Mirren was delighted but not surprised to hear that a study, published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, had found striking differences between the ways that men’s and women’s brains are wired to work.
The study reported that on average men are more likely to be better at learning and performing a single task, such as navigating.
Women, meanwhile, were more likely to have superior memory and social cognition skills — making them better equipped for multi-tasking and creating solutions which could work for a group.
During a typical morning at her day job while dealing with emails, and using the time management principle of not handling the same metaphorical piece of paper twice, Mirren engages with a bewildering variety of topics. She performs the necessary actions of replying, phoning, following up, filing, checking, summarising, forwarding and best of all – binning – all the while operating an open door policy liberally used by staff requiring answers to a myriad of questions, all likely to begin with one of the following phrases
Where is …?
Do you remember what we were going to do about …?
Can I…? and
Would you mind just ….?
Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, her monkey mind is still roving the territory of medical practice. Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, Buddha said, with dozens of monkeys all clamouring for attention. Fear is an especially loud monkey, sounding the alarm incessantly, pointing out all the things we should be wary of and everything that could go wrong.
None of this internal chattering, worrying and replaying of the day helps when it comes to switching to her other life as a writer.
So what to do?
Up in The Isle of Lewis, when working on debut novel Eight of Cups, Mirren would go for a 45 minute walk every morning after breakfast. In a place where you can literally hear no sound other than nature (often the battering of the rain on the road!) she found the interlude helped her empty and still her monkey mind, and allow the germination and rumination of creative ideas.
Now living in Strathmore, and particularly at this time of the year, she stays in the warmth of her writing shed and practises a yoga breathing technique, concentrating solely on that one thing – no multi-tasking. And hopefully banishing the monkey mind!