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Taming Your Monkey Brain: Rationality in Spontaneity

There’s a term for those spontaneous, irrational, sometimes stupid decisions we all make: monkey brain. Monkey brain is that part of your brain that makes in-the-moment decisions, the part that doesn’t consider consequences. It only cares about what it wants in the moment, such as telling you to pull into the Popeye’s drive-thru to get a spicy chicken sandwich even though you’re not hungry. Monkey see monkey do. 


My friends and I spent the summer in full monkey brain mode. This lead us to go on a lot of spontaneous road trips, surprise our friends in different towns, go to New York City “just because,” go to trampoline parks, eat out a ton, and spend a lot of money we didn’t have. It was one of the best summers of my life, and probably the most expensive one. All the while, I worked three jobs, volunteered as a tutor at my local library, and learned how to drive so I could take my road test. Being in full monkey brain, but still having responsibilities I had to take care of, helped me gain an important skill; I was able to tame my monkey brain.


My friends and I never spent more than a few hours planning our day because they were always spontaneous. Just because these plans were spontaneous doesn’t mean we didn’t plan them out. Before doing anything, we made sure to go through what doing something would entail. If it was a road trip, would we get back in town in time to make it to our work shift? If we went to New York, would we have enough money to get around? If we went to see a friend in another town, should we double-check their schedule and figure out what we would do there? One time my friend convinced me to drive to Staten Island really quickly to visit a friend at work, which is almost a two-hour drive away from us. She figured out that if we drove down and only stayed for about half an hour, we could make it back in time for our volunteer tutoring hours at the library. This skill of saying yes to my monkey brain, and applying a rational plan to the spontaneous decision, lead me to making one of the biggest, most spontaneous, and probably the dumbest decisions of my life. 


In about two days, I decided to go to Switzerland and made an entire itinerary for the week I would spend there. I was sitting in class, thinking about how I wanted to do anything other than study for finals, and the next moment I thought about going to Switzerland. I looked up airline prices, saw that they were at an all-time low, looked up prices for hotels, found some relatively cheap ones, figured out how to snag a free public transport pass for the duration of our stay, and two days later my cousin and I bought tickets to Geneva, Switzerland. Even though it was my monkey brain that suggested the idea, and normally I would stop the idea, I did some research and found out that it was way more doable than I thought. Even though it was only a couple of days, my cousin and I got to explore Geneva without spending too much money (and had a popping Instagram feed!). 


Taming your monkey brain simply means giving your spontaneous ideas a chance. If you have an idea that seems fun, and your initial reaction is to say no because it’s too crazy, give it a little more time. Think of ways to manage your time, your budget, and see if a plan starts to come together. You’ll see you’re capable of doing more than you imagined, and being more spontaneous than you thought. 

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Bethany Olive

Montclair '22

Bethany Olive is a sophomore at Montclair State University. She is majoring in both English and Biology, and plans to receive a Teaching Certification in Biology. She also plans to study science writing in the near future.
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