Reality Check: Off the Rails?

The opportunity to spend time with our thoughts can be marvellous. It’s a chance to examine our lives and our relationships. We can think about what we want and where we want to go. We could look at the choices we’ve been making, and whether they are leading us toward where we want to go or whether we might want to make some changes.
On the other hand, the opportunity to spend time in introspection can also be upsetting. We might spend our time ruminating about past difficulties and resentments. Maybe we are filled with fearful thoughts about the future and we envision our prospects and situations pessimistically.
Life is full of those double-edged swords, isn’t it?
In more usual times, many of us don’t spend much time alone with our thoughts. Normal times are busy times; not a lot of time to think.
When we spend time with family and friends and go out to events and celebrations, we satisfy our needs for love, belonging, freedom, and fun. Those activities can distract us from reflective thoughts about our lives.
Is spending more time with reflective thoughts helpful or unhelpful? It depends on what you think about, doesn’t it? If you spend a lot of time thinking discouraging or resentful thoughts, you’ll likely act differently than if you spend your time thinking positively about your present and future situation.
Thus, what we think about has real consequences for our lives.
How so? Have you ever noticed any actions that you take when your thoughts go to unhappy places? Examples could be indulging a little too much in comfort food or vegging out in front of the TV. Some people choose drugs or alcohol that take the mind off our thoughts for a while but don’t contribute long-term benefit. Scrolling through social media can distract us from our thoughts, but can also result in outrage, sadness, resentment, and confusion.
Different actions lead to different real-world results.
What can you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut of negative thinking? A change of action can help, especially action that requires effort. That could be effortful physical action or mental action. Either one, when it requires effort, can get you out of your thinking rut.
However, it’s not always practical to take off for a strenuous hike whenever you find your thoughts sliding into unhappy territory. You might find that creating a mental picture can help instead.
Dr. Robert Wubbolding, in “Reality Therapy, a Metaphorical Approach,” suggests that a steering wheel is a useful metaphor for changing direction in your life. Turning the steering wheel slightly doesn’t make much difference in your direction over the short term. However, if you maintain even a tiny turn of the wheel over the long term, it will literally turn your life around.
Try picturing your unhelpful thoughts as your steering wheel. Deliberately choose to change their direction, even minutely. It may be worth a try.
Another metaphor is to consider your “train” of thought as a train. Literally. Picture a train. Your thought train is headed in a certain direction. Is that the direction that you want to go? If not, picture your train as having temporarily jumped “off the rails.” You can bring it back on. Reset its direction. Deliberately get your train of thought back on its track.
What we think about and where we focus has an impact on our outlook and our happiness. When we find our thoughts leading us to unhelpful places, it’s easy to say “I’ll choose to change my thoughts.” It’s not necessarily easy to do, but for some people, mental pictures can help take back control.
Have you used mental pictures to keep yourself on track? What pictures do you find helpful?

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