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Mindful Monday: What’s Your Story?

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At some point last week, the above quote popped up in my Instagram feed and stopped me in my tracks. (Don’t you just love when something great grabs hold of you and won’t let go?) That’s how I felt about this quote because, really, it’s just the truest of true. The stories that we tell ourselves…looping in our brains for years or even decades. And I’m here today to call it like it is. Many of the stories? Are outright lies.

Yet we listen to the stories. We ruminate over them…kneading them into 100 different editions in our minds. We pay such rapt attention to the thoughts that often keep us from meeting our full potential.

I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough. I don’t have enough time. I’m not doing enough for my family/clients/friends. I’ll be stuck in this crappy job forever. I’ll never find a mate. I’m never going to get well. I should have accomplished more by now. No one understands me. People don’t find me interesting. I’m not creative enough. My art is shit. I can’t lose the weight. My writing is horrible. I’ll never be as good as him/her. If I make them angry, they will leave me.

I think one or more of these thoughts have crossed most of our minds at some point. Unfortunately, these kind of thoughts can start to dictate lives. Isn’t the human experience such a blast sometimes?

I attended a meditation workshop this weekend as a part of my yoga teacher training, and while discussing working with our own thoughts, my instructor brought up the work of Byron Katie. Many of you might know of her – in a nutshell, her system (or “The Work,” as she calls it) is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the anger, fear, depression, addiction, and violence in the world.

What I love about Katie’s work is that it’s incredibly straight-forward. Four (seemingly) simple questions can create profound shifts in one’s thinking rapidly. So, what are the questions?

First off, think of a thought that troubles you or stresses you out or makes you feel like crap. Then apply these questions to that thought.

The Four Questions:

1) Is it true?

2) Can you absolutely know it’s true?

3) How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? Who you you become?

4) Who would you be without the thought?

After answering those questions, turn that thought around to make it positive. Then keep reminding yourself. Again and again.

For example, a thought I’ve had too many times to count over the past couple of years is that I will never feel completely well again. So, let’s take a look at the questions.

I will never feel completely well again.

1. Is it true? I don’t know.

2. Can I absolutely know it’s true? No. 

3. Who do I become when I have that thought? Fearful, worried, stressed, and unable to enjoy myself.

4. Who would I be without that thought? Happier, less worried, and, well, carefree.

Turnaround statement: I feel pretty good now, and will continue to improve.

The questions are where the truth really lies for me – the answers are right there, staring me in the face. The turnaround statement is the way to keep me from ruminating on the negative thought. The minute I start telling myself that familiar story, I immediately replace with the turnaround.

I watched several peers work through some of their most stress-inducing thoughts with these questions this weekend and come out feeling completely empowered. Seeing things in a different light, so to speak. I watched eyes light up when they discovered their “turnaround” statement and said it out loud.

I hope you try it out when you feel trapped by one of your “stories.” Can you imagine how different our lives would be if we didn’t possess the ability to engage these thoughts? Which would you prefer—life with or without your bullshit story? Without? Then let’s get cracking on eliminating it for good.

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17 Comments
  • Susan

    January 26, 2015 at 7:02 am

    I hope your feel better soon!
    I was doing well with eating and exercising until I started teaching first grade full time. I’m exhausted from my job and I’m a stress eater. My classroom had a lot of behavior problems in it and it’s difficult to teach. I was going to a 6am crossfit class but now I’d rather sleep in. I also take my daughter to school, she starts early. When I was going to the 6 am class I had very little time to get ready before I had to drive her. I also ended up eating a cereal bar in the car. I like easing into my day. I try to go now to the pm crossfit classes but then I feel guilty about not spending time with my four yr old twin sons and husband. My thyroid medicine was adjust so I hope I start to feel less tired and can go to some 6 am classes again. I feel like it’s such a vicious cycle between taking care of myself and my family. Is there a balance?

    • whoorl

      January 26, 2015 at 7:11 am

      My advice to you (and it might take some time because I know you are so busy…maybe do one before going to sleep each night?) is to take every one of the sentences you just wrote in your comment and apply the 4 questions to them. Be sure to do it on paper – there is something about the act of writing things down that makes the experience much more concrete. Let me know if you have any a-ha moments! (Also, I hear you on the balance challenge and commend you for trying to fit everything in!)

  • Adrienne J

    January 26, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve never laughed at my procrastination/fear/avoidance of what I really want to do in my career and with that little image up there, I did. I’ve spent months, years really, knowing what I want to do but not creating much because I’m scared. I’ll be printing out these questions right now (at work, oops!) and taking them home with me to post in my home office (where I really want to work!). I feel relieved.

  • Shannon

    January 26, 2015 at 10:05 am

    So I just went through these questions, and while putting pen to paper definitely helped….what do you do when your turnaround statement only elicits MORE troubles? Because I was on the right track, but as soon as I put the period at the end of the statement, my mind flooded with ‘buts’. So what do you do then; keep asking the same 4 questions until you reach an end?

  • Payal

    January 26, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    I love this post. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Shauna B

    January 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    This is such perfect timing for me. Just last night I was putting my baby to sleep and thinking (again) about all my flaws that make me a mediocre mother. But then I realized how much time and mental energy I expend thinking about my failings, which would be much better spent loving myself and showing myself the same compassion I show others! Mindfulness and thought awareness are so important, but it is so easy to let the quiet, disguised as helpful criticism in. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sara

    January 26, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I have Katie’s books and have used her techniques often. One thing I have found is that sometimes the stories are my own (albeit sick) way of amusing or distracting myself. I can sometimes be like a high school kid who needs drama because I am kind of bored with my day to day. So I will make up some story, usually involving making a mountain out of a molehill, and kick up the conflict either with myself or someone else. It isn’t productive, but it is sometimes easier than taking a good long look at the simmering discontent in areas my life. At least I can see that I am doing it now. That is progress!

  • Kathleen

    January 26, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Fantastic Post – xxoo

  • Nicole Lindstrom | Simply Happenstance

    January 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Love this post and questions. I recently did a meditation/detox yoga workshop. These questions add onto the ones that they asked us about replacing or choosing a postive _ over a negative _. I love this thought process because the quote above is something I sometimes get stuck into thinking….lots of excuses…

  • steph

    January 26, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Love it! thanks for this :)

  • Avery Hightower

    January 26, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    This is great! My mom recommended your blog to me after meeting you at her yoga class, and I love it! I especially love this post because I can relate. I too often find myself doubting my talents as an excuse to not put myself out there, especially in the things that matter most to me. These question will be a great way to turn those negative thoughts around.

  • Chandra

    January 26, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    This is PERFECT! Thank you so much for this! And those 4 questions might just me my next tattoo on my wrist!!! XOXO

  • Bobette

    January 27, 2015 at 6:26 am

    I liked the Work so much that I did the 10 day class with Katie. It is so simple to do and let’s you be your own therapist. It is a life changer for me, for sure. Love that you are spreading the news so others can facilitate themselves.

  • Terry Campbell

    January 27, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Much needed reminder and great perspective. I’m so glad you are feeling better and WILL continue to improve. These words are perfect timing for me and resonate LOUDLY. Wishing you continued good health.

    -TC

  • Violet

    January 28, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    The Center for the Work is down the street from my house. If you ever want to come, I know a great place to stay! :)

  • Ashley

    January 28, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    These are great questions to ask. I really need to this more often. I am definitely going through something right now and this would probably help with my stress levels.

  • Odds and Ends | whoorl

    March 13, 2015 at 11:15 am

    […] of it, and, more importantly, know how to better deal with situations like it in the future. We are not our stories, friends. Today, you are light and you are awesome. Eat that for […]