“The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Thoughts are like trains passing through your mind. You can either let the train go by, silently watching it flow through, or you can jump on the train of thought, allowing it to bring you to a destination. Some trains go to happy places: warm memories, future dreams, gratitude, present surroundings. Others go to places of misery: regret, worry, resentment, complaints. Be aware of what train you jump on. When you pay attention to trains of thought, they grow stronger and come more often. Begin to be aware of how your thoughts affect your moods. Ask yourself, “Where is this train going?” Then you can either stay on it or jump off!
The optimal goal is not to allow ourselves to indulge in trains of thought that lead to misery and suffering. But since this takes time to master, most of us will occasionally find ourselves on a self-destructing train of thought. To maintain peace of mind, we must learn how to jump from negative trains to happy trains.
There are many ways to change your train of thought. One of the easiest is to bring your awareness back to the present moment. Use the ABCs of redirecting attention. A- Awareness B- Breathe C- Choose. Take one or two slow, deep breaths. Pay attention to your surroundings; concentrate on feeling your body sensations, sights, sounds, and smells. When you are fully present, your mind will not be thinking about past trauma, today’s complaints, or tomorrow’s worries. You will be in the now, fully aware and free to experience life outside your head until you choose to jump onto a more pleasant train of thought. Practice being aware of what train you are riding, and jump trains as necessary. The more you practice, the easier it will be, until one day it will be second nature. The less attention you pay to the negative trains of thought, the less often they will come to mind and the quicker they will pass through, eventually not coming much at all.
By redirecting your attention, you have the ability to jump off negative trains of thought.
Practice jumping trains of thought.
When you become aware that you are riding on a negative train of thought, jump off. Practice bringing your awareness back to the present moment. Take a slow, deep breath. Engage in the sensory input around you. Stay present as long as possible. Engage in your life as it is unfolding before you. Become an active participant in your surroundings. Eventually, pick a happier train of thought to ride. Choose trains like gratitude, future dreams, or compassion.
Be patient with yourself during this training phase. It’s been a lifetime riding on the same unhappy trains over and over. It will take some time to lay new train tracks. Any amount of effort you give this exercise will pay off as it will raise your awareness and hone your ability to focus your attention at will.