Oh…the Perils of Monkey Mind

Today, I want to talk about….The Perils of Monkey Mind

I have learned that nothing stifles productivity more thinking of so many different things that are completely unrelated to writing. This is why I write in the early mornings. For a part of my life, I also wrote in the evening and also in the late night. My arthritis really stops me from doing that, and the fatigue that I experience after a long day. So, I tend to write new material in the earlier part of the day. I write my academic manuscripts in the early morning, and my creative nonfiction in the early afternoon. I find that this routine works given my teaching schedule.

So, what is monkey mind????

Monkey mind occurs when you can’t focus on one thing for too long. Monkey mind describes a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. The monkey mind is not content with existing in the present moment, but rather is constantly distracted by the thoughts that pass through. Does this describe your mind when you write?

To be most successful, you should focus on the writing project in front of you when you sit down to write and nothing else. This means you have to decide what you will work on for the next hour or two ahead of time, and do NOTHING but work on that project. Don’t think about what you will do next or what you plan to do tomorrow. Instead, give what you’re working on one hundred percent of your concentration.

This isn’t always easy to do without a bit of practise because your attention IS skewed and we ARE distracted all the time. There is so much coming your way all the time that you may have a hard time to simply put everything aside and focus on one thing—what each of you are working on.
Here are a few tips for you to try if monkey mind is a problem for you while you write.

1. Decide what you will work on before you start

Ideally, you should decide what you will work on during your writing times the weekend prior to the week ahead, and then when the allotted time comes, all you should do is sit down and work on THAT project and not on anything else. This is one sure way of eliminating the constant distraction that comes from monkey mind when you sit down and write.

Don’t let anything distract you from working on what you decided to work on beforehand. This is a recipe for monkey mind and anxiety, not to mention that your productivity levels will plummet. There is always something else that will vie for your attention if you allow it. Just let it go as much as possible and keep working on what you set out to work do.

2. Decide how long you will be working on a project ahead of time

Many of us get to our office and are unsure what we will work on and for how long. We sometimes have an idea of what we want to do. But the idea tends to fluctuate to such an extent that by the time we sit down to write, we are so flummoxed about what to work on and for how long. This is when monkey mind sets in. As you sit at your desk, your minds race from one thing to another. You may say things such as:

• Oh yeah! That is what I should be doing.
• I just heard from Mrs. Dickson, the Editor. I had better redraft that article now. I’ll get back to my regular writing later.
• I haven’t blogged for two weeks. I better start by writing a blog for my website.
• No, I had better write that book review first. That review has been sitting on my desk for weeks.

Does this sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone. But you must do something to not get into this monkey mess in the first place. And the only way to do this is to simply open the document on your computer that you decided to work on ahead of time, set your timer, for the allotted time and write nonstop.

For instance, if you’re supposed to be writing for two hours on Project A, make sure that you write for that amount of time on Project A. Don’t do any less or any more. Just stick to your allotted time. The more often you do that, the less monkey mind will have a chance to creep in during your writing time.

3. Be very disciplined when your writing time comes

One of the best ways to ensure that you focus on your writing is to have a separate computer to write on and to another one to answer email and do other administrivia. I know ever since I have a separate computer to do my writing, my productivity almost doubled over the past two years. So, it is well worth the investment of getting a separate computer to do your writing. Then all you have to do is get to your desk, turn on the computer you write with and write for your allotted time.

Even then, make sure that when you sit down to write that you do EXACTLY what you thought you should complete ahead of time. Otherwise, monkey mind will creep in quickly. Keep working towards completing your project or article. Make sure you are working your plan each time you sit down to write. This is crucially important for your success as a writer.

4. Keep your mind focused on one thing at a time

It can be difficult for writers to focus on one thing at a time. We are multi-taskers from way back. It is a cultural virus that has infected all of our thoughts and actions. Multi-tasking is not something that writers should do during their allotted writing time.

Instead, writers should sit down undistracted and work on what is right in front of them. If other thoughts come racing into your mind, either write them down for future reference after you have finished your writing time or discard the thoughts. Come back to the present moment and the project that is in front of you. Don’t let monkey mind steal your productivity and creativity. Monkey mind will creep in during your allotted writing time, if you allow it.

5. Eliminate all distractions, and just decide to write.

If your mind focuses on what you will be having for dinner or what you will tell your spouse when (s)he gets home, let go of that thought. Just think of what you’re doing right now—but nothing else.

One way that you could successfully do this is by practising a centering exercise before you start your writing session. Your centering exercise doesn’t need to be complex at all. It could be as simple as sitting down quietly, setting an egg timer for 8 to 10 minutes, and closing your eyes. Take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths. Then focus on your breath. If thoughts pierce through, just let them go. Just keep focusing on your breath and that peaceful, still place inside you. Breathe deeply! Then return to the here and now and start writing.

6. Don’t check email while writing either. Do nothing but write

One of the surest ways of experiencing monkey mind is by continuously checking email, opening snail mail, or answering the telephone while you’re trying to get your writing done. Unplug from all technologies when you’re trying to write. Some of you will use monkey mind as an excuse to not get your writing done. But this need not be the case. You must try and focus the best that you can on your writing, and reserve answering email AFTER you have done your writing for the day. This is a sure recipe to being productive and getting a lot of work done.

By taking these steps you will be avoiding monkey mind when you write.

Do ousting monkey mind for good!

Irene S. Roth


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