A few months back I had a week where three different people, all in different places and situations, mentioned or made reference to Bryon Katie. Then, the following week, my therapist brought it up and explained a concept known as “The Turnaround.” Clearly the cosmos wanted me to learn about Byron Katie…and I’m thankful.
Katie is an American author who teaches a method of self-inquiry known simply as "The Work.” She’ s the founder of Byron Katie International, an organization that includes The School for the Work and Turnaround House in Ojai, California. TIME describes her as "a spiritual innovator for the 21st century." I have to say — her story is not a common one. It’s a story that still sets me back in my chair whenever I read it. You can dive into it here.
The crux of her story is this epiphany she experienced in 1986:
I discovered that when I believed my stressful thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn't believe them, I didn't suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.
Katie has developed a core philosophy that suffering is caused by believing our stressful thoughts. This, she says, puts people into painful positions that lead to suffering, as she recognized to be the case with herself. Through self-questioning, she describes how a different, less-known capacity of the mind can end this suffering. This is what she calls, “The Work.”
The Work is a way of identifying and questioning any stressful thought. It consists of four questions and, the most impactful component of the framework, called “The Turnaround.”
The four questions are:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it's true?
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
The next step of The Work, The Turnaround, is a way of experiencing the opposite of the believed thought. It’s about asking and exploring “what if the opposite were true?” For example, the stressful thought "My coworkers are going to hate this idea” can be turned around by considering the possibility of "My coworkers are going to love this idea.”
“The Work” is best explored in Katie’s best selling book, “Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life.” She also openly shares the concept on her website, where she provides a free downloadable worksheet — a practical tool for working through stressful situations, conversations, and relationships.
Simply put, if you only take one thing away from this — challenge yourself to practicing The Turnaround in your daily life, whether at work or at home or anywhere. Whenever you start spinning out on a thought or a scenario — especially a future state that may or may not come true — ask yourself to stop and consider what it would be like if the opposite were true. It’s a powerful tool, for which I am very, very thankful.