Every morning, we wake up with the awareness that there is just not enough time to get it all done.
Technology has given us a great gift — the ability to be constantly connected to more information, more stimulation, and more validation. All of which feed the monkey mind that craves more.
And no matter how clear we are on the chaos within our own minds, even the experts — perhaps even more so the “experts” — are addicted to the constant quest for our drug of choice. More.
Just this morning I battled my own monkey mind, knowing that what I needed most was to get some physical exercise before showing up to a conference, but the monkey in me longed to “get my money’s worth” and gobble up more content, more research, and more data.
The funny thing is that what I’ve been struggling with most lately is too much. Too many books, too much research, too many ideas, too many opportunities, all of which I’m deeply grateful for. But all of which just drive me deeper into this sense that I don’t have enough time or energy to get it all done.
Until we learn how to moderate information overload and curb our cravings for more, we will never be in a brain state that supports the logical, rational, creative incorporation that turns knowledge into wisdom. And shifts us from constant doing to a confident being that supports a healthy, balanced, and energized life.
So, how exactly do we tame the modern monkey mind to start powering our brains to live from this higher mental mode of processing?
This morning, my human brain won (it does happen), and I left the monkey behind as I went for my long run. Along the way, the information I had swirling about started to settle in, as insightful connections became clear. I thought about the article I had been meaning to write, a follow up to my previous monkey mind post, as I allowed clarity to lead the way.
I was reminded of what I teach every day: that it’s not about the time we have but the energy we bring to that time. It’s so easy to go through life on cruise control, rushing and racing from one task to the next, tired and wired at the same time, looking back and wonderful how we ended up in this place of overwhelm and burnout.
The monkey mind is not something to push away or eliminate, as it’s also the seat of great emotional connection to life. It’s where we can create and play and share meaning and purpose with others, and where we explore all of the joys and adventures that life has to offer. The key is not to blame this part of ourselves, but to tame it and train it to work in the support of our most important goals in life.
Here are 8 simple techniques that will enable you to make that happen: tools to R-E-C-H-A-R-G-E your brain and body, and align your monkey mind with the human part of your brain to drive success even in the midst of challenges and stress.
R — Rest: everyone knows the body and brain require a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night, but most people struggle to prioritize it as such. We are in the midst of a sleep epidemic, not because we don’t know what we should be doing but because our busy brains are so overloaded throughout the day that we are unable to wind down for restful sleep.
Know that sleep is impacted not only by what you do just before bedtime, but also how you oscillate or flat line energetically throughout the day. Build in 3–5 minutes every hour to rest your mind by focusing on breathing, moving, playing, or one of the other tips below, and then dedicate 15–20 minutes to prime your brain for restorative sleep with guided meditation (like my free Unplug Sunset Meditation), gentle movement, a warm bath, sleepy time tee, or other relaxation technique.
E — Exercise: an active brain requires an active body to mobilize stress hormones and improve the function of energy management systems like metabolism and glucose regulation. Studies show that a minimum of 30 minutes each day is required to lift low energy states like fatigue and depression, and a minimum of 45 minutes is needed to lower overactive states like ADD and anxiety.
C — Connection: studies show that feeling isolated is worse for your health than smoking cigarettes (which is not a pro-smoking pitch by any means). Being part of a tribe strengthens our ability to cope with demands on our energy, especially when times are tough. Social support is life support, and no matter how busy we may be, it’s important to invest in meaningful relationships. Just keep in mind that when it comes to connection, quality is more important than quantity, so don’t spread yourself too thin trying to keep up with all of your social media networks.
H — Humor: it turns out laughter really is the best medicine! Research shows that finding something funny, whether you laugh out loud or not, helps to reduce stress hormones and inflammation in the brain and body, while improving immune function, memory and more. With all this evidence, it’s a great idea to plan some strategic humor interventions throughout the day, like watching a funny YouTube video (here’s a list of the videos I used for my research project on humor and the brain), creating a funny folder of images that make you laugh, and having a humor buddy who you share funny things with throughout the day.
If you have kids at home, a great way to help them develop a humor mindset that boosts their creativity and resilience is to ask them at dinner or before bed to tell you the funniest thing they experienced during the day. By focusing their attention on things that are amusing, they’ll start noticing more things to laugh about as a result.
For the full scoop, visit The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor’s website at www.aath.org. And if you want to learn more, check out their 3-year Certified Humor Professional training program, where you can even earn graduate credit. I happen to be chairing our conference next April in San Diego, check out our agenda for more details.
A — Aromatherapy and other sensory shifters: you can use non-conscious cues to help perk up positive brain chemistry via triggers including smells, sounds, sights, taste and touch. Specific fragrances like citrus and eucalyptus can help increase blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex, helping with focus and clarity. Other scents like lavender and vanilla help to mellow out an active mood to calm and relax your busy brain.
Music and sounds of nature have a rhythmic pattern that helps to slow breathing and quiet the mind. Designer tunes that include binaural beats have also been shown to shift brain waves for a calming or exciting effect, depending on your desired brain state.
Getting physical massage reduces muscular tension, stress hormones and inflammation in the body while easing a hyperactive brain, assuming you’re allowing yourself to stay present in the moment and relax. If you don’t have time or resources for a massage appointment, you can use a warm bath or a warm, heavy blanket to soothe the body and mind.
R — Rhythmic Breathing: new research at Stanford discovered a cluster of neurons in the brainstem they’re calling the “breathing pacemaker” that receives signals from heart beats and breathing rates to let the brain know if it needs to elicit the stress response. According to previous research, breathing at a rate of about 5.5–6 breaths per minute (inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 5) at an even 1:1 ratio is ideal for building resilience based on correlation with heart rate variability.
Some practitioners recommend a slightly extended exhalation to encourage an even greater sense of calm due to the role of the exhalation phase encouraging the parasympathetic, or relaxation, response. However, it’s important that you experiment with different techniques and variations until you find the breathing style that is ideal for you, and never force deep breathing as it can actually cause more stress.
You can practice breathing to a custom breath pacer and customizing your experience with different colors, sounds and intentions at the Do As One website.
G — Giving: positive psychologists have shown that one of the most significant ways to boost happiness is to do something nice for someone else, or share words of appreciation or gratitude. According to the Cleveland clinic, the brain and body benefit from giving through a decrease in blood pressure, increased self-esteem, elevated mood, lower levels of stress, longevity and happiness.
When we feel overwhelmed by stress, one of the quickest ways to mobilize stress hormones to take action is to focus on ways to serve others. This shift in mindset and perspective leads those who volunteer for causes they care about to suggest that they get much more than they give. You can find opportunities to serve in your community at www.volunteermatch.org.
E — Elevation: by far, the greatest stress reduction advice I can offer is to develop your spiritual muscle by spending time thinking about your meaning and purpose in life. Initially the questions around faith and trust can be stressful because there is so much debate and discourse around religion these days, but studies are quite clear that those who believe in something greater than themselves have a much more resilient brain.
And this doesn’t mean you need to believe in anything in particular, but having belief and trusting the process is the best way to let go of the stress and tension that results from realizing we are not in control. Whatever you believe, prioritize time to be quiet to reflect on and connect to what matters most to you. You can fuel spiritual energy through time in prayer or meditation, or spending time in nature, with family or pets.
My stress mastery formula — assess, appreciate, adjust — provides a pathway to transforming stress from something that wears you down and burns you out to something that fuels your passion and meaning in life. Feeling stressed is just information that something is off track, and stressing is a blessing because it brings our attention to the issues so we can make course corrections, strengthening us along the way.
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