Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is (Three Rivers Press, 2003), understands the power of a good question better than most. The renowned personal-development facilitator is legendary for her ability to elicit life-changing insights with nothing more than a gentle form of inquiry.
Katie once met a man serving a life sentence for murdering his wife. She asked him, “What were you thinking at the moment you did the deed that put you here?” The man said he was thinking that his wife didn’t love him. That’s when Katie asked one of her trademark questions: “Is that true?”
Ten minutes of discussion revealed evidence that the man’s wife had loved him. It was really just his painful thoughts about his wife that had caused his rage. But by the time he realized that, it was too late.
For most of us, the consequences of our misguided thoughts are not so dramatic. But our unexamined ideas and beliefs can certainly work against us. So we’ve asked Katie and four other visionaries to share their best eye-opening, insight-provoking questions.
1. Is it true?
Not knowing what’s causing our suffering, says Byron Katie, is a lot like being a hamster on a wheel: We’re not sure why we’re running, but we can’t seem to stop. The solution is to identify and question the thought that has us running in the first place.
For instance, let’s say you had a bad day at work — and it all started when you noticed that your boss never acknowledged you for your hard work on a big project. The thought that keeps running through your head is “My boss doesn’t think I’m valuable.”
That’s when Katie would tell you to ask yourself: “Is it true? Can you absolutely know that that thought is true?” Is it really true that your boss doesn’t think you’re valuable? When you pause and reflect, you remember that she’s been extremely busy lately. She’s been managing several new initiatives at work. She’s remarked in the past that you do terrific work, and your last performance review was stellar. More likely, your boss does value your contribution — she has just been too swamped to remark on it.
We can almost always discover a grain of untruth behind a thought that is causing us suffering. And when you look directly at a thought that’s making you feel bad and examine it more closely, it loses a lot of its power.
It takes practice to identify and question these thoughts, says Katie. “No one has ever told us to question our own thinking. But when we do, we become responsible for our own lives, our own minds, our own health and our own choices.”