The Work of Byron Katie is a simple and very practical technique for reducing stress and improving your overall life satisfaction. I have used numerous techniques and read countless books on personal development, positive psychology and relationships. Many of these have been highly beneficial. Yet nothing comes even close compared to the ease of use and efficiency of The Work.
Short introduction to The Work of Byron Katie
In a nutshell, The Work of Byron Katie is a technique for reducing anxiety by questioning our thoughts and our limiting beliefs. This type of techniques are often referred to as inquiry or self-inquiry. The Work of Byron Katie is the one I personally use most often and the one I use in my individual facilitations.
Instead of automatically believing our thoughts (which we all tend to do), The Work enables us to calmly inspect our troublesome thoughts and to see whether it makes sense to keep believing them.
A basic session of The Work involves:
– Finding your stressful thoughts and/or judgements.
– Answering four simple questions regarding one particular thought
– Doing so called “turnarounds”, which allow you to challenge the thought and see the stressful situation from different perspectives.
How does The Work work?
The Work is based on the observation that almost every time we have anxiety, we are believing one or more disturbing thoughts. Whether these thoughts are true or not makes very little difference. If we believe a certain thought, this thought is true for us regardless of the reality. As long as we believe this thought, our body reacts to it as if it was an indisputable fact.
The irony is that more often that not, our thought is not even true to begin with. Still because we believe it to be true, it wrecks havoc with our mood and well-being.
Often times when we stop to consider our belief even for a moment, it is easy for us to recognize that the thought is not a fact at all. We have simply assumed it to be true and never stopped to actually consider it. The Work of Byron Katie reminds us to do exactly this and turns the whole thing into a simple and streamlined process.
Sometimes noticing that a disturbing thought is not quite true, is all you need to significantly reduce your stress about a specific situation or memory.
Disbelieving your thoughts is not the whole story though. Challenging the disturbing thoughts is only one of the mechanisms how The Work of Byron Katie can help reduce your anxiety. Thinking this is the only way inquiry works is a very common misconception.
In my video series Fundamentals of Happiness, I explain a number of more complicated mechanisms how inquiry works. If you are already doing inquiry, this understanding enables you to take your inquiries to a whole new level. For beginners, this gives a solid foundation for learning any type of self-inquiry.
The video series is completely free, and you can access it here: https://enjoyinghappiness.thinkific.com
In what types of situations can you use The Work of Byron Katie?
In short, you can try inquiry in literally any stressful situation you might find yourself in. If a specific situation is causing you anxiety, it is very likely that there are thoughts involved which are making the situation worse than it needs to be.
While many people recognize that our attitude has an effect on our experience, we tend to grossly underestimate this effect. As you learn to do inquiry you will come to notice that our thoughts have the power to turn a mundane situation into a very stressful one.
This holds true also in situations where the reality seems very harsh and painful indeed. I have sometimes started facilitating someone in such a predicament and thought: “I really have no idea how inquiry could help with this, but let’s see.” Then I have proceeded with the facilitation as usual and at some point, both I and my client have noticed how, lo and behold, there actually was an unquestioned thought at play which was causing a very big part of the anxiety.
If inquiry doesn’t outright solve the situation, the process can still be highly beneficial by making it much easier to fix what needs to be fixed. Maybe you need to set boundaries with a coworker, maybe you haven’t been completely honest with a friend and would like to come clean, maybe you are afraid to make a decision… Whatever it is you want to do, you can use The Work to make it much much easier for yourself.
Learning to do The Work
My current recommendation for learning The Work of Byron Katie, is to start directly with an individual session with a facilitator. As I offer individual facilitations myself, I might be somewhat biased in this regard. To counter this bias, I have consulted several experienced users who are not doing facilitations themselves and asked for their thoughts on this. They have all shared my view that starting straight on with a facilitator is a really good way to go.
In case you don’t want to take the plunge and dive right in with a facilitator, I suggest learning the basics of self-inquiry from a purely psychological perspective. You can learn these in my Fundamentals of Happiness video series.
Many books and websites put a completely unnecessary spin of woowoo to learning inquiry. This has been the source of many misconceptions about how self-inquiry works and can be quite off putting.
I almost stopped doing inquiry myself because of this. In order to continue, I had to make a clear distinction between two things: the technique itself and the way it is taught. It was only when I understood clearly that I have absolutely no problem with the technique as such, I continued doing inquiry. And I am very happy that I did, as since then inquiry has solved many a tricky situation for me.
For this reason I am hesitant to suggest books, websites and most videos.
In addition to my own video series, you might also be interested in a series of podcasts by Ernest Holm Svendsen. Ernest has a really clear and no-nonsense approach to teaching The Work. I definitely recommend having a listen: http://www.theartofbeinghuman.dk/podcasts.html.
To get an idea of how an inquiry process goes, you can also watch videos where someone is being facilitated. The video below is one of my personal favorites.
How does it feel to do inquiry?
I can tell you that having done this countless times, I have never found inquiry to be in any way unpleasant. Ever. I may have felt horrible before starting a session of inquiry, but as soon as the session is underway, I have always felt the process to be completely comfortable and relieving.
If you have found this article helpful, don’t forget to check out my video series Fundamentals of Happiness.