How long can you focus your mind on one topic? For most of us, that’s one of the biggest challenges of day to day life. You have a crazy long list of things you need to accomplish, and when you think about all of those demands your mind jumps from one idea to the next very quickly. This unfortunate state is known as Monkey Mind. It’s your brain trying to take care of you, reminding you of the many dangers you’d face if you lived in the wild. While that’s a valuable tool evolutionarily speaking, in today’s world the Monkey Mind negatively affects productivity. When we get busy or disorganized we often spiral into feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and that inhibits our ability to get things done. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here at Cardsmith, we’ve found a simple solution to help you relieve those uncomfortable feelings, refocus your mind and better organize your thoughts. So next time you notice your Monkey Mind taking over, hit pause and perform this little exercise to quickly calm your brain and get you back to working on what matters most. Get ready to get productive!

illustration of monkeys in cup

Monkey Mind Taming Exercise

You’re familiar with the idea of writing down everything that’s on your mind and then organizing it into a more manageable list. That’s a great start, but I’m going to invite you to intentionally add two more short steps that will enhance the calming impact of the exercise. You will feel much better and more focused once you do this!

Step 1: Manipulate Your Environment

Before you do anything else, take a couple minutes to set up your environment and your mindset. Choose a quiet place to sit with your laptop. It should be the most peaceful, beautiful and inspiring place you can find—but the main goal is quiet. Once you’ve settled on the perfect spot, open up a new board in Cardsmith via the “Create from Template” button, then select the Monkey Mind Brain Scan Board. To keep it simple for you, we’ve set up this template so the next few steps are ready to go, with no extra work for you.

Next, take a few deep breaths and thank your mind for working so hard to keep you safe. This may feel a little weird, but it helps to settle your mind into a more open state. You might say to yourself, “Hey brain, thank you for taking care of me. I’m so grateful you hold all of these things I need to do. I really appreciate you! Now it’s time for me to really listen to you, so we can organize all of your ideas into Cardsmith, and allow you some space to stop worrying so much.”

Step 2: Get It All Out

Whatever tasks, thoughts, worries, projects or ideas are swirling around in your brain, let them spill out onto your Cardsmith Board. You can start by changing the titles of the existing cards from the Mind Scan Template Board. Whatever comes to mind, just write each thought as a card title. Some examples could be:

“Send photos to Jason”

“Taxes are due soon”

“Worried about Emma not engaging in our meetings”

“Write new blog post”

Don’t filter, and don’t worry about the exact phrasing. You want a free, unencumbered flow of ideas. When your mind is empty and cannot think of anything else to add, thank it for being so productive. Then, just to be sure you haven’t missed any important tasks, ask yourself, “Is there anything else?”  

Now, take a few more breaths.

Then, look at your cards and organize any related items into groups. Perhaps you can combine some items if they are really the same thing. Reviewing what you have written down may also trigger additional worries or tasks, so add those at this time. When you are done, you will know it.   

Step 3: Answer the Two Most Important Questions

This is key, because it’s the thing that will truly help your brain calm down. We’ve made this step easy because the two questions you now need to answer are written inside each card you’ve already created.

Question #1: What does it look like when this is handled or completed? Taking the time now to define what “done” looks like is a very useful tool in helping you prioritize your work and personal life.

Question #2: What is the very next action step? This could be an extremely small thing, which might be easy to overlook. It could be sending an email to somebody, visiting a particular website or scheduling an appointment. No matter how small the step may seem, recognize that it’s the initial step needed to move yourself forward in either handling this worry or getting this project done.

monkey mind board example

Figure 1. Cardsmith Template Board: Monkey Mind Brain Scan

Recognize Your Success and Plan Your Next Steps

Check in with yourself. You should be feeling a lot calmer. This is the point when you recognize that you actually have fewer things to do than you originally thought! That’s because you’ve consolidated the chaos down to the most important tasks. You also started this process with your brain thrashing around uncontrollably, which makes everything feel amplified. Once you override your Monkey Mind tendencies and consciously organize your thoughts, the tasks at hand stop looking overwhelming and instead feel manageable.

This process will also likely illuminate several things you can make progress on right away. You may be able to identify tasks that can be delegated to someone else. You’ll also have a clearer understanding of what you can do today to make the biggest impact on your work and life.  

Want a quick overview of this three-step process in action? Watch this video below.