortably and rest your eyes, either by closing them or focusing on an object or particular spot in your environment. Simply stop what you are doing and bring your awareness to the here and now.
  • Be aware of your thoughts and how your body is feeling first of all.
  • Pay attention to the sounds around you and the temperature in the room.
  • Observe your breath as you breathe in and out.
  • Simply notice what is happening in the present and keep noticing.

You might notice that your mind starts wandering into the past or the present. That’s what minds tend to do. When that happens, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Continue this until you hear your timer.

Do this every day, building up to 10 minutes each day, and you will begin to notice all the positive benefits:

  • Clarity of mind and greater focus
  • A sense of peace and calm
  • More patience
  • A sense of wellbeing

Reference to check out:

Kabat-Zinn J. Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2003;10:144–156.

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