It is estimated that the average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day. This fact might help explain why we often feel like there is constant chatter going on in our minds. Kapicitta is the Buddhist term sometimes used to describe this constant chatter. Kapacitta can be translated to monkey mind – it is the agitated, restless and incessant movement of human consciousness. It is when our mind jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. Does this sound familiar?
Unfortunately, most of us fall into negative thinking “habits” and a high percentage of our thoughts become unproductive and even addictive. These thoughts run over and over in our minds like a broken record. Since our thoughts affect how we feel, these negative thinking patterns result in what Buddha referred to as Dukkha, which means suffering, stress, and pain. So how do we change our negative “monkey mind,” or at least quiet it down?
It is only by developing self-awareness and self-discipline that we can start to experience the cessation of mental activity and possibly enter into a deep state of inner peace and bliss. But be forewarned, learning to tame your monkey mind is not an easy task, however it is a skill that will prove to be very productive for you.
Here are 7 steps to help you learn to break the stress addiction:
Step 1: Observe Your Mind
Most of what we experience is not actually happening, other than in our minds. However, we tend to believe our thoughts without any awareness that they are just thoughts. The voice in your head runs all day long. It can say nasty things to put you down, it judges, criticizes and blames. It can tell you there is danger when nothing is actually happening. It contradicts itself all the time and is often just plain annoying. Yet you ride the wave of your thinking, blindly believing whatever the little voice says and then wonder why you feel bad.
The next time you notice a negative thought, set a timer for 3 minutes and objectively observe your mental chatter, the same way as you would watch a movie on TV, without any attachment to any of the thoughts that show up on the screen. Do this at least 3 times per day.
Step 2: Question Yourself
Thinking is an automatic process, like breathing and digestion. You cannot control whether or not you think, but you can learn to choose your thoughts. The price of personal freedom is responsibility over each and every one of your thoughts. So instead of getting hooked into the drama of your own mental movies, start questioning yourself. For every negative thought you observe, ask:
- Is this thought serving me well?
- How would I feel if I didn’t believe this thought?
- Would I say this to my best friend?
Step 3: Redirect Your Thoughts
When you realize you are experiencing a negative or stressful thought, re-direct your mind to something more positive and productive. The earlier you re-direct your thoughts, the better because momentum builds very quickly – one stressful thought leads to another, which leads to another. When you first notice a stressful thought, ask yourself, “Do I want to go down the path of fear right now?”
Step 4: Be Grateful
Gratitude is incompatible with stress. Get into a gratitude routine. At least 10 times per day, ask yourself, “What can I be grateful for?” Make sure you are not rephrasing the question to something like “Why can’t I just be grateful for what I have?”
Remember, your mind is sneaky, and will try to answer any question that you ask it – so with the latter question, it will find many reasons why you can’t be grateful. Asking better questions will give you better answers.
Step 5: Set up Time to Worry
When you are simulating stories in your mind about how unhappy past events were, how stressful things are right now, or how horrible the future might be, then you are creating a great deal of internal stress, and you will suffer the consequences. Pace yourself by setting up “worry times” and putting your problems away the rest of the time. To do this:
- Consciously decide on two times during the day when you will be allowed to contemplate your problems (no longer than 20 minutes).
- Take a sheet of paper and in point form, write down all of the stressors in your life. Then fold the paper and place it in a small box. Close the box and put it in a safe place. When a new worry comes up, write it down and add it to the box.
- If your mind wanders back to your problems after you’ve put them away, simply remind yourself that your problems are safely stowed away and do not give yourself permission to re-visit them until the next designated “worry time.”
Step 6: Take Action
Once you have a clearer perspective on what is causing you stress, then it is time to develop a plan and take effective, immediate and massive ACTION to make some changes. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Doing nothing leads to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, which supports us in being victims in our own lives.
Step 7: Meditate
If you haven’t started a meditation practice yet, make a commitment to do so. There are many free resources online so get started NOW and break your stress addition once and for all!