Taming the monkey

Buddhists call it “monkey brain.” Geeks (like Hubby) say it’s simply an indication our brains are on information overload and need a good defrag (Take that any way you like; he loves double entendre.). Western society says it’s a disease (ADHD) that must be medicated. Nutritionists point to our over-caffeinated, high-sugar based diets and lack of physical exertion.

Constantly swirling thoughts. Inability to focus.

For the past few semesters, I’ve had my students read Nicholas Carr’s essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” After wading through their complaints – “It’s so long!” (maybe five pages in the textbook).  “It didn’t make sense. I had to read it like three times!” – and explaining the concepts of analogy and metaphor (these are college freshman sigh), we finally get to discuss the real point of the article: What is the effect of technology on our brains? Does it truly rewire our thought processes?

I think it’s more than that, and it’s not just technology that drives us.

Continuous mental stress. Deadlines. Obligations. Priorities that defy ranking.

I’m as tethered to my cellphone as the next person, addicted to Facebook, and Twitter, and G+, and…and…. I pay for my constant “on”-ness with a lack of productivity because of the next new shiny thing at hand – ICYMI, can’t stand to be out of the loop! – with regularly disrupted sleep because the brain-buzzing never stops, with wasted vacation days because I can’t turn off the busy-ness the demands, the need to be connected. I mentally lost three days of our recent much-needed getaway because of this. And I’m paying for it now with increased anxiety at the teetering stack of must-do projects, all of which have deadlines in the recent past.

I know I’m not alone battling this dragon. Facebook writer-friend Sherri Williams posted in 10 Minute Novelists (a group that celebrates one more way to cram productivity into a writer’s busy life) yesterday:

My writer brain has gone schizophrenic today. Romance! Horror! Children’s! Graphic Novel! Help me. What do you do when your brain is shooting in a million different directions? Cause let’s not forget, cookies!

And for all his word play, Hubby feels the same way (jokes are one way he copes).

I remind myself, repeatedly:bonsai



Take a walk.

Tackle one thing at a time until attention wanders (Ping! It’s Twitter or Facebook or G+ or email…), then repeat the cycle. Breathe. Relax. Walk around my chair, across the house, down the street – whatever it takes. Again. And again.

To keep from losing my writing time to the tyranny of the urgent and the monkey brain, I’ve resorted to making bargains with myself: grade three papers, then work on the novel for ten minutes (see FB group above!), then three more papers…Ping!

One task at a time. One step at a time.


How do you cope with overload?

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. ~ Buddha

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