We just finished “Hunt for Happiness Week,” and I wanted to share with you my favorite tool for dissolving the worries and negativity that block our happiness.
“Stress is not a reaction to an event but rather to how you interpret the event.” (Sonya Collins)
How can you change the meaning you’re giving to the things that bother you? One method is to question your thoughts about the troubling situation. Chances are, you’re seeing it in a very scary way. But that CAN be changed!
One of the things that recently caused me distress concerned Judy—my dear friend and business partner for over twenty years—who was diagnosed with breast cancer. In between her chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, she continued to work at her usual hectic pace. I was terrified Judy would get sick again, and I didn’t want to lose her.
My worried mind whispered to me, “She should not work so much,” and it interfered with my hunt for happiness. Soon after admitting this, I began to seek a new way of looking at the situation.
Just in time, a friend invited me to attend a weekend course with Byron Katie, the developer of “The Work”—an amazingly powerful tool for examining and reframing our minds’ negative interpretations.
Tool Number 6. Is It True? [from 50 Ways to Worry Less Now]
Byron Katie gave me permission to use this illustration of her process. My responses to her recommended questions appear in italics.
- Write in your journal about a particularly troubling situation in your life. What’s wrong? What should be different? I am so worried about Judy. She’s had cancer, and she’s determined to work long hours even as she’s recovering from surgery and chemotherapy. I’m terrified her ambitious work schedule will make her sick again. Nothing I say or do has changed the situation. I feel stuck
- Select one thought to explore in greater depth. Write it at the top of a new page. Judy should not overwork.
- Ask yourself, Is this true? Yes.
- Ask yourself, Can I absolutely know it’s true? No, probably not . . . there might be times when it’s ok.
- Ask yourself, How do I react when I believe this thought? I worry about Judy. I react by trying to do things for her. I judge her as not being able to take care of herself. I’m thinking about this way too much, and it’s robbing my peace of mind.
- Ask yourself, Who could I be if I didn’t believe this thought? What might my life look like or feel like? Without this thought, I’d be more accepting of how Judy is dealing with her illness. I could stop worrying about her and meddling in her life. I could relax.
- What other ways of saying the original statement might be as true, or truer, than the original thought? (Original statement: Judy should not overwork.) (a) Turn the thought around to the opposite: Judy should overwork. In what way is this as true, or truer, than your original statement? She realizes every minute is precious and she has a lot she wants to do. (b) Turn the thought around to yourself: I should not overwork. In what way is this as true, or truer, than your original statement? I’ve been working too much and I’m under a lot of stress. I need to take better care of myself.
The point of this exercise is to see that the meaning you’ve constructed is not necessarily the truth. In my case, I was afraid Judy would get sick again, and I thought she would stay healthy if she worked less. When I turned it around to the opposite, however, I saw that the decision was Judy’s to make and not mine, that working might be exactly what she needed.
As I turned it around to myself, I got a big dose of honesty. I realized my true concern needed to be with my own overwork. As so often happens, when we point an accusing finger at another, we find three other fingers pointing back at us. This insight prompted me to face my own whispered lie that if I didn’t work hard enough I would fail at my job. I had been worried about looking weak or imperfect, a hangover from my zero-sum-game days.
Whenever we detect false beliefs interfering with our serenity, it’s time to take a breath and acknowledge the scary unpredictability of life. Then we can use any of the 50 tools in “Worry Less Now” to face our challenges with courage and grace.
If your hunt for happiness is thwarted by negative thoughts, try the “Is It True?” exercise. Be sure to select one of the damaging beliefs you’re holding about another person, and go through each step with it. You might be amazed!
Gigi Langer, PhD. Many years ago, I used alcohol, romance, and professional accomplishments to soothe my frayed nerves. Over time, I discovered effective tools from therapy, recovery programs, scientific research, energy work, and a variety of philosophical and spiritual teachings. I share those techniques in my blog and book so you can find peace of mind and wisdom, no matter what is bothering you.
My award-winning book, 50 Ways to Worry Less Now, describes how I and others have defeated the faulty thinking leading to dysfunctional relationships, perfectionism, addiction, and worry about loved ones. Gain practical strategies through personal stories. Amazon: 4.8 stars (53 reviews) (Buy Paperback, e-book, OR audiobook HERE
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