Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

3 Ways to Quiet Your Mental Chatter (aka Monkey Mind)

Sometimes, calming the "monkey mind" is easier said than done. Sometimes, calming the "monkey mind" is easier said than done. ziggysofi/Shutterstock.com

Has this happened to you lately? You’re in a conversation, or a meeting or working on an important project. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner or the email you forgot to respond to or the March Madness game you watched over the weekend or an errand you forgot to run or someone you need to call or that crazy episode of House of Cards you watched last night. The likelihood is you’re having a whole series of those thoughts, not just one. It sure happens to me; that list of random thoughts I just wrote comes straight from my current playlist.

In doing the research for my new book on mindfulness for overworked and overwhelmed leaders and professionals, I’ve learned that the average person has 70,000 thoughts a day. So, seriously, what’s the likelihood that all those thoughts are going to lay themselves out in an exquisite sequence of hyper focus? Not very likely.

We all have mental chatter. There’s even a Sanskrit word for it—vritti—that the ancient yogis came up with thousands of years ago to describe the whirlpool of thoughts that constantly swirl through your mind. Another great term for the condition we often find ourselves in is “monkey mind.”

Monkey mind, or mental chatter, is a fact of the human condition. The trick is to create conditions that make it less likely, recognize it when it’s happening and then change things up. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Schedule Short Segments. As much as you can, schedule your work and conversations in short segments. Research shows that the average person can stay on task for somewhere between 45 to 90 minutes before their attention starts to diminish and their performance starts to degrade. Don’t set yourself up for monkey mind by expecting yourself to work beyond those natural limits without a break.
  2. Set Your Alarm. In a guided meditation session, the leader will often sound a gentle chime at random intervals throughout the 20- to 45-minute sit. One of the reasons for that is to help the meditators bring their minds back into the room because the likelihood is their minds are wandering. You can do something similar by setting your phone or another device to chime every so often during a scheduled work session.
  3. Create a Distraction Free Zone. If you’re working at your desk, shut down email and your web browser. This is huge for focus as research shows that people who are working while their email is open switch screens an average of 39 times an hour. That’s about once every 90 seconds. Talk about monkey mind! If you’re in conversation with someone face to face, turn away from your screen and remove your smartphone from your person. If you’re on a conference call, turn your computer off, put on a headset and walk around your office while talking and listening.

My guess is you have lots of other good ideas for quieting mental chatter. What are they? 

(Image via ziggysofi/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.