Thought Trains

Our thoughts are a bit like trains. Trains can be helpful when they take us where we want to go. Our thoughts, too, can lead us in the direction of things that are meaningful, such as when we solve problems or create things.

Sometimes, however, we miss the stop and our thought train travels to a distant location far from our desired station. In fact, sometimes we don’t even realise that we have boarded the thought train until we have journeyed into rough and dangerous neighbourhoods, like Rumination Ruin or Worry Way.

The trick is to stop giving energy to our thoughts when we notice that we’ve mounted the thought train. We do this by taking control of our awareness. It’s like stepping back onto the station platform to observe our thoughts as they pass by, instead of being entangled in them.

For a short while we can even rest at the station watching the thought trains as they come and go. The more we practice awareness training, the better we get at this.

Of course, when we do inevitably board the train, the skill is to acknowledge this without judging ourselves and to gently disembark. For self-judgement is just another train with the potential to lead us far from the platform of this moment.

Mindful reflections

  • Which thought trains do you typically board? (e.g., the “Worry Train”, the “Rumination Train”, the “Self-criticism Train”, the “Judgement Train”, the “Mind Reading Train”.)
  • How much time do you spend on these thought trains?
  • To which destinations do these thought trains take you: that is, what is the impact on your emotions, your actions, your relationships, and your life?

Thought Train Mindfulness

Here is an ultra quick exercise that can be used in the moment whenever you find yourself caught up in unhelpful trains of thought. The more you practice it, the easier it will become to let go of unproductive thought patterns.

  • When you notice that you have become caught up in an unhelpful ‘train of thought’ take a moment to recognise and let go of these thoughts by silently naming the train (e.g.,“Worry Train”, “Rumination Train”, “Self-criticism Train”, or simply “Thought Train”).

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About The Author


Dr Elliot Gerschman is a clinical psychologist who consults privately at his Melbourne based practice, Satisfied Mind, focusing on adult clinical psychology, mindfulness, and chronic pain management. He completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and his professional interests include emotional intelligence coaching, meaning-centred therapy, and developing smart-phone psychology applications.

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