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How to Let Go of Any Stressful Thought by Asking These 4 Questions

August 25th, 2008 by Ryan

Have you ever been relaxing by yourself, maybe reading or watching tv while completely at peace, when suddenly a thought pops in your head.

"My life doesn't have a purpose.  I need to do something productive or my life will just waste away."

Where did this thought come from?

More importantly, how does a thought like this make us feel?

For me, when a thought like this comes up, I feel anxious and start to put a lot of pressure on myself.  My body becomes uncomfortable and I get agitated. 

I may keep doing what I'm doing or I may push myself into action in order to feel produtive (which usually ends in more stress in the form of multi-tasking and not really getting anything major accomplished).  

Where did this stress come from?

Is it because we have not attained all those things in life we believe to be important such as the ideal body, career, and social life?

Perhaps if we got all those things, the stress that we feel will go away too….right?

Or maybe it was simply the thought "My life doesn't have purpose" that was the problem to begin with.

Could it be that all our stress is caused, not by our life's circumstances but by our thoughts about our life's circumstances?

Could it be possible to find peace in our life right now without changing anything except our thinking?

According to Byron Katie, it's not only possible, it's the most practical way for many of us to find peace in any given moment.

 How to Let Go of Any Stressful Thought by Asking These 4 QuestionsByron Katie is the creator of The Work, a method of self-inquiry that ends the negative thought spiral of the mind. 

Simply put any stressful thought up against 4 questions and watch as truth rises up and transforms stress into peace. 

In the midst of an ordinary life (2 marriages, 3 children, and a successful career), Katie began a downward spiral into rage, paranoia, and despair.

Becoming nearly bedridden and severly depressed, she checked herself into a halfway house and end up living in the attic room (since the other residents were so afraid of her).

One morning in 1986, 43 year-old Byron Katie woke up without any concept of who she was.  As she describes it from her book "Loving What is":

byronkatie lovingwhatis 150x150 How to Let Go of Any Stressful Thought by Asking These 4 Questions"There was no me.  All my rage, all the thoughts that had been troubling me, my whole world, the whole world, was gone. At the same time, laughter welled up from the depths and just poured out. Everything was unrecognizable.

It was as if something else had woken up. It opened its eyes. It was looking through Katie's eyes. And it was so delighted! It was intoxicated with joy. There was nothing separate, nothing unacceptable to it; everything was its very own self."

Her family and friend were amazed at the seemingly miraculous transformation and asked her what happened.  Katie said that a freedom had woken up insider her and through a process of inner questioning, she realized all her old thoughts were untrue.

Byron Katie has no specific religious or spiritual affiliation, she says that she is a "lover of reality." 

Through a few basic concepts, 4 questions, and a turnaround, anyone else can become a lover of reality as well.  She calls this process "The Work" or just self-inquiry.

The following concepts lay the foundation for getting the most out of self-inquiry.

Noticing When Your Thoughts Argue With Reality

Most of our stress comes from attaching to thoughts that argue with reality.

Have you ever tried to train a cat to bark?  

You could spend hours becoming frustrated and angry trying to train a cat to bark and it will still only be able to "meow."

It wouldn't make much sense in stressing ourselves over this situation because a cat can only be what it is; a cat.

The minute we demand the cat act like a dog, we are arguing with reality and the result is a feeling of stress.

This example seems obvious but in one form or another, our stress comes from asking others to be something that they are not; it's just like asking the cat to bark.  

Staying In Your Own Business

From "Loving What is":

"I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God's. (For me, the word God means "reality." Reality is God because it rules.  Anything that's out of my control, your control, and everyone else's control – I call that God's business.)

Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business.  When I think, "You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself."  I am in your business.  When I am worried about earthquakes, floods, wars, or when I will die, I am in God's business.

If I am mentally in your business or God's business, the effect is separation."

When we feel negative emotions and stress, that is a sign that we are not staying in our own business.

Becoming Aware of Your Stories

Thoughts themselves are not the problem.  It's the attachment to the thoughts that create suffering.  Attaching to a thought means believing it to be true without questioning it.  

Combine enough of these un-investigated beliefs together and you have a story; a big theory that tells us what everything means.

Say for example, you're at a party with some friends and you are introduced to someone.  As you both talk, you notice the other person seems distant and uninterested and you eventually part ways with each other.  

What does this mean? 

That you are boring?  That they are boring?

Our story (the collection of thoughts that we are attached to) tells us what the event means.

If our story is that we've always been awkward in social situations, then this even will just reinforce that story and we will feel negative emotion.  

If our story is that we are fun and interesting and if we don't get along with someone else, then it probably just wasn't meant to be and we spared by their departure.

The key idea is that it's not what happens to us in life that causes suffering, it's "What story are we attaching to?"

How can we tell if we are buying into a story that's working against us?  We feel negative emotion.

Anytime we feel bad, that's a signal that it's time to question the story we are telling ourselves.  

This is what the process of inquiry is all about; investigating our stories until we find our truth.

When truth is found, peace is the result.

Judge Your Neighbor

To start inquiry, it's best to begin with our beliefs about others and then move onto our beliefs about ourselves and everything else.  This is done through what's called a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet (available from thework.com).

If you'd like, print out and complete the worksheet on someone who's been stressing you out lately.  As you fill out each statement, allow yourself to be as honest and judgmental as possible.  This way we get the ego on paper which allows for a better chance at finding our truth (so the ego won't be able to backwards rationalize).

Inquiry: The 4 Questions

When you're finished, put each statement up against the four questions.  Instead of just answering each quickly with the mind, genuinely ask the question and wait for an answer.  

The goal is to allow the answers to come from our heart rather than our mind.  

The mind knows only duality whereas the heart speaks from our inner knowing; our true self.

Question 1: Is It True?

Genuinely ask yourself if the statement you are working on is true.  Don't pay attention to other's belief systems or what is sopposed to be true from a right or wrong viewpoint but see if you can find your answer.  If the answer is "no" or "I don't know", go on to question 3, otherwise go to the next question.

Question 2: Can You Absolutely Know That It's True?

Can you really know that this is true, with the universe's infinite intelligence and immeasurable factors?  Can you really know how the situation will play out in the end?  Perhaps there is a purpose in that which you are resisting.

Question 3: How Do You React WHen You Think That Thought?

What happens to you when this thought comes up?  What do you feel, physically, in your body (tightness, tingling, etc)?  How do you treat others?  How do you treat yourself?  What actions do you take?

Question 4: Who Would You Be Without The Thought?

Close your eyes and wait.  Imagine for a moment, that it is not possible to think that thought even in the midst of that person or situation.  What do you feel?  What is it like?  What would life be like without this thought or story?

Turn It Around

 The turnaround is a way to fully experience both sides of the coin (both polarities of the mind).  In this way, we create balance in the mind and release energy that has been trapped in the ego's attachment to one viewpoint (or polarity).

Many times we will realize that the opposite of what we believed is as true or truer than our original position.  This opens up a whole new world, mentally, and is often accompanied by great emotional relief.

To turn around a statement, you simply replace the person's name with your own name. 

So in the example of the though "She should be honest with me", the turnaround is "I should be honest with me."

Now stop and let that turnaround soak in for a moment. 

Is this statement as true or truer?

So using this same example you could ask yourself questions that would backup the turnaround such as: Were there times when you were not honest with yourself about her actions?  Is it not true that she is just being who she is and perhaps you have created a story that built her up to be some ideal person and all that is required is that you be honest with yourself?

The idea is to play around in the opposite polarity for a bit and see what the mind finds. Try to find 3 examples of how each a turnaround is true in your life.

Now if you are writing about yourself or an object, you replace it with "my thinking" to turn it around.

So in the example, "My body shouldn't be fat" becomes "My thinking shouldn't be fat."  Now wait a moment and let that think in.  How many times a day are you thinking about your body being fat?  Perhaps it is our thinking that is really weighing us down. 

The story of being fat is replaying over and over in the mind until we identify ourselves with that story.  With the turnaround we can realize that a majority of our energy is invested into this story and without it, our body could be using that energy to become healthier.

There is also another way to turn it around and that is to change it to the complete opposite of the original statement.

The thought "She should be honest with me" becomes "She shouldn't be honest with me."  Why?  Has she been honest in the past?  If not, then why in the world should she be any other way than the way she is?  She can only be that which she is.  Just as a cat can't bark, she may not be able to be honest 100% of the time.  

It's not about right or wrong, it's about reality.  If it's true that she is dishonest, then she should be dishonest.  Why?  Because she is; everyone can only be that which they are.

These turnarounds are especially powerful because we get to see how the world is our mirror. 

As Byron Katie Says: "Everyone is a mirror image of yourself – Your own thinking coming back at you."

This one concept allows us to stop trying to fight reality and instead make peace with it.  From this place of peace, we tap into the creative power of the universe and allow ourselves to enjoy life as it unfolds.

To really understand the work, it's helpful to see Byron Katie in action; going through the four questions with people in her live workshops.

I've only recently begun using her work and have found it to be very powerful at bringing me back to the present moment and extremely effective at halting the negative downward spiral of the mind.

Eckhart Tolle teaches the power of now, yet for many, it's been a struggle to stay in the present.  The Work is the process of coming back to the present moment and, therefore, leaving all suffering behind. 

All that's left is reality and as Byron Katie says, "Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it."

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Here are some videos that demonstrate Byron Katie and The Work in action:

Introduction to The Work (Interview)

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Explaining the 4 Questions of The Work (Interview)

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"I Don't Ever Want to be Rejected Again" (Workshop)

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"I Want Her to Come Back to Me" (Workshop)

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"She's Not Getting Over it" (Part 1)

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"I Want Her to Live More Fully" (Part 2)

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"I Need My Partner to Open His Heart"

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Your Kind Nature

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"I'm Afraid of War" Byron Katie in Israel (Part 1 of 3)

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"I'm Afraid of War" Byron Katie in Israel (Part 2 of 3)

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"I'm Afraid of War" Byron Katie in Israel (Part 3 of 3)

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You Need More Money, Is That True?

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"I'm Too Fat" (Part 1 of 2)

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"I'm Too Fat" (Part 2 of 2)

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Our Innocence

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"My Father Isn't Here For Me"

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Sample of The Work In Action (48 min)

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The Work on Jealousy and Resentment (63 min)

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"I Thought You Were Sopposed to Love Me" (61 min)

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The Work on The Perfect Body (42 min)

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Teenage Prison Facility (29 min)

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Prison of the Mind (54 min)

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38 Responses to “How to Let Go of Any Stressful Thought by Asking These 4 Questions”

  1. TomNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi,

    Doesn’t “she is what she is” imply that people cannot change how much they would try? That we are all stuck at being fixed and have to learn to live with that? It sounds quite negative to me.

    Cheers!

  2. jasonNo Gravatar Says:

    quite the lengthy and substantial post. at least, i found it interesting.

    everyone gets something different from what they read, and i’d like to try and answer that comment…

    i took it to mean that if someone is a ‘certain way’ then we should accept this reality instead of painfully fighting/whining about it. people can change of course, but all our “shoulds” and “shouldnts” aren’t a very effective way to bring that change about…

    i look at it as, at this moment “she is what she is”

    so that statement to me doesn’t say that she can never change, only that perhaps we should consider accepting her how she is in this moment.

  3. thestackNo Gravatar Says:

    That article was indeed very interesting, it reminded me very much about Eckhart Tolle – especially the short story of Byron Katies enlightment, when the false ego collapsed and she just felt pure joy.
    But I quite had the feeling in the back of my head all the time while reading that this 4-question-asking-technique is just a replica of the Sedona Method.
    See here for an example: http://www.sedona.com/html/sample-of-process.aspx

    Could anyone tell me the differences between the two methods? I just have the feeling there is something wrong when there are dozens of self-improvement methods out there and EVERY SINGLE ONE is claiming to be “the #1 method ever, all others are s**t… this will solve all your problems in only 1 hour, guaranteed!” or something like that, seems to be very commercialiced stuff.
    There are so many techniques out there, EFT, MET, TAT, Chakra working, Sedona, The Work, The Secret, … I’m just losing track of all the methods and feel insecure about what’s the right one.

    Best regards,
    thestack

  4. spirituality and self helpNo Gravatar Says:

    Great post, very informative. I enjoyed reading it. Tom, in order to change ourselves we first need to accept ourselves because what you object grows. The work by Byron Katie is a great technique to inquire our thoughts and thus changing them.

  5. RyanNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Tom, I can see why you would think that. Its kind of like driving to work late. You get in the car and you are already 15 minutes late. You can either get pissed off all the way to work and still be 15 minutes late or you can surrender and make peace with being late and have a happy ride to work and still be 15 minutes late. The mind confuses disapproval with progress, and really all disapproval and judgements do is cause us stress.

    Hey Jason, whats up man. Yeah you hit the nail on the head, thats a great summary of the key idea. Fighting reality does not create any lasting change but it actually makes things worse. When we accept reality as it is, we are grounded and from this place we could provide the supportive energy (by our example) that allows others to change.

    thestack, yes the sedona method keeps coming up and ive checked it out a bit but havent got into it too much yet. there is really only one way to heal – to bring more light and love into the person. why would there be only one right way? What is the single right language to speak? What is the single right food to eat? Some people like spicy food and others dont. Some methods of healing with resonate with some and not with others, it just comes down to personal preference. Also, I don’t think any of the creators are claiming to be the #1 of anything. They just offer their wisdom. Others who use the method may claim that but not the originators to my knowledge.

    Personally, I like to use different techniques for different issues in myself and for different personalities when I do healing work with others.

    spirituality/selfhelp good to hear. yes once we accept ourselves, we have the power to change, otherwise we are rejecting reality and attached to illusion. thanks for sharing.

  6. BartNo Gravatar Says:

    thestack brings up some interesting points. My opinion is to not worry about which one is “the best” or “the right one”. Just give a 30-90 trial of faith with a system you vibe with. Get some solid skills and beliefs under your belt, changing course when you think you need to. Chances are, if you really get into one, you’ll notice manyother programs, at their root, circulate around the deep truth – but present it with their own specific framework, constructs, linguistics, acronyms, etc…

    The mother reality check is that NONE of this, or these systems, is a non-connecting direct flight to pure enlightenment. You can’t just jump on the Sedona Method subway and sit back and ride to a problem free, magical existence. You can absorb and integrate wisdom from any source, but walking the path is a individual task requiring work.

    It doesn’t really bug me that everybody, or anybody for that matter, thinks and proclaims that they’re #1. I don’t totally know why, but it just doesn’t get to me.

    There’s a lot of good stuff out there, and I’ve found what’s good for me – although what I do is the universal ultimate non-subjective true and only way, because I’m the smartest, most objective and best looking human. (humor intended)

  7. RyanNo Gravatar Says:

    Lol, good stuff. Yeah Bart, that is an excellent perspective to have. All these techniques are great but it all comes down to the path, the spiritual will, that we are aligned with. Also, making the choice of what is best for US based on our experience since that is our truth. Well said man.

  8. 10 Powerful Tools for Connecting with the Energy of Money | Yang Town Says:

    [...] I recently wrote how you can let go of any stressful thought by asking yourself the 4 questions of The Work of Byron Katie. [...]

  9. Herbal MalcNo Gravatar Says:

    I like the four questions approach. For someone for whom this process ‘clicked’ I can see how this could be transforming. Thanks for long analysis and explanation.

    Herbal Malcs last blog post..Diet and Detox

  10. RyanNo Gravatar Says:

    My pleasure. It may be quite a shocking approach for some people, but once you start to grasp how she approaches reality, its really with an underlying love and a neutral mind.

  11. ollivia - Mindfulness MeditationNo Gravatar Says:

    The current work environment gives stress on mind and body. To relax from stress carry on the following, get seated in a comfortable chair or position. Now close your eyes. Let the concerns and worries of the coming day flow away from your mind, which is renowned as Meditation. The relaxation effect of meditation is not just a temporary thing. If you have a continuous practice then the benefits will be more and more.

    ollivia – Mindfulness Meditations last blog post..Grounding Meditation and Meditation CDs

  12. Felzia - Meditation MusicNo Gravatar Says:

    Mindfulness Meditation will have many benefits, the most i got was positive thinking atitude.usually i think negative before geeting into a work, so maximum of the time i can’t succeed in the work, i become very much depressed so one of my friend adviced me to follow mindfulnes meditation. when i got depressed i simply sit in a quite place close my eyes and meditate for 10-15 minutes and become relaxed. I got good result on practicing such technique.

  13. RyanNo Gravatar Says:

    Ollivia, great point. The more we do it, the more powerful it becomes, like a positive self reinforcing cycle. Good stuff.

    Felzia, thanks for sharing your experience. Just being aware of our own negativity and pro-actively transcending it by meditation can really help us improve not only our life but any work that we are involved in as well.

  14. jamesNo Gravatar Says:

    This reminded me of another web resource that runs parallel by expounding on how one can attain real happiness by being guided by 3 simple questions:

    Am I being truthfull today?
    Am I positive today?
    Am I helping others today?

  15. OweEng2No Gravatar Says:

    Great article with lots of useful info. Been reading in this site for days now and I can say that your articles really helps a lot of people. Keep up the good work.

  16. Sean @ reiki courseNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks again for the great post you added…. some great content here again… I love personal development and I am always eager to learn more and more so that I can become the best human being possible!!

  17. Steven PonecNo Gravatar Says:

    This is an absolutely fabulous blog post! I completely agree with the sentiments that you mentioned :) The meaning we attach to our thoughts can become harmful.
    That was a very inspiring story about the woman who decided to stop identifying with her thoughts!

  18. RyanNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi James, thanks for those 3 questions, good stuff. OweEng2, thanks man, appreciate the good words. Sean, cool yeah this stuff can be a lot of fun. Steven, yeah it’s crazy how much stress these ridiculous thoughts cause us….”letting them pass by your awareness” is a great strategy.

  19. Anna HouckNo Gravatar Says:

    Nice post but I would also like to know what is its difference with meditation? Thanks!

  20. Wayne DevinsNo Gravatar Says:

    This is such a great resource, thank you for taking the time to post it!

    From time to time, I do question if I’m on the right path and if I’m fulfilled. I think your advice will help me make more sense of what I’m feeling.

  21. Timothy ItoNo Gravatar Says:

    All of those videos are going to keep me busy for a while. I appreciate it!

    Also, I love the look of your blog. Great design.

  22. Meditation TechniquesNo Gravatar Says:

    I would say that all of the things you mentioned are true. Letting go of stressful thoughts, surely, is not as easy as some might think. Well, there are people who live through it everyday and that they should start doing something to free their minds and relax. Meditation is another good activity I could recommend, it’s not simple to do at first…but is worth trying.

  23. Gina CittoneNo Gravatar Says:

    I’m a pretty jealous person, so I was glad to come across the video discussing it. I am going to forward it to my boyfriend, who has some jealousy issues, himself.
    Gina Cittone´s last blog post ..Class Action Suit Filed against Visa and MasterCard

  24. Warren KimmelNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Byron Katie. I’ve started doing some more research about her — she’s fascinating.
    Warren Kimmel´s last blog post ..How Rent-to-Own Really Works

  25. Mary TrumanNo Gravatar Says:

    I came to this post at the right time. I’ve recently been dumped, and it’s been hard to snap out of the funk I’ve been in. There were a few concepts that have been very helpful. Thank you.

  26. Kent RyanNo Gravatar Says:

    Mary Truman — I feel the same way with you..

    need this thing to think easily and clearly..

    Really Great post,.. Thanks,.. keep me updated.. Just what I needed

  27. Adrianna PapellNo Gravatar Says:

    This works, this really works. Finally I have an alternative for drinking during stressful times.

    My blog: Papell Evening Dresses
    Adrianna Papell´s last blog post ..Adrianna Papell Evening Dresses

  28. ScottNo Gravatar Says:

    I have some friends that need to read and watch this post. They have been going through some tough times lately, and they will really benefit from this. I will pass it on.
    Scott´s last blog post ..How “Rent-2-Own” Really Works

  29. Morris B.No Gravatar Says:

    “Byron Katie has no specific religious or spiritual affiliation, she says that she is a “lover of reality.” ”

    I love that phrase! I’m going to start using that as the answer to what my religion is, instead of “athiest”.
    Morris B.´s last blog post ..Canadian Embassy and Consulate Listings for Immigration and Visas to Canada

  30. QuinnNo Gravatar Says:

    I thought I would just browse the first video, but I ended up watching all of them. I should be working, but I don’t mind being inspired, instead…

  31. ChaseNo Gravatar Says:

    Until I moved out of my parents’ place, my philosophies were a combination of what I learned at school, and what my parents taught me. Now, I seek out women like Byron, who really speak to who I am as an adult.
    Chase´s last blog post ..Canadian Embassy and Consulate Listings for Immigration and Visas to Canada

  32. Kerry EnserNo Gravatar Says:

    “Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.” That really strikes a chord with me. It makes me think that perhaps I relate the negative aspects of my life more often than the positive, or at least embellish them.

  33. TomNo Gravatar Says:

    Thank you for showing us these video… thoughts turn into actions.. good or bad
    Tom´s last blog post ..Context & Architecture in Contract Drafting

  34. TomNo Gravatar Says:

    Very helpful.. thanks for taking the time to share these videos.. they were very helpful
    Tom´s last blog post ..Context & Architecture in Contract Drafting

  35. DorisNo Gravatar Says:

    these are interesting videos.. she has a very soothing voice.. looked like she helped that guy a lot

  36. Blair A.No Gravatar Says:

    It is amazing the amount of clutter one’s mind accumulates. I’ve always believed that self transformation and reawakening is the only true solution to rid yourself of undo burdens. Very helpful stuff.

  37. TracyNo Gravatar Says:

    Its really nice and inspired post and all videos are so much helpful to help our self and to fight with our internal evils. Thanks for sharing this information.
    Tracy´s last blog post ..Men Made Easy – Make Him Fall In Love With You Madly

  38. Kim ReidNo Gravatar Says:

    I like these four questions techniques since these could really erase stress. You can try it guys and these approaches are so effective.
    Kim Reid´s last blog post ..Spice up your sex life with Herbs and Vitamins

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