Have you ever wondered where the phrase ‘train of thought’ comes from?
It’s a nice metaphor — a thought is barreling down the tracks of our minds, and then, sometimes, it derails (“I’ve lost my train of thought!”).
We each have hundreds of these trains of thought every day — our internal monologues are chugging along, in our conscious minds and deep in our subconscious.
We’re planning our dinner for the evening, thinking about an upcoming job interview, ruminating about an embarrassing moment — all while we’re supposed to be doing something else.
Recently, I heard the expression “thought trains” and it made me think about the times I have waited at a railroad track crossing, watching boxcar after boxcar pass by...sometimes 100 of them! (yes, I counted them!)
These ‘boxcars’ made me realize: we have thoughts like that! The same thought that replays over and over. It may be the same thought you had yesterday, or perhaps several days before. It's just there. You recognize it. You may even know how it plays out, and what the caboose looks like!
This is a runaway thought ......a thought train! Although we have thousands of thoughts a day, if we take notice, we can group them into ten to twenty thought trains! In other words, we have thoughts that can be grouped together; about relationships, self-opinions, job expectations, etc.
These thought trains can cause havoc in our lives.
Our minds have our own Grand Central Station, with thought trains that keep coming and going. It can be pretty stressful!
However, it’s important to recognize that we are the locomotive. We pull the train on the desired track. And, what goes on in our minds can affect our health!
There isn’t enough time in the day to take all our thought trains. We have to choose. Many of us are in the habit of taking whichever thought train comes first. We just get on board, without knowing where the train is going.
How many perfectly fine mornings have been spoiled by an anxious or depressing thought train that entered our mind, and then derailed us for the next hour? When a negative thought train arrives, we sometimes can’t resist getting on board. We ride this thought train without question, as far as it will go.
But would you do this at an actual train station? Would you just show up, and walk onto the first train that pulls up? I hope not! This would be an incredibly inefficient way to travel! And yet, this is what we do with our thoughts.
So, how do we break the habit, and start navigating our thought trains more efficiently?
Meditation is the practice of sitting in that train station, eyes closed with our mind observing the thought trains coming and going. We’re not getting on any of them — we’re making a conscious decision to just let them pass.
Here’s a simple step-by-step approach: While sitting quietly with eyes closed:
- A thought train comes in.
- Identify it (“I notice I’m having the thought that…”)
- Now watch it leave, without engaging it.
- Repeat this for every thought that enters your mind (start with only a few minutes).
The more we make meditation a part of our daily routine, the more control we will have to let unproductive thought trains pass.
Increase your efficiency
Gandhi summarizes it well: “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”
For Gandhi, meditation was so fundamental to his productivity that he would make it a point to meditate for longer periods of time, when he had the most to do. He understood the power of meditation to help him avoid those divergent thought trains that waste so much of our time and energy.
Even though it’s an investment up-front, meditation can help free up more time to do the things that matter most. We don’t have to meditate as much as Gandhi to see the benefits. Five, ten, or fifteen minutes daily can be enough to increase our focus and control our thought processes — to help us find the thought train we want to be on.
Meditation isn’t a cure-all. But it is a valuable tool. Our realities are affected by our perception, which means the thought trains we choose can have a major influence on our quality of life.
Negative thought trains create negative thinking patterns that are reinforced with more energy every time you get on that train. If you’re a person that constantly gets on the wrong train of negativity, and you’re someone that believes negative things about yourself, this energy will be directed into your life.
People can become ill as a result of constant negative thoughts. Anxiety, chronic stress and depression are linked to negative thought trains. Negative thinking has a detrimental effect on the body, mind and quality of life.
We have to learn to discipline ourselves to select the ‘right’ train, so that our lives will be positive and fruitful.
Visualize your mind as the garden we spoke about last month, planting seeds of flowers or weeds, positive or negative thoughts, and watch them grow.
“Real, constructive mental power lies in the creative train of thought that shapes your destiny, and your hour-by-hour mental conduct produces power for change in your life. Develop a train of thought on which to ride. The nobility of your life as well as your happiness depends upon the direction in which that train of thought is going. “Dr. Lawrence Peter (1972). “The Peter Prescription: How to Make Things Go Right”
You have the power to choose a train that will make life more stressful, thereby, bringing on illness; or the train that takes you on the road of peace, health and wellness.
Take back your power! You are in control of your thoughts, your life and your happiness!