Is that my monkey?

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When I first heard this Polish saying I thought it was brilliant! It’s so easy to get pulled into other people’s drama. It’s nice to have a reminder of what is and isn’t mine to deal with.

But what about self-drama? What things are coming from my brain that just aren’t true? “I’m not creative.” “I have no self-discipline.” “I can’t do that because of my background.” There is a lot of poo being flung around a lot of monkey minds because we mistake these messages for truth just because we think them.

We have talked about the idea of being creative or not in previous posts, and I will continue to discuss it in future posts. For the next, I’d like to quote Blake Boles from The Art of Self-Directed Learning: “Self-discipline isn’t some universal attribute that you either have or don’t. It’s a product of matching your actions to the work that’s most important in your life.” So if you can’t get started on a project, think about if you would feel worse if you never did it because a part of you would die, or if you’re doing this because of someone else’s circus needs. If it’s not your monkey, go find your circus and dedicate yourself to that.

Even bigger – we’re talking chimpanzee size, not spider monkey – is having a fixed or growth mindset. To quote Boles quoting Carol Dweck:

“People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that….So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things – not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan – without years of passionate practice and learning.”

Can you imagine living all your life believing that you can’t get any better? Why would you even try? If your brain is telling you that no amount of effort will make a difference, you might as well watch tv instead. But what if that’s not true? What if your effort could make a huge difference? What if the monkey you have in front of you can be trained? What if, when you find the thing that lights you up, you treat all setbacks as learning opportunities and just keep working towards making it happen? You could do anything you wanted to do.

You can do anything you want to do. (Navigating the abyss of freedom to figure out what you want to do is another post for another day.) Here are some keys (again from Boles) to help keep you moving forward when your brain gives you messages that you’re stuck:

Instead of:                  Use:

  • I can’t                           I could if I…
  • I should                        I choose to
  • I don’t know               I’ll find out
  • I wish                            I’ll make a plan
  • I hate                             I prefer
  • I have to                       I get to

One nice thing about a list like this is that you can listen for the first column of phrases to show up in your thinking and talking. It’s like a little reminder. Oh yeah, I could say “I choose to” instead of “I should.” What is it I think I should do? Do I choose to? Why or why not? What do I think would be better?

It also gives us a chance to use divergent thinking. Maybe I can’t right now, but I could if… what? What do I need to go forward? Is it something I can do for myself? ‘I could if I read a book.’ Or do I need to get help? ‘I could if I could find a professional monkey trainer to help me.’ What if you could come up with dozens of options? Not just one way forward, but so many that you have the freedom to pick the ways that feel best and have multiple ways forward? Not just climbing the ladder of success, but as Sheryl Sandberg puts it, climbing the jungle gym of success, sometimes sideways to find another way up? Your options are only limited by your vision.

What is your monkey mind telling you? Whose circus is that message coming from? You have endless possibilities inside you. Don’t let those monkeys smear you!

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