Your Top Ten Destructive Thought Patterns

Thoughts are so pervasive we sometimes barely know they are there. They are ever powerful, exploding in our heads and, once we decide to follow them, dragging us along on a disorienting, dizzying trip through our imaginary worlds. When we step off the ride, it can happen that our emotional condition is completely altered. Looking around ourselves, nothing has actually changed — that clock on the wall is still ticking, the people are still chatting and gesticulating happily. But we could cry, or scream, or punch the wall.

Our MBSR homework for this week was to pay attention to our own personal Top Ten Negative Thought Trains that sweep through our heads.

We were instructed to first identify the trains and then label them with our choice of wording, all the while consciously watching ourselves getting on and off them to observe what emotional and physical state they leave us with.

Learning more and more to attentively register a certain type of thought but not to hop on the wagon for the ride (by diving into its world, letting it take over our being, making us identify with it, spinning it further), we were asked to try stepping away so as to watch the train race by freely. Practitioners of meditation and mindfulness will know how relieving and liberating this simple and effective strategy can be.

It is, for once, easier than it sounds. I find that in most cases, once I have recognized and labeled the thought, the distance to it is already created. Simply detecting a recurring destructive thought pattern (without actually making any effort to also step away from it!) already helps dis-identifying. The distance created then gives us room — to remain emotionally stable, to (not) respond to situations by choice, to alter our happiness levels drastically.

Yesterday I found my heart pounding frantically whilst waiting for my emails to load; I suddenly realized that this was the case, labeled the feeling “fear” and, by observing with an honest and non-judgmental interest what it did to me and my body, I was able to disengage from the fear and embrace myself with compassion. Instead of the sensation of rushing blood pumping uncontrollably through my veins, I felt warmth and softness flood my body.

I have, so far, identified 5 of my trains, most of them jump-starting and rolling over me immediately after I open my eyes in the morning. This is, by the way, an easy and interesting exercise to do: next time you wake up and start your day, set yourself a timer for ten minutes later and go on with your usual morning routine. Once it rings, check in with yourself: where have your thoughts already been today? As I have written in my previous post about mindfulness whilst showering (or making a sandwich), it is quite possible that you have already insulted your boss, re-lived that traumatizing accident or paid a million bills.

In the hope that it will perhaps help somebody else recognize the one or other of their personal top ten thought trains, here are mine (again, only 5 so far, but no worries, I am pretty sure I’ll find 5 more…).

Top Ten Megaton Thought Trains

  1. Painting Future Scenarios. Big time!!
    (Anxiously, so as to protect myself from them IF they hit me for real).
  2. “I Should”.
    (Presence Matters just wrote an excellent post on this particular thought train.)
  3. Premature Verdict of Failure.
    (“Knowing” already after getting up that I will never get to do everything I “should” do).
  4. “I Should Have.”
    (In the evening, after the “I should” becomes “Arrrgh, I AGAIN didn’t manage to do this.”)
  5. Haste.
    While getting the dishes done, walking to the bus stop, or unpacking groceries. WHY?