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The Work Is Like Learning a Language

Last updated on December 2, 2020

unfinished abandoned building
Construction on the Grand Hotel in Kaleden, BC, began in 1912, but never was completed. It’s one thing to “get it” (have the vision). It’s another thing to develop something fully.

Almost Everyone Stops at “I Get it”

We humans are really good at coming up with ideas. “I’m going to learn French,” for example. And we’re really good at imagining what it will be like when we have mastered French and can use it anytime. 

What we’re not good at is putting in the time to get from point A to point B. We have the vision. We see how good it will be. We take a few steps and realize that this is a long-term project and give up, move on, get distracted, etc.

It’s natural. That’s what we humans do.

But Success Comes Quickly Too

I have been studying French for about two years, just doing 15-30 min a day using my little Pimsleur app (the best by the way). And it’s amazing how, little by little, I’ve made progress. It is slow, but it doesn’t take as long as you think to make significant progress.

So why am I talking about this? 

The same issue comes up when doing The Work. We humans want the shortcut. We want it to be enough to just “get it” when doing The Work. “Oh, I get it,” is a recognition of the vision, but it is no substitute for actually taking the steps to realize the vision in daily life.

Here’s One Way It Shows Up

It’s very common when doing The Work to think, “Oh, I’ve worked that one before.” Or “I should know this by now, I’ve worked it already.” 

This is like saying, “I’ve seen the French word for “house” before, I should remember it. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I remember it?” 

But The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way

If I want to learn the French word for “house,” I’m going to need to hear that word a lot of times in different contexts. It’s the repetition that starts to build the memory. When enough easy repetition (without beating myself up) is completed, then the neural network is built and I can easily access the word “maison” (house) anytime. 

It’s the same with The Work. I may have trouble saying “no.” So I pick a stressful situation where I had trouble saying “no” and I do The Work on my stressful thoughts. This first pass gives some clarity. I start to “get it.” 

“Fantastic!” I say. “I’m done!”

But that was just the beginning. In all likelihood, I will be presented with a new situation again soon where I, once again, am unable to say “no.” When that happens, I may think, “Oh, I already did The Work on this. I should know how to do this already.” 

This Cuts Short the Learning Process

Now, instead of seizing a wonderful new opportunity to take my understanding to a new level, I end up judging myself and feeling frustrated that I don’t know it already. I forget that in order to get something into my muscles and bones, I need more than just one exposure to it.

When I study my French, I actually listen to each lesson about 5-6 times until it becomes so familiar to me that it feels natural. This is slower than even my app recommends, but it works so well for me. I may be slow to learn, but once I’ve built a new structure of knowledge, I can go away from it for a long time and it’s still right there at my finger tips.

So when I do The Work, I don’t worry about whether I’ve already done this piece of work already. I just dive in and do it again. I’m not stopping at “I get it,” or “I already did this.” I’m building a complete structure in my mind. Why would I stop halfway? 

How This Looks in Practical Terms

There are two main ways this shows up for me:

1. Working a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet Thoroughly

When working through a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, I could easily stop doing The Work after I question my Line 1 statement. After that piece of work, I often do “get it” quite nicely. But instead, I usually take several weeks to question each statement on my worksheet (even if it is redundant). 

In fact, it is the redundancy that I appreciate. The mind learns through repetition. 

Also, each statement that I wrote on my worksheet reveals another flavor of my stressful thinking. Doing The Work on each line often reveals new insights related to the main topic. It’s amazing how many new and interesting insights I get even when working basically the same subject again and again with each piece of my worksheet. Slowly it become more and more clear. It becomes a part of my muscles.

2. Working Similar Situations Again and Again

There are certain situations that come up again and again for me. I have done The Work on them in the past, often many times, but I still get triggered when faced with them in real life. This just means that I may have a handicap in this area. And therefore, I need even more exposure to The Work in this area. 

This is the time to be extra patient with myself. If I got trigged again (no matter how many times I’ve done The Work on similar situations), it means that I’m still not “getting it” even though my intellect will tell me that “I get it.” 

That’s What Practice Is For

It’s for creating something new. The intellect is for understanding what is already there. But practice is for building something from scratch, creating a new structure where there was nothing before. And that is always done through repetition.

The key lies in understanding that repetition is necessary in the process of relearning how to see the world, and in giving as much time as it takes without pressure to “get it done.” When I hold this attitude of infinite patience with the process, I get out of my own way and I can really dig in and make some progress.

Join Us for Deep Practice

In January, we will have another offering of The Work 101, my online course for diving into The Work and making it more of a practice. You will get a chance to test this idea of slow, steady practice in the course. And you will gain a lot of understanding of how to do The Work in the course. 

Join us if you are interested in building something new.

Have a great week,
Todd

“When practiced for a while, inquiry takes on its own life within you.” Loving What Is

Further reading: Getting Through the “I Get It” Phase

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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