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Deon Newbronner

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Personal development: how to overcome your ‘monkey mind’ and take on a leadership mindset

Much of what we do is instinctive, based on our ‘monkey mind’ - can this be changed?

I’ve always been a chatterbox, but not anymore. The other day I was looking through the boxes in the loft. I was moving house. I needed to get rid of stuff. I came across my report cards from primary school. Oh dear. 

Heading down memory lane I noticed a similarity on almost all of them: “Deon would do better in class, if he paid more attention and was less of a chatterbox.”

The thing is, we’re all chatterboxes. We speak about 16,000 words a day, but we have many more thoughts. It’s our voice of consciousness. It is silent, but tirelessly chatting away. Secretly barraging ourselves with observations, comments, judgements and analysis without pause. We often accept the statements bubbling up from within this river of incessant analysis as the truth. We judge our own book by its cover. We create our own report card assessment.

We experience a complex mixture of evaluations and judgements intensified by emotions, some of these thoughts are positive and helpful. Others are not so helpful. In either case our inner voice is rarely neutral or dispassionate. All this internal chatter is not only misleading, it's exhausting. It’s sapping important mental resources you could put to much better use.

Tame your ‘monkey mind’

It takes time, but simple actions can help you develop self-awareness and move away from using your incessant, negative mindset. Save autopilot responses for driving or brushing your teeth in the morning. Autopilot is great for getting through daily tasks, but that’s where its usefulness ends.

This autopilot mode, mental chatter – or  ‘monkey mind’, as I like to call it – often becomes comfortable. It becomes rigid, inflexible and habitual. We own our over-egged or most awful stories. 

When making quick judgements, we often overvalue the information that is readily available, and undervalue subtleties that might take a while to dig out.

This drives our responses to ideas, things, people and even ourselves, leading to snap judgements such as, ‘this is just the way I am’. Instead, put it on pause and take the time to understand your core values – your standards of behaviour. 

In different situations over the course of a day or a week, see if you can notice that one thing that motivates you to think, feel or act in each experience. It’s important to notice when you’re working on autopilot. Ask yourself, ‘is this useful for me (and others) right now?’

How do we step outside our habitual behaviour?

In order to move away from unhelpful habits that hinder us we have to recognise that our snap impressions can be wrong. They can be based on unfair and inaccurate stereotypes. Once established, they can be tough to reconsider and change. When making quick judgements, we often overvalue the information that is readily available, and undervalue subtleties that might take a while to dig out.

As a leader, encouraging people to bring fresh ideas to the table is essential for productivity. 

In the book Think Fast and Slow by the psychologist Daniel Cayman, he suggests we operate in two basic modes. Self one is typically fast and automatic. It is effortless and often carries a lot of emotional weight. It’s connected to our stories, and in this state we’re on autopilot, using our monkey mind. This is is useful at times. Self two is the slow, sloth-like animal in us. It is deliberate, and requires much more effort and a deeper level of attention. It is more flexible and amenable to rules that we consciously establish. It is a system that allows us to create the space between stimulus and response.

Tapping into this system in the office will create space for new ways of working, new ways of being and generate ideas for the next product development. It can also bring about the agile leadership necessary to create a thriving workplace.

Pushing pre-judgement aside

In the workplace, creating a world where we can thrive is of paramount importance. In my experience, this is about creating a safe environment where individuals are able to experience a range of emotions. Within this, there is a willingness and a commitment from everyone to step outside the habitual habits and ways of doing things, in order to create. By pausing autopilot and taking judgement off the table, we open ourselves up to new ideas, flexibility and adapting to new ways of working. 

As a leader, encouraging people to bring fresh ideas to the table is essential for productivity. Encourage your people to go into everything with an open mind. This will help them grow professionally and personally, beyond their self-determined habits.

Feed forward

Let go of your monkey mind and curtail the chatterbox in all of us by using a ‘feed forward’ mindset. After every interaction, meeting, conversation and decision you make, ask yourself: ‘what did I do well there and should do more of next time? What could I do to improve next time? What am I grateful for in myself?’

In time, you’ll notice that you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone, breaking down habits and toxic thoughts to live in the moment. You’ll become more mentally agile and ultimately be the best version of yourself. Best of all, you’ll dull the chatterbox and your internal report card will become more positive and reflective of reality. Embrace flexibility and openness in the workplace and in your personal life to lead your team and business into the future.

Interested in this topic? Read Personal development: the art of talking to yourself more usefully at work.

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