9 Ways To Tame a Mischievous Monkey Mind

monkey mind

Originally published May, 2021

“I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the monkey mind —the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.” Elizabeth Gilbert

Everyone, without exception, suffers from a restless monkey mind—an expression The Buddha coined millennia ago when he likened the thoughts in our head to a crowd of drunken monkeys.

If you are lucky, your mind’s incessant activity may be, at worst, irritating — like having a swarm of pesky flies buzzing around your head all day long that won’t go away.

Or, if you’re less fortunate, your troublesome monkey mind may be more like King Kong crashing through the jungle on amphetamines, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation in his wake.

Either way, having a howling chatterbox swinging around between your ears all day long is an inescapable part of the human condition.

What to do about it?

How to get out of your head to find lasting peace?

Abraham Lincoln once said “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

And it’s exactly the same with the mind.

As you go through the following 9 tips, you’ll see that the key to dealing with a troublesome monkey mind is to get to know it better. You’ll  then understand why it doesn’t have nearly as much power to disturb your peace as you may have thought.

Fortunately for us, the Buddha and other great teachers left behind a host of practical ways to deal with a mischievous monkey mind.


9 Things That Will Help You Quiet Your Monkey Mind


1. Know You’re Not A Special Case—Everyone Has A Restless Mind

There is no such thing as peace of mind. Mind means disturbance; restlessness itself is mind. — Nisargadatta Maharaj

Researchers tell us that the average person has around 70,000 thoughts per day. Even people who are relatively calm and laid back still have a crazy amount of traffic going on between their ears.

So don’t beat yourself up for having a lot of thoughts. Restlessness is the nature of the mind. Expecting it not to be busy is like expecting the grass not to be green.

The first step towards making peace with a restless monkey mind is to accept that it’s busy. Don’t create additional stress through fighting the fact.

2. See Your Mind, Don’t Be Your Mind

Most of the thinking patterns that drive you nuts run on autopilot. You unconsciously play them over and over in your head like broken records.

It is not so much your thoughts that cause you trouble, more your identification with them. You suffer when you wallow in them, chew them over, marinate in them— in short, when you are attached to them.

To find peace, it’s good to create some breathing space, some blue sky between yourself and the mind. Take a step back and objectively watch your thoughts—as you would sit on a riverbank watching the river flow by.

3. The Undercurrent And The Observer

In mindfulness meditation, we use a model called “the undercurrent and the observer” to illustrate our true relationship with the mind.

The undercurrent is the continuous flow of thoughts, feelings, emotions and impressions that pass through your awareness. It is self-arising.

In other words, it is not something you have any control over.

The observer is the one who is aware of the undercurrent. Unlike the thoughts, feelings and emotions, which change constantly, the observer (you could also call it your awareness) is constant and unchanging.

When you have a happy thought, you are aware of it. Likewise, when you have a sad thought, you are aware of that too. It is the same awareness that’s aware in both cases. Thoughts are many. Awareness is one.

Realise that the mind is only part of who you are—otherwise you wouldn’t be able to watch it.

4. Leave The Mind In Peace To Do Its Dance

Most of the suffering we experience at the hands of the mind comes, not from thoughts themselves, but from our resistance to them.

The path to peace is to sit quietly on the riverbank, letting the river take it’s course. Both pleasant and unpleasant thoughts (feelings and emotions too) will come along. Let them come and go without resistance.

My teacher used to say, “Roll out the red carpet to EVERY thought—positive or negative. The less you resist, the more peace you will experience.

Most people thrash about waist-deep in the river like crazed traffic policemen, frantically trying to control the flow. Resistance to the content of the mind is the main cause of suffering.

What happens to a sad thought if you don’t mind it being there?

Here’s a quote from my book “Kick The Thinking Habit.” (download it for free below).

“Don’t be concerned about the thoughts that come and go. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. Leave the mind in peace to do its dance, and it will leave you in peace to do yours. Don’t touch it at all, and you will remain untouched by it.”


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5. Don’t Take Your Thoughts Personally

Another reason we suffer so much from our busy monkey minds is that we take our thoughts so damn seriously—and personally.

Understanding that the content of my mind is self-arising and therefore not personal, was a game-changer for me.

Before that, I believed I was the author of my thoughts. I felt personally responsible for the thoughts that appeared uninvited in my head. (I’m happy to expand on this if you care to leave a comment.)

The mind is very much like a computer, spitting out thoughts in accordance with what has been programmed into it.

The thoughts that appear in your head are echoes of the past, reflections of your childhood and cultural conditioning. Given your past history, you could not be having thoughts other than the ones you are experiencing.

They are not who you are.

6. Don’t Believe Everything Your Monkey Mind Tells You

Another reason many people suffer at the hands of an overactive monkey mind is that they believe everything the mind tells them.

Most of us have a ton of self-critical thoughts—usually echoes of what we took on board as children, when we were too young to discern truth from fiction.

“You’re a bad boy. You’re not good enough. You’ll never amount to anything. The world is against you. People don’t like you.”

Take everything the mind says with a large pinch of salt. The mind will tell you a load of baloney—but you don’t have to believe it.

Be like inspector Columbo. Challenge every belief the mind throws at you.

If you believe, for example, that you’ll never amount to anything, think of all the things you’ve successfully achieved in your life. Build a compelling case to prove the opposite.

You’ll find that most of your long-held beliefs will crumble under a little scrutiny.


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7. Thoughts And Thinking Are Two Different Things

As mentioned before, there is nothing you can do to stop the thoughts that appear in your head. They arise by themselves.

Thinking is another matter, however.

Let’s say the thought appears, “My boss doesn’t like me.”

Before you know it, you find yourself catastrophising about the future, “ He’s going to fire me for sure. What will I do then? I’ll probably end up homeless, destitute and living on the streets with nothing to eat.”

This type of thinking usually occurs as an unconscious knee-jerk reaction and, if you’re aware enough to catch yourself doing it, you can choose to stop it in any moment.

Just think, “Whoaahh! Hold on a minute. I don’t even know for sure that he doesn’t like me, let alone that he’s going to fire me.  And besides, who knows what will or won’t happen in future?

8. The Monkey Mind Can’t Exist In The Present Moment

Following on from the last point, another way to stop unconscious thinking in its tracks is to bring your attention to the present moment instead.

Your attention can only be in one place at a time. When you catch yourself running some old self-defeating story in your head, STOP.

Put your attention on your breath as it flows in and out, the sensation of your feet coming into contact with the ground. Tune in to the warmth in the palms of your hands or the sound of the wind or the birds singing .

There is nothing that can make you continue running a broken old mind-movie in your head if you choose not to. You are the one in charge.

Becoming mindful of your surroundings is a great way to hit the stop button.

Want some personal help dealing with your restless monkey mind? I’ve been doing this for years! Just click on the button below to book your FREE one-hour coaching call… no strings attached!


9. Learn To Meditate

“Everyone should meditate for at least 20 minutes a day. If you are too busy, you should meditate for an hour.” — Zen proverb

For me personally, having a regular meditation practice is my No. 1 weapon for combatting a mischievous monkey mind.

There are two main reasons we suffer.

The first is lack of awareness. We become lost in unproductive mind-movies without even realising we’re doing it. The second is believing the mind is who we are—identification with thoughts

Meditation helps dissolve both these issues.

Thoughts are like little clouds passing across the sky of your awareness. Different types of cloud come and go— some dark, some light— but the sky remains unchanged and unaffected.

There is a part of your being that, like the sky, remains untouched by the monkey mind. It remains ever at peace.

Regular practice will help you identify less and less with the passing thoughts and more and more with the awareness that is your true Self.

Meditation will help you create an intimate relationship with the ground of unshakeable peace within.


The Mind Only Has As Much Power As You Give It

When you are experiencing swarms of intense thoughts, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and powerless.

But the truth is, the mind only has as much power as you give it— through identifying with it, judging it, believing it and taking thoughts personally.

Use the 9 tips above to change how you relate to the mind and you’ll find it doesn’t have nearly as much power to disturb your peace as you thought.

Leave the monkey mind in peace to do its dance and it will leave you in peace to do yours.

living in the moment

If you enjoyed this article please leave a comment below and be sure to share it with your friends.


Here’s one of my guest posts from Tiny Buddha that you may also enjoy?

A Guide To Peace For Anyone With A Crazy, Messed Up Mind

14 thoughts on “9 Ways To Tame a Mischievous Monkey Mind”

  1. Everything of yours that I have read has really spoken to me. the concept of my mind being a generator of thoughts that may or may not have any validity is so powerful. I can observe the thoughts without being/owning the thoughts. LIFE CHANGING.
    Thank you

    1. Thanks Leslee. The mind is an apparatus, just like the legs or the eyes. It’s nature is to churn out thoughts. It is liberating when you realise that you don’t have to give it so much attention.

  2. WOW….Wonderful Article Master. The best part I found was – “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

  3. Hi Richard! I just wanted to let you know I thoroughly enjoyed your article! It was extremely informative yet laid out so clearly it was easy to understand and therfore take points from. I wanted to see if you would possibly elaborate more on that topic of feeling thatthat are personally responsible for the thoughts that enter into your mind….because I have actually believed this for a long while until recently discovering mindfulness and meditation. Thank you so much for your insight!! Keep writing! Peace and love!!

    1. Hi Kirsty, Thanks for the comment. Feeling we are responsible for the thoughts that appear in our heads is one of the main causes of suffering. I believed it for a long time. Of course, if you were to suggest to most people that your thoughts are not personal, they would think you are nuts! The mind is essentially a piece of equipment that churns out random thought according to what has been programmed into it. If you watch closely to see what your next thought will be, you’ll discover that thoughts appear by themselves—that you play zero part in the arising of thoughts. Usually, when we think subject and object, we take ourselves to be the mind and body. In truth, the mind itself is an object in the awareness that is YOU. You are pure awareness aware of thoughts. You have simply fallen into the habit of taking yourself to be the thoughts rather than the unchanging awareness. Peace and love, Richard 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for the insight. I have battled the monkeys for ,well always. Your points hit the mark and gave me a new approach

  5. Hi Richard,
    Have been struggling for years with this,especially recently at work.People whispering all the time at work and talking about others, one person calling me over sensitive(which I believe is a form of dismissing me and taking responsibility off her).I started meditating every day at the beginning of Jan but still struggle.Read alot too,Thich Nat Hahn,Pema Chodron.Any suggestions would be appreciated.Also have done therapy but I seemed to do alot of talking but not given much guidance,so I quit.No rush,would like to hear what your thoughts are about this,I do realize this is limited info about myself too.But would like any feedback.Thanks.

    1. Hi Donna,
      I hear you. I had a crazy, out of control monkey mind for years and always believed the answer must lie in “fixing” my broken mind.

      Then at some point, I realised the mind is NOT the problem. The issue is how we relate to the mind.

      It’s would take too long to type out my suggestions here but I’m very happy to talk to you via Skype if you’d like. I could show you pretty quickly some things that might help a lot. Let me know. 🙂

  6. My monkey mind told me not to eat or something will happen I am not the type of person to talk about death at all I don’t want to know and it’s my worse fear to be in pain or trapped and the unknown and my monkey mind torched me with these thoughts but I would argue back in my head because I was scared. this just came out the blue, the self torcher but I am going to learn not to argue back with my self and not to take anything seriously what my mind is telling me just ignore it so I can get back to being just your normal average girl and I can’t wait to start my journey on having better mental health I think because what I fear is what I really really fear I concentrate on them to much subconsciously and scare my self and my mind makes up the worst things but if I don’t react I will be completely fine in the long run and I hope this comment helps someone if you find your mind is doing over time about dark things not just your standard “do people like me are people talking about me “ thoughts I AM IGNORING THEM FROM NOW ON AND SO SHOULD YOU no matter how bullying or dark there not you forget about it and live your life

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