A core teaching of my life & leadership coach training has centered around the following idea: if a thought (a.k.a. closely held belief) causes suffering -- you know angst, anger, anxiety, pain, hyperventilation, all around yuck -- then it's probably not true.
Yep, that's what I said. Let me repeat.
If a thought causes suffering,
then it's NOT true.
Weird, huh? Well, that's what I thought when I first learned this revolutionary notion. I hadn't really thought about pain and pleasure related to my thoughts. I certainly didn't believe I could control whether my thoughts created suffering or pleasure. I just knew I liked to think, that I relied very heavily on my brain and trusted her. I didn't know to question my thoughts.
I believed everything I thought.
But it turns out my thoughts aren't necessarily true. And when they aren't true, I can feel pretty bad both physically and mentally. I can actually experience pain in my body when I believe a thought that isn't true. That twinge behind my shoulder blade, the queasy feeling in my stomach, the tightening in my diaphragm, the ache in my neck are not just indicators I've been at my computer too long. They are also signs I'm potentially believing something not true.
Of course many of my thoughts are true. But those feel different. They are light and airy, filled with pleasure. Those kinds of thoughts make me giddy. I feel fluttery in my belly. Sometimes even a little light headed. There's a feeling behind my eyes -- you know the one right before tears of joy. My typical aches and pains are remarkably absent. And once you can feel the difference, it's pretty powerful.
When a thought is true, it tastes of freedom.
So, if I feel uncomfortable with a thought, now I know it's probably not true. I've learned my social self and her band of chatty monkeys are actually pretty darn good at spinning a convincing tale just to keep me safe. They will bend the truth beyond recognition to keep me from taking a potential risk. Yes, they will lie.
Now, when I see a thought shrouded in the cloak of something "good for me" that isn't really, I halt it in its tracks. I've found when I tell a thought "you're a lie," it's a show stopper. The gig is up.
I learned this idea from my coaching teacher, Martha Beck, who learned it from her teacher, Byron Katie. Together, these two enlightened women have helped me see my truth in a whole new light. And it's been mind blowing.
"What do you do with a thought that creates suffering?"
I'm glad you asked! The answer is...we question the thought. "The Work" is a method of inquiry created by Byron Katie. For every thought that creates suffering, I ask four questions:
1) Is my thought true?
2) Can I know that my thought is100% absolutely true?
3) How do I behave/react when I believe my thought?
4) Who would I be without my thought?
From there, I "turn the thought around." First to the opposite (I usually put or pull out some form of "NOT" in the sentence). Second, to the self (I replace the object with "I," "me," or "myself"). And third, to the other (I look for another opposite within the sentence.) Then I find three examples of how each of these new statements could be truer than my original.
Let me give you an example of the turnarounds:
Thought causing suffering: "My teen does not listen to me."
Turn around #1 (opposite): "My teen does listen to me."
Turn around #2 (self): "I do not listen to myself."
Turn around #3 (other): "I do not listen to my teen."
When I see my thoughts through this lens, I stop arguing with reality and move past suffering, anxiety, anger, angst, hyperventilation, and all around yuck with ease. I question my thoughts before they turn to rumination and dis-ease. And peace, joy, and wholeness are always the result.
If you aren't familiar with Byron Katie's and her ideas, I invite you to go to her website, watch her videos on YouTube, or read her book Loving What Is: Four questions that can change your life.
Her four questions and their turnarounds changed my life. I have a hunch they will change your's too.
Want some help doing inquiry on your thoughts that create suffering? Contact me about coaching at info@InsideEdgeCoach.com.