The Monkey on your back

We are often weighed down by overthinking things that are not in our direct control. Whether they are past events, outcomes that we didn’t wish for, or treatment by others that we deem inappropriate.

Could I have changed the outcome of events?

Could I have done something differently?

This type of overthinking is often called carrying a monkey on your back.

Some people like their monkey. It keeps them company. They keep looking over their shoulder, patting their monkey regularly, so they don’t need to look too far ahead, or at themselves. Monkeys are a distraction, and the more monkeys you carry around, the more distractions you have from the real tasks of life.

We can spend so much time turning over scenarios and wringing our hands over these thoughts, that it paralyses us from moving forward. In fact, such overthinking almost seems to be a subconscious anchor that is trying to stop us from moving forward. Like its sister procrastination, it is a type of self sabotage.

I talked about a recent film I watched by Brian Rose of London Real, called Re-connect. Brian is a very hard working man with a brilliant show, but he found his highly competitive nature began to cause burnout, as well as family problems. So he decided to take some time out and go to an Ayahuasca retreat to consult his deep subconscious for some spiritual enlightenment and advice.

He basically learned that he should spend more time with the people that matter. Pretty reasonable. Maybe even obvious. But the break would have done him some good anyway. Upon his return, things seemed a little better for a while, but then his drive and ambition pulled him back off course, which frustrated him even more.

He kept sensing that this drive was the result of feeling unloved by his parents, as they went through their divorce. So he decided to visit and interview them, hoping for some closure. I didn’t get a sense that it made any real difference, and his father in particular put things succinctly and elegantly to him as only fathers really can. It wasn’t at all clear that he got much out of it, or that it did much to change his attitude.

The film finishes with him putting on a huge conference, working around the clock, with only a symbolic snippet of him playing with his kids. It was as though he had done all this soul searching, given himself extra work and a new angle to exploit for his program, and was right back where he started, working his butt off, and still not stopping to smell the roses (excuse the pun).

To me this really illustrates the problem with the monkey on our back. Instead of constantly thinking about WHY our life is the way it is, we need to take real action – on the knowledge that was right there, at the first instance, all along. Brian didn’t need to do an ayahuasca ceremony to get to the truth. He didn’t need to set up an elaborate interview program with his folks to better understand his childhood issues. He just needed to take some regular time off work, and devote some attention to giving his family the affection he already wanted to give them, but held back on.

I’m a notorious primatologist. I can carry some pretty hefty simians at times. During my separation and for some time since my divorce, I’ve had some 400 pound gorillas piggy-back me till I could barely stand up. I know that many of you are the same. Fathers especially think its their mission in life to solve problems. But some problems are best solved through leadership, action, and in the words of the Stoics: “allowing yourself to be guided by the fates, rather than be dragged along by them”.

Set your monkeys free, before they poo all over you.


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