How To Let Go of Worry And Get Happy (with just 4 questions…)

This is the second in a three-part series with tools you can use to reduce stress, find more calm and feel happier.

20-something me letting my worries sail away!
20-something me letting my worries sail away!

The first post in this series (When Did You First Begin to Worry?) explored using mindfulness based techniques to break the worry cycle. Today’s blog looks at how to challenge thoughts that cause you stress.

Last year I read Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is. In it she explains a process of inquiry based on 4 questions called The Work. The questions are designed to help you look at stressful thoughts differently.

The 4 Questions

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3)
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true? (Yes or no)
  3. How do you react – what happens – when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Recently I found myself spinning a familiar yarn. It’s called my “being an entrepreneur is really hard” story. Here’s how I used the 4 questions to challenge my thinking.

Welcome to the Pity Party

It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m trying to figure out a glitch in the back-end of my website. This is a challenge for me because a.) I don’t have much tech training b). I’m a morning person and it’s getting late, and c.) truth is, I’d really like to delegate this to someone else!

As I search YouTube for “how to” videos to solve my current problem, my mind starts playing the refrain: “It’s really hard to be an entrepreneur.” The more I think it, the more frustrated and discouraged I become. But honestly? I also find a bit of consolation in playing the victim (poor me, the deck is stacked against me, no one understands how hard this is …). In a temporary moment of maturity (#TMOM), I decide to try the 4 questions. The conversation in my head goes like this:

  1. Is it true? “Yes – damn right, it is!”
  2. Is it absolutely true? Hesitation, then: “Well, no, it isn’t 100% true all the time…”
  3. How do you react – what happens- when you believe that thought? When I believe the thought: It’s really hard to be an entrepreneur…
  • I begin to feel a sense of overwhelm
  • I become self-critical (I should be able to figure this out faster!)
  • I start to worry about other things that aren’t getting done
  • I get cranky (keep your distance)
  • I’m tempted to give up
  1. Who would you be without that thought? Who would I be without overwhelm, self-criticism, worry, crankiness and doubt? I’d be…
  • Calm and relaxed
  • Confident that I’d get the problem fixed
  • Excited to bring my work into the world

My mood shifts and I feel lighter, happier. Yes, being an entrepreneur is challenging, but when I think about it some more …

I Have the Coolest Job in the World!

I have total freedom. I get to create work that inspires me. I can design new programs quickly as I learn what people need. I have the chance to collaborate with smart, dynamic colleagues who are doing amazing work.

Whoa! As I think about how lucky I am to do work I love on my terms, I sit up straighter in my chair. I get a second wind and finally figure out how to create a work around for my tech problem. A small accomplishment that feels pretty good to me right now.

The Big Ah-ha

The real success tonight? Recognizing the power of my thoughts and owning my ability to change them.

It wasn’t the problem or situation itself that was causing my fear and worry. It was the story I was telling myself about it and what I made it mean that was stressing me out.

What story are you telling yourself right now that is creating stress in your life? Try the 4 questions and see what shifts for you. Leave a comment and let me know what happens.

Note: This is not intended as a full demonstration of The Work. It’s an example of how I applied the 4 questions to a particular situation. To get comprehensive information about how to do The Work, visit Byron Katie’s website: thework.com.

Until next time, as the song says: Don’t worry, be happy!

5 thoughts on “How To Let Go of Worry And Get Happy (with just 4 questions…)

  1. Reminds me of the “story of self” used in organizing. Conflict, whether external or internal, can be overcome.

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