I Stopped The Monkey Brain (at Least for an Afternoon)

takeawalkI wonder what you call it when you’re doing too much and your frenetic mind takes over. My mom uses the term over-functioning. I once heard a therapist name it the monkey brain. Me? I like to describe as it as kicking into machine mode. Whatever your words, I hope the experience happens once in a while and hasn’t become your lifestyle.

Seeeeee the pretty flowers. They want you to come visit. But first you must venture outside. Get ouuuuut. See them. Go.

Sure, we’re all busy, but I’m referring to a specific phenomenon here. It’s the one where your task list becomes so important you positively cannot stop. Not even for a meal, or god forbid, a bathroom break. When you work so steadily, guilt creeps in whenever you happen to pause.

Five years ago, I lived thoroughly entrenched in this state. I’d been there so long I thought fixing everything was up to me. At home, at work. Wherever I went. (Doesn’t everyone show up as a first-timer to a group activity, then walk out having agreed to run the next meeting? Ummm, no.) I had my reasons, of course. My circumstances asked a lot of me, and I had to step up.


Seeeee the path. You can do it. You know you want to. Goooo outside.

Guess what I learned, though? Keep at the frenzied state long enough, and it’ll turn on you. You’ll be reminded you’re still human when your body or mind opts for some downtime. (In my case it turned out to be a little of both.) And when this happens, you’ll need to learn a new way.

You’ll have no choice but to find a new sense of timing, a new set of habits, a new way to look at your world, and–most importantly–a new way to care for yourself. Now, I’m grateful to say I’m better at all this. The monkey still plays in my head sometimes, but when it starts talking, I’ve learned how to dampen its sound.

Stay inside and work incessantly, or come out and see this?

There’s no single cure for over-functioners like me. But last weekend I used a favorite trick: getting out of my head and onto a walk. I’d been working on a project for hours, maximizing productivity time. It’d gone well, but I sensed a shift into machine mode. Effectiveness was growing surly. It was time for a break. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll take a walk. Perfect chance to catch up on my podcasts.” I’m slowly building a side gig, and my Stitcher feed’s filled with entrepreneurship ones (like the well-executed Fuel to Launch).

I wish I could say my yard had a scene like this, all magazine-y and cute. But, hey, it is in my neighborhood, so I get to enjoy it all the same. What treasures can be found in your hood?
I wish I could say my yard had a scene like this, all magazine-like and cute. But, hey, it is in my neighborhood, so I get to enjoy it all the same. What treasures can be found in your hood?

Still, as I prepped for this walk, my grumpiness grew. I’d suited up, but my podcast wouldn’t download. Not the one I wanted, anyway. Not fast enough. Dangit, I wanted to hear that one, not this one. Why couldn’t I get it to work? Why was it being so SLOW? I needed that podcast, and I needed it NOW. Rhar! What’s wrong with this thing, anyway?

I felt the monkey brain taking over. I’d gone from seeking a break to forcing a project. To jamming more learning into an already-full head. Not wanting to waste another minute, I capitulated. I settled on a podcast I wasn’t in the mood for, but that was already downloaded on my device. I sulked a little, then hit the local trail. Fifteen minutes later, I was still tense. The second-choice podcast had annoyed me at every step.

See the lovely, all bright and orangey.

And that’s when it happened. Somehow I wised up. A tiny voice said, “Turn off the iPod.” “But it’s attached to my arm,” I countered.” “How can I possibly be outside with this thing, and not even listen to it?” “Turn it off,” repeated the voice. And so I did. Pressing pause felt blasphemous somehow, but I did it anyway.

I resumed my walk. After a few quiet minutes, I began to look around. Leaves rustled, and I started hearing songbirds. I noticed the scent of earth, awakened by recent rain. Before long, my body relaxed. No longer consumed by the need to strategize every second, I spotted beauty all around me.

I took this one just for fun. At an un-spectacular spot, I challenged myself to compose an attractive shot.

Artistry was everywhere, and I wanted to stop and capture it. And that’s just it. I had to STOP to capture it. Stop the rushing. Stop the sound. Stop the planning. Even stop the learning, beneficial as it may be. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop and let the world come in.

Capturing these droplets gave me unexpected joy.
Capturing these droplets gave me unexpected joy.

Soon I lost myself in the experience. All that mattered was each scene in front of me. That, and capturing the light. A droplet of water, perched just so, took on new importance. For the first time all day, moments replaced minutes. Enjoying the scenery, without any agenda or goal, brought peace.

In the end, I don’t know how long I spent taking photos. And you want to know what? I’m proud to say I don’t care.

Are you an over-functioner, too? In what ways do you take care of yourself?

37 thoughts on “I Stopped The Monkey Brain (at Least for an Afternoon)

  1. Frazzled… or… I’m a Frazzled Mess. Those are the terms I use. I have less of it in retirement but it still creeps up on me. It lurks in the shadows… ha ha ha! I am task oriented but I will say, I do stop and smell the roses much more frequently then I have ever done before!
    Right now I am in the Midwest visiting family and checking on my Lake House. Family Fun is wonderful but maintenance stuff with the LakeHouse is time consuming and not fun! But I try to keep it all in perspective. I hope to get out and get some pretty pictures of the Lake today… but… it looks like rain. But tomorrow is always a new day!
    Hope all is well with you… I am sure after that long beautiful walk on the comfort trail! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Suzi! I’m really enjoying your blog. Your photos are stunning, and of course, so are your words. I’m the queen of the monkey brain, and have not been taking care to shut it down lately. Heading out to the trails tomorrow!


    1. Oh yeah, this reminds me, Missy, you’ve been a blogger for awhile, haven’t you? I remember learning this before I was into it. Now I’ll check it out! Also, I’m pretty sure I claim the title of Queen of th Monkey Brain, hee hee. :)


  3. I L-O-V-E, love this. Last night my mind raced into over-drive. I couldn’t sleep. I definitely understand and appreciate the benefits of walking. Beautiful photos. I need to learn how to take such lovely pics on my walk. (Note to self: stop that.)


    1. Hi, oncealittlegirl, I can relate to the sleepless nights sometimes. The racing mind is no fun. I so enjoy taking photos; it allows me to immerse myself in the moment. As a few wise commenters pointed out, though, I need to make sure not to turn the photo-taking into yet another PROJECT. :)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Leisa, what a beautiful post. I especially like your last paragraph, including: “Nature is not worried about the future. Nature just is.” Thanks so much for sharing. How lovely to read your perspective on this same topic. Hurrah for online community!


  4. Suzi, I wanted to let you know how much your “neighborhood rambling” has inspired us. Baker had been complaining about walking in the evenings versus biking (which this momma doesn’t do, due to that little bike accident I had in 6th grade). I told him about your blogs on this subject, and proposed that walking would give him a chance to slowly notice all the flora and fauna, and that maybe he should photograph the neighborhood, like Miss Suzi. The first night out, he took pictures of rabbits, deer, flowers, cactus, the moon, you name it. He was thrilled and enchanted by the whole experience. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Suzi! I tried to post a comment from my phone but don’t see it here, so will try again (and sorry if I am duplicating). First, thank you for sharing! I had no idea this was one of those struggles you face. You have always seemed to me a very relaxed, go with the flow person who was unflappable. I’m glad you have started to be aware of and let go of some of the self-imposed stress and guilt. It is tough. I can relate to and have had some of the same experiences
    Beautiful pictures too, but I have another challenge that I think is part of the letting go once in a while. Take that walk again without the camera. I have spent too many walks/hikes/vacations trying to capture what I see through a lens, and sometimes I look back and realize that I don’t enjoy it fully and am not always present. The eyes see so much more than a camera ever will :-)
    Have a great day!


    1. Oh, Joyweesemoll, so true! For me there’s no precise formula for which things are projects (proactive and good) and which become PROJECTS (watch out). Generally it’s a cumulative connection among all of them I have to manage. I have a feeling you understand. ;) Thanks for your note!


  6. Fun post! Love your photos. I like a walk for calming the monkey brain, but I have to be a little careful about taking a camera along — I can turn that into a project, too!


    1. Oh, Joyweesemoll, so true! For me there’s no precise formula for which things are projects (proactive and good) and which become PROJECTS (watch out). Generally it’s a cumulative connection among all of them I have to manage. I have a feeling you understand. ;) Thanks for your note!


  7. Gorgeous photos – you really did have a lovely walk! I’ve never been SUPER achieving, though I did work 2-3 jobs for quite a few years while raising several children. I’ve just reached the point of needing a slower pace…


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