I Think Sub-questions Are Often Overused in The Work


If I offer someone an apple, that’s great. But what happens if I offer another and another and another while they’re still eating the first one?

I’m Talking about Sub-Questions for Question 3 of The Work of Byron Katie

Question 3 is: “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?”

Sub-questions for question 3 are:

  • Does that thought bring peace or stress into your life?
  • What images do you see, past and future, and what physical sensations arise as you think that thought and witness those images?
  • What emotions arise when you believe that thought? (Refer to the Emotions List, available on thework.com.)
  • Do any obsessions or addictions begin to appear when you believe that thought? (Do you act out on any of the following: alcohol, drugs, credit cards, food, sex, television, computers?)
  • How do you treat the person in this situation when you believe the thought? How do you treat other people and yourself?

The Purpose of Sub-Questions Is To Experience the Range of Reactions that Happen

All of the sub-questions, except for the first one, invite me to go into detail about how I react when I believe a thought. This is so I can really see the effect of believing that thought: I see related images, I feel emotions and sensations, I escape through addictions and obsessions, I treat myself and others poorly.

It can be fascinating to see all the ways I react when I am under the influence of a particular stressful thought in a particular situation. That’s what the sub-questions bring out.

But In Facilitation, Sub-questions Can Sometimes Be Annoying

The guideline for using these optional sub-questions in Byron Katie’s “Principles for Facilitators” is to “use the questions effectively and appropriately.” That, of course, is open to interpretation.

For me, it means not asking a sub-question when my client has already covered that sub-question on their own. When I ask something that they have already covered, it lets them know that I’m not really listening.

Appropriate use of sub-questions for me also means not asking every sub-question as if each sub-question were required. The Work is four questions and turnarounds, not nine questions and turnarounds. Sub-questions are just helpful options to support in answering question 3.

Facilitating Is Different for People Who Are New to The Work

For someone who is new to The Work, sub-questions are very helpful because this person may not even know where to look for possible reactions to a thought.

But for those who are experienced in The Work, they are probably already naturally covering the sub-questions as they answer question 3. When I’m working with someone who is experienced in The Work, I often just ask the four questions with no sub-questions. Or maybe one or two sub-questions.

The Facilitator Ego Loves Sub-Questions

The ego likes to be special and different. It is not satisfied with just asking four questions. It likes to show off by asking unusual sub-questions and being very “helpful” for the client. But does the client need any help? And is facilitation really about the facilitator?

What if facilitation was just holding the space for the client to do their work? What if the facilitator was just on the sidelines, not out on the playing field?

The Ego Shows Up when I’m a Client Too

If I’m the client and someone asks me what I think are “inappropriate” sub-questions, is my ego put out? If it stresses me, I may need to look at my rigid thoughts about facilitating. How am I using the “rules” of facilitation to stay in control?

What’s so wrong about someone asking me something I already covered? It either gives me a chance to answer it again, and maybe even find something more, or to thank them and let them know that I already answered that one.

If I get triggered by my facilitator, it’s an opportunity to do my work on that situation that arose in facilitation.

“Loving what is” means I can do my work no matter how I am facilitated.

Have a great weekend,

“In reading the dialogues in this book, it is important to understand that there is no essential difference between what the facilitator does (in these examples, it happens to be me) and what a person doing The Work alone does.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

Get two new articles about The Work of Byron Katie every week, plus my checklist for the Judge-Your-Neighbor-Worksheet. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

If you like this article, feel free to forward the link to friends, family or colleagues. Or share the link on Facebook or other social media. If you have thoughts you’d like to share about it, please leave your comments below.