Last time I started with the most basic step: close your eyes and meditation for a minute or two.
That’s pretty easy, no matter how much “monkey mind” you have. Monkey mind is that crazy blur of thoughts that jump all over inside your head when you try to meditate. Today we’re going to talk about monkey mind – and how to deal with it.
You might be tempted to say that you want to learn how to ignore monkey mind. But that’s counter-productive. Working to ignore something really means that you are giving it a lot of your attention. You need to learn to calm your mind. You need to slow down the flood of thoughts. Then you can acknowledge the thoughts but choose not to address them at this time.
Try the basic exercise from Part 1: Sit quietly, close your eyes, and try to clear your mind – for about a minute or two.
Notice that something rushes into your mind as soon as you close your eyes? It might be a worry, a bill, a memory. Whatever it is, you can choose to focus on it or to acknowledge it and set it aside. Imagine that you are taking your hand and picking it up. You might even imagine that you’re removing it from your forehead and moving it to the side. Put it down.
Now another thought enters your mind. Take note, then pick it up and put it to the side.
This is a wonderful strategy when thoughts come to you one at a time. But with monkey mind, you have dozens or hundreds of thoughts rushing in on you. It can be hard to dismiss them all. You can’t even acknowledge them all. Your focus is taken to the overwhelming list of things that need your attention.
Trust me. Everyone who meditates has to go through this. It comes and goes, but it never goes away forever. Here are some tips for addressing monkey mind. Practice them to see what works for you.
1) Acknowledge your busy mind. That is, your first step is to watch all those thoughts go by. Again, don’t try to fix anything or spend time on these thoughts, but do take stock. What does your mind want to bring to your consciousness?
Think of it like this: You’ve wanted to meet a famous person all your life. Now you’ve suddenly been given five minutes with that person. You start blabbering like an idiot, talking a mile a minute, and telling them everything you’ve ever thought about them. Your mind is doing the same thing. You finally sit down to listen to it and it’s going crazy with all the things it wants you to hear.
Acknowledge the thoughts. Take stock. See what you’re mind’s up to. Once it relaxes and understands that you’re going to do this again, the flood of thoughts will slow down.
2) Find something else to focus on. This is a key piece of mindfulness meditation. Pick a thing to focus on instead of the monkey chatter. The easiest thing to focus on is your breath. After all, you’re going to be breathing during your entire meditation! You can focus on the air moving in and out of your nose. Or focus on the movement of you chest and stomach.
When you fill your mind with something to focus on, it is easier to see the wandering thoughts as something other than the object you’re focusing on. That, in turn, makes it easier for you to pick up the thoughts and place them to the side.
3) Be mindful of the speed of thoughts wandering into your mind. When you start, the flood of thoughts is overwhelming. But after a few minutes, the flood will naturally slow down. It’s like when a water dam opens. At first, there’s a rush of water. But it slows down after the initial rush.
Your thoughts will flood your mind at first. But as you pay attention, you’ll notice that there are individual thoughts. Eventually, you’ll notice that there are spaces between the thoughts. Eventually, you’ll notice that there are more spaces than there are thoughts. Focus on the space.
Someday, if you keep practicing meditation, you will see thoughts before they are formed. In other words, you’ll learn what it feels like to begin forming a thought. As a result, you’ll be able to simply hold it off so that it never forms. As you train your mind to recognize the thinking process, it will become easier and easier to keep the monkey from chattering.
For the next week, increase your meditation by one or two minutes per day. If you want to start at one minute, that’s fine. You’ll end the week meditating for eight minutes every day. If you start at five minutes, you might finish the week meditating fifteen minutes every day.
As strange as it sounds, don’t over-do it. Don’t set yourself a goal of meditating 30-60 minutes per day as a beginner. That will be discouraging.
One minute per day is all you need.
Do what feels right for you.
You can’t meditate wrong.
I have recently talked to several people who are trying to figure out how to get started with “quiet time” or meditation. So I thought I’d give you my recommendations. There are no hard, fast rules here, so relax and enjoy.
I plan to have several posts on this. So go slow and check back often. Your comments and questions are certainly welcome.
The first thing to keep in mind, if you are new to meditation, is that it’s a skill like anything else. If you haven’t done it before, you need to start somewhere. You need to learn how it feel to sit and do nothing. You need to learn how to listen and stop talking.
If you’re one of those people who always has the TV on, or the iPod, iPad, MP3 player, or some other device that requires you to have ear buds in your ears all the time, you will be particularly challenged.
Lesson one is: Be patient with yourself.
You may have heard people say “you can’t do it wrong.” That’s true if you are sincerely trying.
If you are really, truly trying meditation for the first time, I recommend you have get yourself a timer. It can be a kitchen timer or an app on your phone. Set it for one minute. I know that’s not much. But it will seem like forever if you haven’t experienced it before.
Simply sit quietly in a chair, relax, close your eyes, and wait for the minute to pass.
When the timer rings, be aware of your reaction to it. Do you say to yourself, “It’s about time!”? If you do, keep repeating the exercise every day for one minute.
When your reaction becomes “What? Already? I wonder if I set the timer wrong.” – then you are ready to set the timer for two minutes or even three.
Next time we’ll look inside your head and talk about some of those thoughts that come up in meditation.
One of the most obvious examples of “workaholism” is simply over-working. Over-working means that you continue working after you are no longer productive. You might do this out of guilt or frustration. You might just be completely overwhelmed. And that’s precisely why you need to force yourself to stop working and recharge your batteries.
Here’s the thing about too much work: Eventually, everything floats to it’s natural level. So if you exhaust yourself, your body will eventually collapse and you will catch up on sleep whether you want to or not. Or maybe you will get sick, forcing you to slow down.
Here’s what happens when you work too much. As we all know, there are “diminishing returns” from too much work. You focus too closely on what you’re doing and your brain gets tired. That’s why people who work on heavy equipment and critically important jobs (like airline pilots) are forced to take breaks. Accidents happen much more frequently when people are tired.
And tired doesn’t have to be eight or ten or twelve hours. Depending on the combination of physical and mental activities, you might be worn out after only a few hours.
Most of us don’t work on those critically important jobs. For most of us, when we get tired, there are no dire consequences. No one dies. No one is injurged. But we ARE less productive. We DO make more mistakes. And the overall quality of our work is lower. That’s why it’s important to take breaks throughout the day.
As you work day goes along, you gradually become less productive over time. So you are most productive during the first hour of work and least productive during the last hour of work. Everyone has a threshold of productivity. There is literally a point where you move from productive to un-productive. If you keep working, you will eventually be counter-productive.
Most of us are vaguely aware of the line between productive and unproductive. We tend to tell ourselves that we’re really just “less” productive. In reality, we’re making very little progress except in a mechanical sense. For example, we’re not able to write a coherent memo, but we thing we can sort files or clean up minor tasks. We don’t realize that we’re maknig mistakes.
The line between unproductive and counter-productive is essentially invisible. This is where mistakes happen. We do work that has to be thrown away, un-done, or completely re-done. We are creating re-work and don’t even realize it.
But we feel productive because we’re still working! And we feel like we’re doing something instead of nothing.
One of the biggest culprits in over-working is anxiety. You might have a deadline for work or home. (Most often, it’s work and not personal.) You may have stress related to money problems or a big project. Anxiety and worry raise the levels of cortisol in your system. (Strictly speaking, they reduce your body’s ability to regulate the production of cortisol.)
Stress and anxiety are related to sleep disturbances, early death from all causes, occupational injuries, heart attacks, suicide, risk of type 2 diabetes, divorce, breast cancer, and just about every bad thing ever in your life.
With stress, anxiety, and high levels of cortisol, your body gets “stuck” trying to address the panicky feeling you have. Your physical body wants to be “on” and to solve the problem. In some cases, this is good behavior. But the classic example of fighting off a saber tooth tiger should be enough for you to realize that you almost never find yourself in a true fight-or-flight situation.
As a long-term, chronic condition, this is very, very bad.
Physically, your body is 100% ON and wants to stay on. At the same time, you are unproductive, tired, and probably irritable. When you slip into being counter-productive, you don’t even realize it.
You’re essentially in a panic. You can’t sleep because your body is filled with natural chemical stimulants. You are making no effective progress. And you’ve into the counter-productive zone.
You can’t relax. You can’t stop.
… And that’s exactly why you HAVE TO stop. You have to force yourself to NOT WORK.
Breaking the Cycle
The best way to get yourself out of this high-anxiety over-working situation is to train your body to relax. Here are a few tips:
1) Physically put the work down. Wrap it up. Put it away. Go in the other room. Whatever it takes to be out of the work area, do it.
2) Engage in a non-work activity. This might be reading, watching TV, writing, or even playing a game of solitair on your phone. Your brain might only be half-engaged, but it’s not engage in work.
3) Meditation can train your brain to slow down. Meditation reduces stress. In fact, studies show that it reduces cortisol quite significantly. Meditation also increases endorphins – the feel good chemicals associated with love and pleasure.
4) Pour yourself a cup of tea – or a glass or wine. The ritual, along with the senses of smell and taste, will become a powerful signal to your body that work is done for the day.
Relaxation is a habit. Once you train yourself to relax, your body will learn to respond. After you learn to relax, your brain will literally pick up the signs of relaxation and help you to get there quicker. Once you’ve broken out of the anxiety/work cycle, you need to rest. Whether that means sleep or play, you will recharge your batteries as long as you are not trying to work.
And don’t try to cheat! If you say “Well, I’m *just* reading, or *just* doing this one thing …” your brain still knows that you’re working. Any attempt to work will prolong the stress and the anxiety. You have to really stop working in order to break the cycle.
Tomorrow will always be there. And it will always have work to do, and bills to pay. Tomorrow will always bring temptations to over-work.
In the long run, you will get more productive work accomplished when you are well rested. But that’s a habit you have to create.
Comments off · Posted by karlp in Balance, Beliefs, Business, Challenges, Exercise, Family, Goals, Meditation, Muscles of Success, Patience, Positive Attitude, Relax Focus Succeed®, Vision or Mission, Wealth, Workaholism
Relax Focus Succeed®
Balance Your Personal and Professional Lives and Be More Successful in Both
Five Mondays – July 28 – Aug. 25, 2014
Registration includes a copy of the book Relax Focus Succeed® by Karl W. Palachuk.
Save $50 right now with code RFSClass
This course will show you how to master the concepts of Relax Focus Succeed® – a program for balancing your personal and professional lives and finding more success in both.
This course is intended for anyone who is stressed out, over-worked, and ready to take their whole life to the next level. We all lead busy lives, filled with too many demands. Many of us donâ€™t get enough sleep or exercise. We fight to be successful at work and at home.
Taught by someone who’s been there. Karl Palachuk was diagnosed with debilitating Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 39 and spent several years getting the disease under control. With two businesses to managed and a young family, he found himself unable to work more than a few hours a day. That’s when he developed a process for achieving goals at a very high level without working himself to death.
Many of us chase the entrepreneurial dream – but few of us reach our entrepreneurial vision.
This is an intensive teleseminar course over a five week period. All assignments are voluntary, of course. But if you want feedback on assignments, please complete assignments during this course and email them to the instructor.
Topics to be presented include:
- Balance your personal and professional lives
- Focus on the single most important things in your life
- Develop your vision for self-fulfillment
- Relax – in a meaningful way
- Be the same person in all elements of your life (overcome Jekyll/Hyde syndrome)
- Put the past – and your present – in their place
- Build your muscles of success
- Stop working 50- or 60- or 70-hour weeks
- Avoid being interrupt-driven
- Slow Down, Get More Done
- Work less and accomplish more
- Define Goals: Long-term, Medium-term, and Short-term
- Build quiet time into your life
The course will include a number of recommended do-it-yourself exercises.
Save $50 right now with code RFSClass
Enter code RFSClass to bring this price to only $149
The Revised Edition of Relax Focus Succeed is now available to purchase in both paperback and as an e-book. Very soon we’ll have the audio version as well as Kindle and other e-reader formats.
Also check out the free 60 minute recorded seminar I posted on The Book page.
Focus on the positive, make some plans, and start heading in the right direction today!
Order the Paperback Now and Download the PDF Right Now
Buy the Ebook and save shipping
Buy the Paperback and get the Ebook free
Limited Time Offer!
My friend Laura Steward Atchison used to be a computer consultant. After successfully selling her business, Laura started looking at her own success. One of the things she realized is that she had worked hard at asking the right questions.
Her new book – What Would a Wise Woman Do? Questions to Ask Along the Way – focuses entirely on this concept. She begins with a discussion of how we tend to lead our lives on autopilot. This is a very powerful concept. If you get up every day and do what you did yesterday, you will tend to assume you know the right questions to ask, so you’ll put your energy on the answers.
Too many folks focus on the “answers” instead of the “questions” in life.
Laura argues that you should step back and ask yourself whether you started with the right question first. Asking different questions will necessarily lead to different answers.
This book is a great “starter” for quiet time and meditation. One of the great “starter questions” Laura asks is: “What questions am I asking myself that got me to this place?” She encourages us to use this to examine the path we’re on.
After all, if we’re not happy with our choices, we could make different choices. But more importantly, we need to realize that those choices are answers to questions. So examining the question might lead us to a completely different set of choices.
This is really a powerful point. Different answers to the same question can only have so much variation. But answers to different questions could be dramatically different from the options we’ve put in front of ourselves so far.
This excellent book discovers questions about relationships, business, personal crises, money, faith, and a lot more. If you’re interested in beginning a new kind of journey of self-examination, this is a good place to start.
Here is a quick interview I did with Laura right as she was releasing the book. I caught up with her at a technology event in Florida.
Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
The Japanese have two words – Honne and Tatemae – that describe recognized social behaviors.
According to our friends at Wikipedia:
“Honne refers to a person’s true feelings and desires. These may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one’s closest friends.”
“Tatemae, literally ‘facade,’ is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one’s honne.”
The honne/tatemae concepts are very powerful in Japanese culture and represent the long-held desire to minimize conflict in public. These concepts are not unique to Japan, of course. We all feel conflict between our “public selves” and our private needs and desires.
At some level, this distinction between your personal desires and your public duties is very natural. After all, society itself exists because people are able to set aside some of their personal desires in order to bind together into a larger community. Where people become too self-centered, society falls apart. Where people become too community-centered, they lose individuality. As with everything else in life, balance is needed.
I am a big fan of the DISC profile for evaluating personality traits and helping to build the teams I work with. One of the key elements of the DISC tool is that it attempts to identify one’s natural tendencies as well as the behavior that one plays in the workplace. This distinction is very important because stress causes us to retreat back to our more natural (personal) personality. For example, a naturally shy person might be very outgoing at work on a regular day. But on a day filled with stress, that person’s shy tendency will be a lot stronger.
All too often, we only know someone in one context (work, community, play, school, etc.). As a result, we are most likely to only see their Tatemae side – the face they put on in public. This is even true of most co-workers. It is very important that we remember that the people around us have deeper, more complicated lives than what we see. Of course we already know this, but we tend to not think about it.
This whole concept is very interesting to me because it is central to the Relax Focus Succeed philosophy that stress is caused in large part by the gaps we create between the various roles we play. Ideally, you can be the same person at work, at home, at school, and in a community or church setting. But, in reality, we play different roles and bring different pieces of our personality to each of these.
This is not dishonest by any means. It is very natural. You might need to be analytical and precise at work, but you can be very loving and cuddly at home. Neither of these is dishonest, but simply two roles you play, each allowing you to draw on different traits within yourself.
Stress comes when you find yourself playing two dramatically different roles, one much more natural and comfortable than the other.
Think about your life and the roles you play. Are there other (better) roles you could be playing to reduce stress?
As the author of a book and blog called Relax Focus Succeed®, I sort of set myself up for a certain criticism. People see me running around the country talking to various groups and they say “You seem to be very busy for someone who should be relaxing more.”
Let me offer two points of clarification on this matter.
First, I *AM* relaxed. When some people travel, they rush around from one city to another, never stopping or enjoying the city they’re in. The worst part is that they stay in a bland, boring, hotel and eat fast food. So they get a sense for the “real” city and its culture.
When I travel, I add at least one day before or after each event to hang out in a city and enjoy it. This week my travels took me to Charlotte, NC and Fort Lauderdale, FL. Next week I’m off for two separate events in Portland. I took an extra day in Charlotte, saw some old friends, and got treated to a nice drive through the country (and into South Carolina).
Now I’m in Florida. And rather than flying home Friday and then off to Portland on Monday, I’m just staying here. It was 81 degrees (F) yesterday! Why not stay here? I got a hotel room on the beach and I’m going to hang out and write for five days while in Florida. Then I’ll spend four days in Portland.
Last month I needed to be in New York City for a three-hour show. I took four days . . . because it was New York City, I knew it would be dolled up for Christmas, and I had the opportunity to connect with some friends. It was relaxing and enjoyable.
I take this leisurely pace in order to enjoy myself more, connect with friends, and enjoy my life. If my includes travel, I might as well see the places I’m traveling to!
Second, I want to make sure that folks understand that the “relax” component in Relax Focus Succeed® does NOT mean that there’s no work involved. I think you should work hard if you want to achieve something. But you should also work smart. Focus like a laser beam and get things done. Build relaxation into your day, week, and month. But don’t think you’ll get away without hard work.
Focus will allow you to accomplish amazing things in a short amount of time. But you also need the relaxation component to make that work.
I am lucky to work with some wonderful people. Recently the work I do with a couple of different people has coincided with events in my personal life. And it has been a powerful experience.
Jenifer Landers (http://www.fullyexpressedcoaching.com/) is my life coach. She helps me with business and personal challenges. Because of all the changes going on in my life this year, she has talked to me about leaving space in my life for people and things to “show up.” For example, my daughter graduated from high school and will be going to college in the Fall. Yikes. That will leave a big space for me to fill.
Or, if you think about it, I don’t have to fill that space. I could just leave it open for awhile to see which opportunities arise.
Another wonderful person I work with is Kelli Wilson. Kelli recently published a book: The Clutter Breakthrough (See her blog). In this very powerful book, Kelli does NOT go through a “plan” to clean up the clutter. Instead, she looks at the root causes of clutter. Her argument is that people have painful experiences in their lives, and they fill up their lives with something in order to avoid the pain.
Some people fill these spaces with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or any number of other things. The goal is not about the alcohol (etc.), but about coping mechanisms that keep them from having to experience the pain or the emptiness.
There’s a great medical device called a TENS unit. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS unit operates from a 9-volt battery. It creates tiny electrical impulses and has pads that are attached to your skin. For example, if you have muscle spasms in your back, a doctor might use a tens unit to block the pain.
The electrodes are taped to the body near where the pain is.
Inside your body there are large nerve fibers and small nerve fibers. Of course these nerves carry pain signals. Well, actually, only the small nerve fibers carry pain. The TENS unit sends tiny electrical impulses down the nerve fibers. It floods the nerve fibers with these harmless impulses. Once the nerves are “filled” with these harmless electrical impulses, the pain signals cannot travel through the nerves.
This is a great analogy for thinking out the spaces in your life. Space might left because of a true loss: A death, a divorce, the loss of a job, or having a child leave home. Similarly, if you have a space that’s filled with pain, you need a mechanism to either stop the pain or at least take your mind off the pain.
And so the coping mechanisms we develop help us to 1) Fill empty space in our lives, and 2) Avoid dealing with the painful spaces in our lives that we’d rather not address. Just as a TENS unit fills the nerves with electrical impulses that keep the pain from getting through, we can use a variety of behaviors to fill our lives with *something* that’s better than the nothing or the pain.
Whether the space is empty (for example, loneliness) or filled with pain, “coping mechanism” are always a short-term solution. Coping mechanism might help you get by today and tomorrow. But longer term, you need to find more permanent solutions.
In the case of pain, the most important goal is to stop the cause of the pain. In terms of emotional pain, the cause is probably YOU and not whatever you think the cause it. Yes, the original cause of the pain was very real. But the ongoing cause of the pain is probably your willingness to continue dwelling on it. Counseling, prayer, and meditation can help you understand the pain and diminish it over time.
But you need to be aware that that process will leave a space where your “old friend” pain used to be.
In the case of loss or loneliness, you will also have an empty space.
No matter how this empty space comes about, you need to find healthy ways to fill that space. But I really encourage you to take some time filling the space. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to leave spaces in your life and not give in to the urge to fill them with “stuff” (physical stuff, activities, hobbies, bad habits, etc.).
Daily quiet time can be an extremely powerful tool to help you with this process. Whether you use it for meditation, prayer, or some other means of being away and clearing your mind, the very fact that you spend time considering your life will help you to work on the spaces in your life.
You may legitimately decide that you want to take up a new hobby, buy some clothes, or do whatever. But with daily contemplation about where your life is going, you will have a much healthier perspective for examining your options.
You may also find that you’ve managed to create a great deal more contentment than you had before.
I’m sure you’ve read this quote before: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates said at his trial for heresy. He was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves. The sentence was death or Socrates had the option of suggesting an alternative punishment. He could have chosen life in prison or exile, and would likely have avoided death. Socrates believed that these alternatives would rob him of the only thing that made life useful: Examining the world around him and discussing how to make the world a better place. Without his “examined life” there was no point in living. So he suggested that Athens reward him for his service to society. The result, of course, is that they had no alternative and were forced to vote for a punishment of death. Luckily, we don’t have to choose between an examined life and death. The sad thing is, most people avoid leading an examined life. It’s not that they don’t have time or make time. They actively avoid examining their lives.
People who do examine their lives, who think about where they’ve been, how they got here, and where they’re going, are much happier people. No one has all the answers and no one’s life is free from trouble and strife. Yet their are those who have some sense of where they belong in the universe also have a context for understanding how all the elements of their life fit together.
If there are two people, one with a map and one without a map, who has the better chance of reaching their destination? The one with the map, of course.
When you set aside time to examine your life,
You get to choose your destination; You get to set the goals;
You get to determine the path; You get to decide how long it will take;
You get to decide whether you’re on the right path or the wrong path.
In other words, you begin to know your self and to take control of your life. You decide who you want to be and begin to become the person you want to be.
The hardest thing about examining your life is getting started. You have to sit your butt in a chair and get used to not doing anything. Just relax. Focus. Well, you understand . . ..