Purple Monkey

Here is a thought experiment that explores self-regulation and mindfulness. This jolt does not require any supplies or equipment and uses only 45 seconds of time.


Ask the participants to focus their attention on imaginary purple monkeys. After 45 seconds, conclude this thought experiment and debrief the experience of focusing one’s attention.


To explore difficulties associated with focusing your attention even for a brief period.


  • Minimum: 1
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 10 to 30


2 minutes for the activity. 5 minutes for debriefing.


Brief the participants. Explain that this activity does not require any supplies or equipment. It does not involve talking or writing. It is a self-regulation exercise that requires focusing your thoughts for a very short period.

Provide background information. Give these instructions in your own words:

You are going to write and publish an illustrated children’s book about purple monkeys. Your task is to come up with details about these playful and cuddly creatures. Think about what makes these purple monkeys adorable to children. What do the monkeys look like? How do they amuse themselves and their friends?

For the next 45 seconds focus your attention on the purple monkeys. Think about them without writing or talking. Avoid all distractions. Close your eyes if you want to. Focus your attention on purple monkeys.

I will let you know when your 45 seconds are up.

Begin timing. Start your stop watch or timer. Do not talk until the 45 seconds are up.

Conclude the session. At the end of 45 seconds, announce, “Time’s up.” Pause for the participants to return to reality.

Debrief the participants. Use these types of questions:

  • How much of the 45 seconds did you focus your attention on purple monkeys?
  • Were you distracted by external noise and movements?
  • Did you indulge in multithinking—thinking about different things? Were you distracted by thoughts that were not related to purple monkeys?
  • Were you distracted by past events?
  • Were you distracted by future plans?
  • Would it have been easier if you were asked to focus your attention on some other topic that is more relevant?
  • Would it have been easier to control your attention if you were all alone by yourself?
  • If you were to do this thought experiment again, what strategies would you use to focus your attention?

Learning Points

  1. It is difficult to focus our attention even for a brief period.
  2. We distract ourselves with thoughts aboutpast and future events.