Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University published a study in 2005 that had some staggering statistics about our thoughts. It showed the average human has up to 60,000 thoughts per day, of which 80% are negative, and—get this—90% are the exact same thoughts we had the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that.
Holy. Freaking. Chit.
If 80% of my thoughts are negative, and 90% of my thoughts are repetitive, that means the majority of my negative thoughts are repeating over and over like a broken record.
What if there was a tool that could make us more aware of these negative repeating thoughts? What if there was a way to quiet them down, to change them into positive thoughts? What if we could ultimately set ourselves free from them?
Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not. I’ve found a tool that does all this and more for me and I can’t wait to share it with you!
In this post, I’m going to give you a full overview of this tool, as taught to me by Santa, Barbie, and Byron Katie.
Ready or not, here it comes!
Santa Claus and Barbie: Reality Masterminds
Like many American children, I was told there was this magical land called “The North Pole,” where a jolly man named “Santa Claus” lived with “elves” and “reindeer.” Each year, this man would travel the world in a sled pulled by flying reindeer and deliver toys the elves made to each little boy and girl.
I globbed onto this myth without a second thought (because toys) and was swept away in the magic of it all.
At least at first.
As I got older, I started hearing rumors that Santa actually wasn’t real and that our parents were the ones eating the cookies and leaving the presents under the tree. What a massive conspiracy!
The sheer number of these rumors circulating during recess really put me on the fence about Santa one Christmas, but a single present turned it all around and solidified my belief.
It was this massive Barbie house. Complete with two stories and an electronic elevator to get between the two. Wow.
I saw this Barbie mansion in the store with my mom a few months before, and asked if I could get it. She wished I could but explained she just couldn’t afford it.
But here it was in my living room on Christmas Day, just like magic. Santa magic.
Receiving that Barbie mansion became my strongest evidence for Santa because it showed up under my tree this Christmas even though all my mom’s money, all my dad’s money, and all my grandma’s money combined would never be able to afford it.
How do you explain THAT one, Mr. Scrooge??
Hey – don’t laugh! You do it, too.
I wanted to believe Santa was real, so my mind found evidence that Santa was real.
All of our minds do this for us about almost everything we think. If we believe the thought “Santa is real,” our minds can find evidence for why Santa is indeed real. If we believe the thought, “Santa is not real,” our minds can find evidence for why Santa isn’t real.
But how about when we think things like:
- I’m ugly
- He doesn’t listen to me
- I’ll never be successful
- She is better than me
Doesn’t your mind find evidence to prove these things for you every day? But the truth is, these thoughts are just as true as Santa Claus existing.
Did that sink in for you?
You believing you’re ugly, or that he doesn’t listen to you, or that you’ll never be successful is just as true as believing in Santa Claus.
And here’s where it gets really fun. The evidence your mind creates to reinforce your untrue thoughts is just as solid as my evidence for Santa Claus existing. Which, in case you forgot, centered on everyone’s money in my entire family put together not being able to afford a $65 Barbie mansion.
Even though believing our thoughts and finding evidence for what we believe is usually an unconscious process, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Your introduction to Bryon Katie’s “The Work”
The Work (a.k.a. Byron Katie’s brain child) is a tool that will make you more aware of the thoughts you’re believing and how believing in those thoughts affects you. This is helpful, because we often structure ourselves around thoughts like “I’m ugly,” and “He doesn’t listen to me,” even though believing those thoughts is the same as believing in Santa Claus!
There is no “7 Steps to a Free Mind” jargon in The Work. It’s not going to give you an action plan on how to believe in different stuff. But it will give you a framework to run your thoughts through and decide for yourself if they are worth believing or not.
The framework consists of four questions and what Byron Katie calls a “turnaround.” Here are the four questions:
- Is it True
- Is it really true?
- How do I react – what happens to me when I believe that thought?
- Who would I be if I didn’t believe this thought?
Let’s break each of these questions down and then we’ll get into the magic of the turnaround. If you’re short on time, I suggest skipping to The Turnaround section where you get to have fun playing with the evidence your mind creates for each thought – and it’s opposite!
The Work is done one thought at a time but to help you get a better feel for it, I’ll go through two of the examples I compared to believing in Santa:
- I’m ugly
- He doesn’t listen to me
Question 1: Is it True?
Can you absolutely know that this thought is 100% true 100% of the time?
- Does 100% of the population really think you’re ugly 100% of the time?
- Does he really never listen to you?
When I answer with humility, the answer is “no” most of the time. But the answer can be “yes.”
In my opinion, some answers need to be yes. Otherwise we lose sight of reality. Your thoughts that are 100% true are like your guideposts to happiness and getting the most out of life. So if the answer to this question truly is “yes,” own that thought!
Question 2: Is it really true?
If the answer to the first question is already “no,” skip this question and go on to the next one.
The purpose of this repeat question is to give stubborn people like me a second look at our answer to the first question. Often during the first question I’ll be like, “Yes, I am ugly to 100% of the population 100% of the time,” and then I get to the second question and realize, “Okay, I guess there’s no way for me to actually know that.”
So, are the example thoughts really true?
Does 100% of the population really think you’re ugly 100% of the time?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and since you’ve never been inside someone else’s mind, how could you possibly know that everyone in the entire world thinks you are ugly? You can’t. Therefore, this thought isn’t true.
Does he really never listen to you?
If you’re honest with yourself, you might already be thinking of a time he actually did listen to you. Which makes this thought untrue. But what really makes it untrue is that no matter how much time you’ve spend with him, you don’t know what is going on in his head. You might assume, but you’ve never actually experienced what it is like to be in his mind. Therefore, believing this thought is just as true as believing in Santa Claus.
Now that we’ve established these thoughts are false, let’s move on to question 3.
Question 3: How do I react —what happens to me when I believe that thought?
Now it is time to observe what comes up for you as you dig deeper into your thought.
When you believe you are ugly, what happens to you? Do you feel small? Does your chest tighten up?
What about when you believe he doesn’t listen to you? Do you feel angry? Like water is boiling in your tummy and steam could come from your ears?
Really take some time to feel into this question. Let the answers come from your body if you can. Once you’ve got a handle on what happens to you when you believe your thought, move on to the final question.
Question 4: Who would I be if I didn’t believe this thought?
What comes up during this question is in stark contrast to what you observed about yourself in the third question.
Who would you be if you didn’t believe you were ugly? Would you feel more free to be yourself? Would you feel a lightness in your chest?
Who would you be if you didn’t believe he doesn’t listen to you? More compassionate? Less angry?
Compare how you are when you do believe this thought (question 3), and who you are when you don’t believe this thought. Which do you prefer? You can believe this thought or not, the choice is yours.
Now onto the real kicker – the turnaround.
The premise of the turnaround is to dig deeper into your untrue thought by exploring it’s opposites. Once you find an opposite (called a “turnaround”) that resonates with you, your goal is to find three pieces of evidence for the turnaround of your thought. Sometimes the turnaround thoughts are more true than the original thought, but sometimes they aren’t. Either way, exploring the turnarounds of your untrue thoughts gives you even more perspective about yourself and other people.
I realize this might be confusing, so let’s go through the two examples together.
A great turnaround for this is, “I’m not ugly.” Now find three pieces of evidence for why the turnaround could be true. Some examples of evidence could be that people have told you that you’re pretty before, or how you do really like your eyes.
Another type of turnaround for anything directed at your body is to replace the word “body” with “mind.” “My mind is ugly,” is an interesting turnaround in this situation. Some examples of evidence for this could be how your mind judges other people so quickly, which can be considered an ugly quality. Or how your mind is ugly because it is intentionally blind to the beautiful things about you, or because it spends so much time worrying about what people think of you.
This goes to show that the real underlying cause of you believing you’re ugly isn’t because you are physically ugly, it is because your mind is ugly. So as you improve your mind, you’ll improve how you feel about yourself. There’s nothing physical about it. This is how the turnaround can be so enlightening!
“He doesn’t listen to me.”
Some turnarounds for this one are, “He does listen to me,” or, “I never listen to him.”
There have been times I’ve done the work on, “He doesn’t listen to me,” and when I turned it around to “I don’t listen to him,” I realized I do the same exact thing I’m accusing him of! Projection at its finest, folks.
Again, these turnarounds allow you to look at your beliefs from all sides, and open your eyes to another perspective that you didn’t see before.
My personal caveats for The Work of Byron Katie
I have a couple of personal caveats and tips that I keep in mind when I explore The Work and other teachings of Byron Katie, that might also be helpful for you.
1) Take what’s helpful, leave the rest.
Bryon Katie is a very unique individual. She’s come up with a series of beliefs about the subjectivity of the mind that are truly brilliant (like The Work), and she’s found a lot of success and personal peace practicing what she believes. However, I’ve found less success in taking on all of Byron Katie’s beliefs.
Initially, I was so turned off by some of the far-fetched things she talks about that I threw everything she brought to the table out the window. But when I found myself in some tough situations, what did I turn to? The Work. And it helped me.
Just because Byron Katie might have some other beliefs you think are pretty “out there,” doesn’t mean The Work isn’t a helpful tool. Just pay attention to what is and isn’t helping you and only take the helpful parts.
2) Start slow.
I recommend all people, but especially those who have experienced abuse, to start using The Work on smaller thoughts, and leave the bigger stuff for when you’ve got your bearings about what is and isn’t helpful for you.
The turnaround portion of The Work can be particularly confusing for people who have experienced abuse. For instance, if you’re turning around the thought, “She abused me,” to “I abused her,” the waters might get a little muddy. Again, take what helps you and leave the rest. That is OK.
Time to try it out
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to give it a try. But if you are still on the fence, I’d encourage you to just try it. If for nothing but to learn what parts of it are helpful for you and what parts aren’t.
Right now, grab some paper and a pen, or open a new word doc, or make a note on your phone with some thoughts you might want to run through The Work. Schedule some time later today or early tomorrow for yourself to experiment.
When that time rolls around, find a quiet place and decide on one thought the run through The Work. My advice is to start with an easy one. Then do it!
If you’re willing, I’d be so interested to hear about how it went for you! What you liked as well as what you didn’t like. It is all important.
I truly hope you find it helpful.
This sounds so good, I want to know more!
Awesome! Here are some places you can start:
- Byron Katie’s website
- Videos of her coaching other people through The Work
- Her books
- Find a certified coach near you
- More tools and guidance for doing The Work
Cover photo by Guilherme Stecanella.
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