Doing The Work: Byron Katie’s Four Questions
A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years. – Byron Katie
We have the incredible ability to create our own living hell simply by what we choose to think and believe.
Byron Katie believes that you can either believe your thoughts (and suffer), or you can question them. Her trademark method of inquiry, The Work, is a process for questioning your thoughts in order to arrive at truths that can set you free from your pain.
The Work is a method of guided inquiry that helps identify and question the thoughts that cause suffering. It helps you articulate your judgments and pinpoint how your thoughts bring about your suffering. This is done by guiding you to a place of objectivity, bringing awareness to your biases, and contrasting your beliefs with what you can know to be true – all through the use of a few simple questions. The result is often renewed clarity and the end resentment.
How to do The Work
The Work is fairly simple framework comprised of three distinct steps. First, begin by fully articulating whatever negative judgments you may have about the person or situation. Then, apply the Four Questions to each judgment individually. Once you’ve gone through the Four Questions, you apply a “turn around” in which you flip your negative thought around in order to experience its opposite.
I’ll now walk you through the process using an example judgment. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say that your primary negative judgments is “He doesn’t respect my feelings.”
THE FOUR QUESTIONS
1. Ask yourself if the thought is true.
Can you honestly say that the thought is true? That he doesn’t respect your feelings? If you answer yes, move to the next question. If you answer no, move to question 3.
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Go deeper. Is it even possible for you to absolutely know if it is true? Understand if this statement is true or just what you believe. Be objective, open, and honest.
In this case, we can’t know for sure that he doesn’t respect our feelings. It just feels that way, and we assume it is true based on his actions. But we cannot absolutely know it is true.
3. How do you react – what happens – when you believe that thought?
Time for some self-awareness. When you think to yourself “He doesn’t respect my feelings” do you feel unsupported and unheard? Does this make you feel stressed out, depressed, or angry? Do you become bitter and resentful toward him? Recognize all the ways this thought affects you.
Does the thought bring peace into your life? Or stress?
What sorts of physical sensations arise when you have this thought?
What images do you see?
What emotions arise?
Do you act out when you think this thought?
Do you engage in any addiction behaviors?
How do you treat the person in this situation when you think this thought?
How do you treat yourself?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Would you be at peace? Would you be more patient, loving, and gracious? Would you feel better about yourself? Would you have more energy? Would you be more open with him? Paint a vivid picture of the person you would be if you didn’t have that thought.
If you no longer thought “He doesn’t respect my feelings” would you be more relaxed, confident, and happy?
Now, do you still want that thought? Which existence do you prefer?
THE TURN AROUND
After you work through the four questions, you then apply the Turn Around. This when you literally turn the thought around, taking your original statement and flipping it. For example, if you original thought was “He doesn’t respect my feelings” it then becomes “I don’t respect my feelings” or “I don’t respect his feelings” or even “He does respect my feelings.”
Fully experience each turnaround. Find some genuine examples for how it is true. I know, it feels weird at first. But trust the process and open your mind to the possibility that these turn-arounds just might be true.
An important note from Byron Katie about The Turn Around:
For each turnaround, go back and start with the original statement. Do not turn around a statement that has already been turned around. For example, “He shouldn’t waste his time” may be turned around to “I shouldn’t waste my time,” “I shouldn’t waste his time,” and “He should waste his time.” Note that “I should waste my time” and “I should waste his time” are not valid turnarounds; they are turnarounds of turnarounds rather than turnarounds of the original statement.
If you find yourself clinging to your judgments, unable to let them go – ask yourself why. Why are you holding on to this thoughts? How does this thought support you? What part of yourself will you lose if you let the thought go? What could you gain?
USING THE WORK
It takes some practice before you can apply The Work effectively and naturally. However, it is an incredible tool for fostering objectivity and deconstructing the thoughts that bring us pain, anger, resentment, and suffering.
When you first get started with The Work I recommend using the free worksheets that Byron Katie offers on her site. They are absolutely not required, but they do help you through the process which can be invaluable the first few times you try it.
Basic instructions for completing The Work
The Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet – Walks you through the process of identifying your negative feelings about the stressful occurrence
The Four Questions Facilitation Guide – Guides you through the process of asking and applying the Four Questions to your negative feelings
Byron Katie also has some videos describing the process and walking people through the steps. Seeing The Work in action can help to click it all into place, so if you are still struggling, I recommend starting there. She also has an incredible book that goes much deeper into the process called Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. There’s even an iPhone app!
If you are still feeling unsure about the effectiveness of this line of questioning, I urge you to read about writer Caitlin Flanagan’s experience doing The Work shortly after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Her remarkable write-up demonstrates the depths of truth this framework can plumb and how transformative this simple form of inquiry can be.