Do You Ever Get Hung Up On Question Four?

I can’t drop the thought.
I would be lying to myself.
It’s too hard.
I’m scared to let go of it.
It would be irresponsible.

These are a few of the responses I hear when I ask the fourth question, “Who would you be without that thought?” in The Work of Byron Katie.

Question four is a very powerful question, but it sometimes stops people in their tracks. You can almost see their white knuckles as they sit there thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t do this!”

Let’s Say You’re Working The Concept, “Joey Shouldn’t Talk Back”

You run through questions one, two and three…

1. Is it true? Yes.
2. Can you absolutely know it’s true that Joey shouldn’t talk back? Yes.
3. How do you react when you believe this thought? I get frustrated, angry, I feel powerless, etc.

And you come to question four:

4. Who would you be without the thought that Joey shouldn’t talk back?

You might start to answer like this: “I would be a bad parent if I didn’t think that thought. It’s my responsibility to discipline him. I would be culturing him to be disrespectful if I didn’t.”

But If You Answer In This Way You Miss The Point Of Question Four

Question four does not ask you to drop the thought. It does not say you have to stop disciplining your child. It does not say you have to change your behavior at all.

Question four is an experiment.

It’s a hypothetical question. Who would you be without that thought? If you could replay the same situation all over again but without the thought, “Joey shouldn’t talk back,” what would your experience look like? Would there be any difference?

This Is How Science Is Done

You compare two versions of the same setup, but in one of them you change just one thing. And you look to see if there is any difference. That way you can find out if the one thing you changed has any effect.

So Who Would We Be Without The Thought?

Does the thought, “Joey shouldn’t talk back,” make any difference to our internal experience when we’re standing there listening to him talking back?

Who would we be in that same situation if that thought somehow didn’t arise in us? For one, we might find that we’re actually curious, “I wonder why he’s taking this tact?” We’re listening. And we’re a bit more understanding of Joey.

It Doesn’t Mean We Condone His Behavior

But we may feel some compassion. After all he’s only 14 years old.  This might be Joey’s best attempt at standing up for himself.  And kind of like getting up on skis for the first time, he may still be a little wobbly.

Without the thought that Joey shouldn’t talk back, we would probably feel more connected to him. And we might be a lot less angry. In fact, without the anger, there’s no wavering in our stand. Anger makes us insecure, defensive, and irrational. Without our anger, Joey gets the calm message that this tactic simply doesn’t work. He gets an education.

Without the thought, we are loving, calm, neutral, engaged, happy, and strong.

Having This Experience Is The Only Purpose Of Question Four

Once we do this little experiment, we are free to go back to our normal ways of doing things. But it’s funny. Once we see a less painful way to deal with the situation, it’s hard to go back to our normal, painful way of doing things. Especially if the less painful way is more effective.

This is how our minds naturally open, and we find ourselves now ready to try the turnarounds.

Have You Ever Gotten Stuck On Question Four?

Please share a specific time where you had trouble answering question four in the comments below.

What was the concept you were working? What gave you trouble? And could seeing question four as an experiment have helped? Please share your experience with all of us.


Todd Smith is a facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie. To learn more about about The Work, and how to use it in your daily life, read the article, “Three Things You Need To Do To Make The Work A Daily Practice.”

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