April, which means we are on the fourth book for our Pandemic Book Club, that book club where we try to find mental health amidst over a year of stress, fear, isolation, strife, etc. After a couple religious books and a book about the science and biology of stress, we have now read Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind by Jennifer Shannon. Though only a few years old, it already seems to be a classic of self-help. I have been told by a counselor friend of mine that what Shannon has to say in this book is not exactly new, but emphasizing the “monkey mind” and packaging the concepts this way has made some of the ideas more accessible to the average anxious Joe (or nervous Nellie).
The subtitle here is How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear, and Worry. Just what we need in a pandemic, because there has been more than enough anxiety, fear and worry to go around. Right now, people are even anxious about how they will fit back into society, how they will look friends in the face for the first time, and when they will feel safe to embrace their family. And there are still health and economic fears (and definitely inconvenience and discomfort and even social and political fears). Monkey Mind did deliver on the subtitle, and is a great read for a pandemic like the one we are currently in. Honestly, I can’t think of any person at any time who couldn’t use this book at least some. There are those who really could use this book a lot.
One of my favorite things about Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind are the supplemental resources that can be found online. The links in my copy of the book were not quite correct, but I found it all at jennifershannon.com and printed it out. At eleven pages, front and back (plus some copies I made later of some of the pages), it was well worth it to print out the stuff, especially if you are a hands-on, interactive kind of person like I am. It’s hard for me to take an idea and make it mine without some sort of charting, practicing, maybe even teaching. So I really appreciated reading a chapter and then doing the worksheets that went along with it. Then spending a few days implementing the ideas. Though we were reading this book in a month (and officially, on my reading schedule, it took up a week), this is the kind of book that would be best done with a friend/therapist/support group and at a rate of one chapter per week. That way you have some accountability and also some time to think about things and “practice,” aka. do strange social experiments (mumbling mantras under your breath, taking deep breaths, making strangers look at your messy family room without apologizing or explaining, going on trips without making lists, and performing without taking a backup outfit. Well, that’s partly just me).
I’m going to give you the back-of-the-book copy, to give you a better idea of what this book has to offer, besides just saying cognitive behavioral therapy and your mind is like a monkey and your worries are monkey chatter.
“The very things we do to control anxiety can make anxiety worse. This unique guide offers a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based approach to help you recognize the constant chatter of your anxious “monkey mind”, stop feeding anxious thoughts, and find the personal peace you crave ….
“Written by psychotherapist Jennifer Shannon, this book shows you how to stop anxious thoughts from taking over using proven-effective cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness techniques. By following the exercises in this book, you’ll learn to identify your own anxious thoughts, question those thoughts, and uncover the core fears at play…”
I think it’s a great book. It is written tolerably well and is just barely straightforward enough to a practical person like me. I chuckled at the little illustrations of the pesky monkey and I found the personification of my amygdalae and hormones to be very helpful. It is not very long. It could use to be revisited time and again. As a book, I’m not really singing its praises to the skies, but as a tool with the goal of thriving in mind, I would happily and sometimes even heartily recommend this book.
“We cannot relax and be at peace unless we feel safe” (p6).
“…your monkey mind is always watching and listening to those around you, looking for signals telling you whether you are respected, whether you are loved, and whether you belong” (p8).
“…your anxiety does not define you. It is a distinct part of you that is beyond your direct control” (p13).
“…keeping you alive and safe within your tribe—is best accomplished by eliminating all uncertainty …. From its perspective, the only time it’s safe for you to relax is when you can anticipate and control every outcome” (p17).
“As a result, out daily agenda consists of a hundred little failings that need to be prevented” (p21).
“The only way we can get what we want in life is to override its warnings with our behavior” (p32).
“When you cannot be happy until everything on your list is checked off, you are not allowing much opportunity got yourself to be happy” (p48).
“The default, go-to strategy to fend off anxiety in our everyday lives is, drumroll please… Distraction” (p55).
“When we replace strategies that keep us sage with strategies that help us expand, we disrupt the cycle of anxiety and make new things happen” (p65).
“You must create an expansive mind-set to go with your expansive strategy” (p66).
“All sensation and emotions, even the ones that overwhelm us, have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They will pass like a thunderstorm” (p81).
“Sensations and emotions, too, will burn themselves out and that we don’t need to control them” (p81).
“Remember that when you do welcoming exercises, you are not attempting to get rid of or control the feeling, nor are you trying to like the feeling …. Breathe in to accept the feeling. Breathe out to let go of control” (p89).
“We try to be certain, to be perfect, to please others, but these are poor substitutes for the real purpose of being alive” (p105).
“…we learn best when we are consistently rewarded for what we are doing right” (p132).
“Praise everything about your practice except the outcome!” (p137).
“As you become less limited by the monkey’s bias toward safety and more resilient to its alarms of perceived threats, you will begin to take the risks necessary to meet your larger personal goals” (p145).
“The ability to tolerate your own necessary [negative] feelings is a superpower” (p147).
“Trying to feel good is feeding the monkey. Just let these pleasant feelings flow through you, like you let the unpleasant ones flow through” (p149).
NOTE: I happened to be reading this book while also reading Wired for Love by Stan Tankin (a relationship/marriage book) and Winning the War in Your Mind by Crain Groeschel (the Christian version of all this, as a sermon series). These three fit together nicely, covering the same topics with different angles.