Byron Katie: How to Get Over a Bad Experience

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you get over a bad experience? What can you do to keep your mind from coming back to it over and over again?

When something bad happens, many people ruminate over it instead of accepting it, but that only leads to further distress. Instead of dwelling on your misfortune, explore other interpretations of the situation to try and see it from a different angle.

Here’s how to get over a bad experience, according to spiritual teacher Byron Katie.

Explore Other Interpretations of Your Situation

In her book Loving What Is, Byron Katie explains how to get over a bad experience or an upsetting situation. To that end, she suggests two thought exercises that will open your mind to other perspectives about your misfortune and offer insights that shift your thoughts from resistance to acceptance. Play around with these exercises until you land on an interpretation that feels intuitively right to you. She explains that you’ll know that you’ve picked the right interpretation when, instead of viewing the situation as wrong or unwanted, you’re able to accept it and respond to it constructively.

(Shortform note: According to Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now), you’ll know you’ve picked the right interpretation when you’re able to focus on the present moment without getting lost in your internal monologue—the “mind chatter” that often gives rise to critical thoughts that impede your ability to feel inner peace and happiness. Choosing an interpretation that calms your internal monologue inevitably improves the way you think about yourself and your circumstances. As a result, you find it easier to accept your reality as it occurs instead of finding reasons to resist it.)

1) State the Opposite of Your Thoughts

Explore if there’s any truth to the inverse of your current perspective. According to Katie, the more you acknowledge that the opposing perspective can also be true for you, the less hold your resistant thoughts will have over you.  

  • Example #1: Change, “My children never help with the chores because they don’t respect me,” to, “My children always help with the chores because they respect me.”
  • Example #2: Change, “I never have enough money and this makes me feel like a failure,” to, “I always have enough money and this makes me feel like a success.”

(Shortform note: You might find it difficult to explore an opposing perspective. This is because your thoughts and your state of mind reinforce one another to create an internal feedback loop. In this loop, your thoughts determine your state of mind (thinking about your children makes you resentful) and your state of mind determines your thoughts (you feel resentful so you think about how your children make life difficult). However, research reveals that conscious reflection—whether through journaling, mindfulness practices, or Katie’s three-step process—helps you develop the awareness to disentangle yourself from this feedback loop. This makes it easier to objectively view and change your thoughts.)

2) State Your Role in the Situation

Shift your perspective from blaming external circumstances to questioning what role your thoughts and behaviors have played in creating both the situation and your feelings about it. According to Katie, understanding your role in the situation will result in a profound change: Instead of needing the situation to be a specific way before you can accept it, you’ll feel empowered to change the way you think about it so that you can feel at peace, regardless of whether or not the situation changes.

  • Example #1: “My children never help with the chores because I don’t respect myself,” or My children never help with the chores because I don’t respect them,” or, “I never help my children with the chores because I don’t respect them.”
  • Example #2: “I think I’m a failure and that’s why I never have enough money.”
Different Perspectives on Exploring Your Role in Difficult Situations

While Katie argues that you should reflect on your role in situations so that you can understand and accept your experiences, many self-help practitioners argue that you should focus on your role so that you can find proactive ways to change your experiences. Three notable proponents of this theory include:  

– James Allen (As A Man Thinketh) argues that, in addition to exploring how your thoughts and behaviors contribute to difficult situations, you must understand why you think and behave the way you do. Without this understanding, you’re more likely to believe that you have no control over your thoughts, behaviors, and resulting experiences—which means you won’t feel motivated to change yourself or your circumstances.

– The authors of Crucial Conversations claim that blaming other people or circumstances is a method we use to intentionally ignore the role we play in creating difficult situations. It justifies our resistance by excusing us from any responsibility and, as a result, we don’t see a reason to change our thoughts and behaviors. On the other hand, when we tell ourselves accurate stories and acknowledge our accountability, we feel inspired to engage in constructive thoughts and behaviors. 

– Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within) explains that blaming external circumstances limits happiness because it blocks you from making changes that will improve your life. He suggests that you can overcome this limitation by asking yourself positive and empowering questions. For example, what fun things can you do to inspire your children to help with the chores?

If you’re reflecting on your role in situations as a way to change your experiences rather than accept them, focus on specific, changeable behaviors. Focusing on modifiable behaviors directs you to specific actions you can take to improve both yourself and your circumstances. For example, acknowledging that you’re more inclined to get angry with your children when you’re tired and hungry indicates a way to improve your relationship with them—delay discussions about the chores until you’ve had a rest and nourished yourself.
Byron Katie: How to Get Over a Bad Experience

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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