A Coaching Power Tool Created by Nathan Johnston
(Educational Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
Recognizing how we offer resistance to thoughts that bind us to uncomfortable feelings is an important first step to shifting the energy of a particular situation from resistance to understanding.
Carl Jung was the one who gave us the seed of the idea that is so well known now in popular psychology: “What you resist – persists.” He actually went on to say that not only what you resist persists, but that it will grow in size! When we offer resistance to a thought that binds us to an uncomfortable feeling, there is tension, like we are pulling on a knot that gets tighter and tighter the more energy we put into loosening it.
The word resistance means “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.” Resistance to uncomfortable feelings often occurs without questioning the veracity of our belief in the underlying thought that is causing them.
What would happen if you were able to release the tension from your knot of uncomfortable feelings, and gain a sense of understanding about how it could be untied instead? Imagining who you would be without a particular thought to bind you to an uncomfortable feeling naturally results in a sense of freedom. Where there was discomfort and tension (resistance), we now have the flexibility to choose thoughts that give us the freedom to explore a situation from different perspectives (understanding).
You really have two options when it comes to offering resistance to thoughts that bind you to uncomfortable feelings:
You can ignore your tangled thoughts and feelings. If you choose this path,
your emotional energy will be tied up with thoughts and beliefs that may or may not be true, and you will not understand why it might be important to imagine a life without those thoughts. You will be closed off from the cause of your feelings, which will continue to persist despite all of your efforts to ignore them. This is resistance
You can explore whether the thoughts and beliefs that make you feel
uncomfortable about a situation are true, and whether they are true or not you can imagine who you would be without them. You can experiment with interpreting situations through the lens of different perspectives and experience different feelings as a result. This too is resistance.
However, if you chose to explore the truth of your thoughts and beliefs, you begin to realize that your resistance is no longer focused on your feelings. Situations no longer appear to you as cause for discomfort, so you do not need to offer resistance to them as you once had. This exercise allows you to bring positive energy to every situation. You have the freedom to choose how you will respond because you have an understanding of how to unravel the meaning of challenging situations that exist independently of how you feel or what you believe. Your mind is focused on the way things are instead of how you want them to be. Your have positive energy. You feel free. This is understanding.
Metaphorically, everyone has a tangle of thoughts and feelings. Consciously or unconsciously we have offered resistance to thoughts that have bound us to uncomfortable feelings. Awareness of what you are offering resistance to serves as the catalyst for replacing resistance with understanding. You may not realize how tangled your thoughts and feelings are until you stop struggling with them and start seeking out the ways they connect.
Understanding of the connections between our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings develops in an open mind, free from assumptions based on what we know already. When we refuse to accept something the way it is, and try to make it into something else, we assume that we know all we need to know about what made it the way it is in the first place. What if there is a good reason for things being the way they are and we make a change without knowing the reason? The reason will likely persist and result in a series of similar situations until we loosen our tension on the assumption that we know all there is to know. Instead, we can use open-ended questions that lead to increased understanding rather than closed- ended questions that reinforce either/or thinking and increased resistance between differing perspectives.
What Byron Katie calls “The Work” consists of four questions designed to help people take responsibility for their feelings by understanding the impact of their thoughts. Instead of blaming other people or situations, and thereby giving them power to create suffering the idea is to keep it real, and understand the impact of our thoughts. Or more precisely, keep it real by giving up our resistance to the way things are, and seeking to understand the connection between our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
Asking questions is a way of giving up resistance, because the answer does not depend on what you want. It doesn’t matter what you want. The answer is what it is. So Katie’s first question, “Is it true?” requires a yes or no answer. This thought that seems to be the cause of your grief – is it true or not? If no, you can move on to the third question to help gain an understanding of your reality, take responsibility for aligning your thoughts with what is, and follow that path to a more positive feeling state.
But let’s say that this idea is true. It’s a fact, with evidence to account for it. Katie’s second question is, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” This is a helpful question because when it affirms there is some truth in the thought that we have given power to create suffering I think we experience a sense of validation that helps us explore the third question with an open mind. If we cannot absolutely determine whether something is true or not, that also helps to lower our resistance to alternative possibilities and solutions.
The third question is, “How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?” Whether we know a thought is true or we know that it isn’t true, the question leads us to observe our feeling state when we believe it. At this point, taking responsibility for one’s feelings becomes about observing them separately from the thought that seems to be causing them. It’s not about whether the thought is true or not at this point. It’s about how we react when we identify with the thought, giving it control over our behavior.
Katie’s fourth question completes the process of dissolving the apparent connection between the thought causing us misery and our own sense of self or identity. The question is, “Who would I be without the thought?” In asking that question we gain a clearer perception of reality by developing an understanding our feelings. Usually there is a feeling of lightness that results from pondering this over, a feeling of understanding. We have nearly accomplished taking responsibility for our feelings and behaviour. We may not be in control of what is, but paradoxically, by considering who we may be separately from our belief in a thought that is causing us suffering we find peace. We sense a feeling of understanding because our thinking is aligned with what is. Our feelings and behavior can now follow without strain or resistance.
The next part of The Work is what Katie calls “turning it around”, which is a somewhat nuanced practice I recommend going directly to her source material to understand further. I will say that turning it around is where we seek to find a way of taking responsibility for the truth we have discovered in asking the four questions by restating the thought from another perspective. For example, if the original thought was “Paul doesn’t listen to me” the turn-around could be “I don’t listen to Paul,” “Paul does listen to me,” or even “I don’t listen to myself.” The idea is to find the idea that is more closely aligned with the reality discovered in doing The Work.