The biggest [obstacle to peak performance] for most performers, in my thirty years, is overanalysis—the tendency, for the right reasons, to start overanalyzing things, which interferes with having a total focus when performing. The second-biggest obstacle is caring too much, getting almost obsessed with having to be successful— caring so much that it interferes.—Dr. Cal Botterill, Sport Psychologist, Perspective
From the minute we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, our minds are churning out an endless stream of thoughts. Even in sleep, the mind sorts, files, and analyzes the thoughts we had throughout the day. Most of those thoughts are about ourselves and everything that affects us, and unfortunately, many of them are unproductive or negative. These thoughts tend to repeat themselves, day after day, and turn into beliefs about what’s possible and what’s not, about who we are, and who we can—or probably won’t—become. This cluttered, negative state does one thing that really hurts us: it crowds out the space needed to dream great dreams, to imagine possibilities. This is the Monkey Mind.
As we listen to the doubts and fears, we open ourselves up to endless chatter and analysis. Analysis is important for learning and growth, but it becomes an obstacle when we can’t turn off the self-talk, especially during performance. Too often we live in our heads, missing the power that awaits when we live in our whole being, head to toe, heart and soul. We are spiritual, mental and physical beings, but so often we are led around by a mind cluttered with unproductive thoughts, missing out on the intuition that comes with a more spirit-led awareness.
Having thousands of thoughts a day, we give most of them little recognition. We have so many thoughts that we become unaware of them; they just become a part of us. But it’s a mistake to miss the massive impact each thought has.
So what can you do to stop the Monkey Mind? There is one tool that I give every client right away. It’s the reboot, or reset. Consider when your laptop or desktop is running slow or not right. What do the experts say to do? The first thing they suggest is to restart your computer.
What happens when you click restart? You see the spinning wheel, then the computer starts to shut down applications. It asks if you’re sure. Then when you confirm, after a little while, the screen goes completely blank. Then after a few seconds, it starts up again. This is what we need to learn to do with our mind.
When our mind is caught up in overanalysis, or keeps jumping to the past or future, or you’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or nervous, this is one of the basic tools in your toolbox.
Here’s how you do it:
The reboot (basic reset):
Use this tool anytime you’re not present (e.g., stressed, frustrated, angry, or nervous).
- Stop whatever you’re doing (walking, talking, etc.).
- Pick a spot above the horizon (cloud in the sky, branch on a tree, etc.).
- Stare at the spot and don’t take your eyes off it.
- Stop all thoughts as you stare intently at that spot.
- Take a long, slow deep breath in through your nose (count of 4 or so).
- Exhale, relaxing your jaw and all facial muscles (count of 6 or so).
- The exhale must be longer than the inhale.
- While letting go of your breath, also let go of all desires and concerns.
- Do this twice. If you only have time for one breath, that’s fine.
This is the basic reset that you will want to practice and use regularly.
Note: this article was adapted from Chapter 3: The Greatest Opponents You’ll Ever Face: The Critic, Monkey Mind, and the Trickster, from the book Inner Excellence.