A Story About Trains

This story originally appeared in the course notes for the NLP Practitioner Programme. It is a metaphor about the mental strategies which people get stuck in. To engage in personal change means changing our habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. That is the power of NLP and Hypnosis; they provide us with the capacity to change the habits of a lifetime.

Once, or maybe twice, in a dream, I was sitting on a railway platform, waiting for a train. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. There were primroses on the embankment and the grass was very green and vivid. There were various trains pulling in and out of the station at other platforms, but this was my platform and I felt no inclination to move.

Then a train pulled up in front of me and I climbed aboard. The train was colder and quite dark inside and there was a musty, somewhat familiar smell, as of a very old railway carriage. I sat down and closed my eyes and the train rattled along in a rhythmic and reassuringly familiar way.

When I opened my eyes a few minutes or hours or days later, I found myself coming into a station. It was not an attractive station. People at the station appeared to be tense and some were even arguing. As I got out of the train a strangely familiar and aggressive voice shouted at me and I felt I was being accosted by someone who knew me all too well. The sky grew very dark and it started to rain. I pulled my coat around me but as I did so, I realised how cold it was and I started to shiver. In fact, I got a really uncomfortable feeling in my throat coming all the way up from my stomach and I wished I had stayed at home. I was at the wrong station. Somehow I had gotten on the wrong train.

I awoke from the dream and went about my business in a depressed and somewhat irritable mood for the rest of the day.

That night I had the same dream. I was sitting on a railway platform, waiting for a train. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. There were primroses on the embankment and the grass was very green and vivid. There were various trains pulling in and out of the station at other platforms, but this was my platform and I felt no inclination to move.

Then a train pulled up in front of me and I climbed aboard. The train was colder and quite dark inside and there was a musty, somewhat familiar smell, as of a very old railway carriage. I sat down and just as I was about to close my eyes I suddenly wondered whether I was on the wrong train again. I stayed awake, in my dream, and watched the countryside rolling by. The sun grew dimmer and went behind a big black cloud. The familiar stations rolled by and then just after we went through a junction I realised something was wrong. The rain was teeming down and it was hard to see clearly, but I had a sense that the train had turned in the wrong direction. I was conscious of going East instead of South. I got up and went to ask the guard where the train was going. When he told me I had a sinking feeling which then became a really uncomfortable feeling in my throat coming all the way up from my stomach and I wished I had stayed at home.

There was something strangely familiar about the guard. It was as if I had met him before. In fact, it was as if I had known him all my life.

I awoke from the dream and went about my business in a depressed and somewhat irritable mood for the rest of the day.

That night I dreamt the same dream. I got on the wrong train again and this time, in a fit of temper, as we stopped to take on more passengers, I got off the train and went to the driver’s cab and demanded to know why the train was going the wrong way. The driver looked down at me from his cab and smiled. He too looked very familiar, as if I had known him all my life. He spoke in a strangely predictable way and simply said. ‘This is your train, sir’, almost as if I was somehow responsible for everything.

Despondent, and with the now familiar feeling rising in my stomach up to my throat, once again, I wished I had stayed at home. I awoke from the dream and went about my business in a depressed and somewhat irritable mood for the rest of the day.

That night I dreamt as usual, only this time I was determined to find out what was really happening. I checked the train was the right train on the screen and I even went and asked the guard and the driver, before I got on board. I went to my compartment and folded my arms, determined to stay awake and watch for any signs of the train going the wrong way.

As I sat there I started to think about the guard and driver. They seemed so familiar to me now and I was convinced I knew them both really well. Just as I was about to remember where I had met them, I realised the train had gone through the junction and was again heading in the wrong direction. Furiously, I stuck my head out of the window to yell at the driver, but the noise of the train drowned out my cries. I looked up at the signal box as we went across the points and noticed the signal man in his signal box. To my surprise he waved at me and I knew I had seen him before as well.

I sat back perplexed. The bad feeling began to rise from my stomach to my throat and then suddenly a voice in my head said ‘NO! I’m not doing this anymore’. I took a deep breath and relaxed. As I did so, I suddenly realised that the guard was familiar because the guard was me!

I went to find the guard and sure enough, it was as though I was looking in a mirror. I asked the guard what I should do and he said it would be necessary to talk to the driver.

At the next station I got off the train and went to the driver’s cab and once again I was not totally surprised when I realised that the driver was also me. I asked the driver if I could drive the train from now on and he said that ‘I could…..’

He said it in a strangely hesitant way though, as if this might not be such a good idea, but I ignored this and decided that the next night I would get into the driver’s cab and take control of the train. I awoke and went through the day feeling a bit irritable but also somehow more positive. Now, at last I was in control of these strange dreams.

That night I dreamt again and the dream followed the usual sequence except that I took control of the train and became the driver.

Everything felt so much better and a sense of lightness and even enthusiasm permeated my shoulders and arms and I felt warm and happy all over. The feel of the controls in my hands, the smell of the firebox and the reassuring clanking sounds of the engine seemed to spur me on and I knew that I had solved the problem.

Imagine then, my horror, as we passed the signal box and I found the train taking the wrong line and heading off in the now depressingly familiar, but wrong direction. As I leant out of the cab to gawp in dismay at where we were heading I looked up once more and saw the signalman wave to me from the signal box. Immediately I realised that I too was the signalman and that I was going to have to go to the signal box because the signal box was where the real control lay.

The following night I dreamt of getting into a taxi before my train left the station. I climbed up the steps to the signal box and introduced myself to the signal man whom I realised now, was definitely just another part of me. He agreed that I would need to set the points in a new direction if my train was to go where I wanted it to go but he said that I would need to get permission from the railway authorities.

Naturally I was somewhat deflated and disappointed. I thought I had made the right decision and that it was simply a matter of changing the points. But now I realised that to change the points I was going to have to persuade the railway authorities to change the schedule first.

The following night I dreamt of going up to London to negotiate a new schedule with the railway authorities. Fortunately the train arrived in London at the right station and on time, although I did think it could have got there sooner if it had gone via a different route.

I explained to the railway controller, whom it will not surprise you to know, was me, what I wanted to do. He said that he understood and that he sympathised but that he could not change the schedule because many other people, like me relied upon that route to take them to other stations which were really useful and attractive in other circumstances. He believed that changing the schedule could cause people like me all kinds of problems in other aspects of their lives… but he did have an alternative suggestion.

He told me that there was another train which left two minutes after my train and which took a much faster and pleasantly scenic route. The great thing about this train was, not only would it take me to where I wanted to go in the mornings, but it would also get there much faster and use a lot less energy. So this was, ecologically speaking, a much better option.

I was stunned. It had not occurred to me that I had not thought to get on the best train all these years. The following night, in my dream, I was sitting on the railway platform, waiting for my new train. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. There were primroses on the embankment and the grass was very green and vivid. There were various trains pulling in and out of the station at other platforms, but this was my platform and I felt no inclination to move.

Then a train pulled up in front of me. It was the old train. As soon as it arrived and stopped in front of me I smiled and focused on the warmth of the sun. There was no way I was getting on this train today. It felt a little odd as I watched the train puff away from the station – almost as though I was saying goodbye to an old, but wayward friend.

Sure enough, a few minutes later another train puffed into the station and stopped in front of me. I climbed on board and noticed with pleasure the new smells. The upholstery was all brand new and the windows of the carriages gleamed in the sunlight. I sat down and immediately fell into a deep sleep. When I opened my eyes after what seemed like a few moments, but was in fact over an hour later, I saw we were pulling into my station. I leapt from the train and was immediately basking in glorious sunshine. I could hear the birds singing and I noticed people around me were smiling and laughing. I walked from the station to my office and felt really motivated. The day flashed by and I achieved more that day than I had achieved for a long time…a long, long time.

That night I dreamt of being on a grassy embankment, languishing in the sunshine and smelling the primroses. The station had gone and there were no longer any trains. As I lay in the grass I closed my eyes and when I opened them I was already at my desk in my office feeling incredibly motivated and happy.

From that day to this I never dreamt of trains again but only of sunshine.

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