A brief word of advice. If you are hanging out with your family and need to catch a train home, make sure you allocate extra time to say goodbye. It takes longer than you think.
Having spent the evening at my cousins’ house, I plan to go home on the final train of the night. I start my goodbyes twenty minutes before the train comes – ten minutes to bid farewell, six minutes to get a ride to the train station, and a few minutes to wait for the train to arrive.
That’s not quite how it works out.
i will catch this train
nothing else remains at all
important to me
It’s fun talking with people you love. And as I say my goodbyes, I enjoy a few extra conversations. By the time I make it out the door, I have five minutes until the train’s scheduled arrival. It’s going to be tight.
My dad and I pull out of the driveway. It’s late at night, and there’s not much traffic. We make good time.
Approaching the station, we see the flashing lights of the railway crossing. We’re on the wrong side of the tracks, and there’s no chance of getting across before the train comes.
In the span of a few seconds, I debate my options.
I could let the train go by and get a ride home with my dad. But that would make a late night for both of us.
I could have him drive me part of the way, and I could catch a different train. But neither of us have a map or know exactly how to get there. That would also make a late night for both of us.
Or I could run for it. If worse comes to worse, I miss the train and have to go with a different option. I decide to go for it.
I jump out of the car, say a quick goodbye to my dad, and approach the tracks. The train eases into the station. Brakes screech, and the train is still. Go.
Making a quick glance down the other train track to make sure another train isn’t approaching, I take off running. Onto the tracks – rough and uneven beneath my feet. Around the engine – it’s roar filling my ears as I race past. One final stretch to go.
In the distance I see the last passengers boarding the train. Just the conductor remains outside. The open door is fifty feet away.
on its single track
the train does not veer at all
to the right or left
Later, as I reflect on the situation, I’m struck by how single-minded I became. Everything else faded away. All that mattered was that I got onto that train.
There’s power in such focus. It lets you direct all your resources to the task and goal ahead of you. It allows you to achieve results that you may otherwise not be able to do.
And in some situations that power is necessary. You may need to run from an attacker. You may need to escape a crazed monkey. You may need to catch the last train on a Sunday night.
But there’s a cost.
The cost is that you ignore everything around you. As I ran for that train, it didn’t matter what it took. It didn’t matter that I had to say a hurried goodbye to my dad. It didn’t matter that I had cross the tracks. It didn’t matter that I had to run. It was the train and nothing else.
The cost is that you give up the ability to think and reason. You abdicate powers of emotion. You may not show empathy. You may ignore people. And that can lead you to push for your goals at the expense of others.
You’re flying on instincts and reactions. And unless you’ve trained those reactions beforehand, you cannot be sure what will happen.
train well in advance
so when on instinct you’ll see
The incident reminds me of my training in Taekwondo.
Part of the training deals with the physical reactions. In the heat of combat, you need the body to react instantly to an incoming strike. There isn’t enough time to think about what’s coming. If you do, you’ll get hit. We train our instincts by repeating strikes and blocks. We train our reactions by sparring and learning patterns. But reacting is not enough.
So we train in self control. As important as it is to react quickly, it’s critical to retain focus on the overall situation. It’s essential to remain calm. Often, the goal is not to win. It’s to keep yourself and your opponent safe. Doing so requires a reconditioning of instinct.
In the same way, you can recondition your default responses to moments of single-mindedness.
Instead of responding with anger, you can be still for a moment and let the emotion pass.
Instead of responding with worry, you can take a walk and find peace.
Instead of responding with frustration, you can look to see what you can learn.
Reprogramming your mind takes time and effort. But with one step at a time, it’s possible. And it’s worth it.
take a look sometimes
at the distance traveled
see how far you’ve come
Two years ago, my response to the train would have been different.
I may have resigned myself to missing the train. I would have given up. And after the train pulled out of the station, I probably would have complained about it running on schedule when I’m late, but never when I’m early.
I may have run for it. But instead of focus and intention, I would have run with stress and panic.
I’ve grown. I’ve trained my default responses. But there is much that I have yet to learn. So I keep training.
As I sat on sat on the train, adrenalin still coursing through my veins, I noted that it was not my single-minded effort that gave me success. It was the kindness of the conductor. He saw me running and held the train for an extra thirty seconds. Even with all my training, it is with the help of others that I succeed.
PHOTO: Only on one track. Kenya.