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Tips for Making The Work a Long-Term Practice

Last updated on June 25, 2021

balsamroot flowers on the mountainside
Every spring these balsamroot flowers bloom, and have probably been doing so for millions of years. What’s their secret?

Establishing a Practice Takes Some Planning

I’ve been doing The Work regularly five days a week since 2007. What has allowed me to keep up the practice over an extended period of time?

I like doing many different things in life as a practice: I meditate, cook fresh food every day, play pickleball, workout, sleep on time, and I do The Work. For me, there are some prerequisites for making something a practice that must be in place before I can begin any new practice.

Here are the prerequisites for me:

1. I have to like it, or at least see the value of it.
2. I have to feel capable of doing it.

Are You Ready to Begin a Practice of The Work?

Before I could begin my practice of The Work, I had to establish these two prerequisites I mentioned above. I first heard of The Work in 2006 when I read Loving What Is, by Byron Katie. The first prerequisite came very quickly for me. As I was reading the book, I immediately resonated with The Work conceptually. And I could see the value of it for me. It was like a missing piece I had been looking for for a while. I knew I wanted to make this a practice in my life.

The second prerequisite took me about five months to work out. I knew that I wanted to make The Work a practice, but I wasn’t sure how I would fit it into my busy life. I knew it would not be satisfying for me to just do it here and there. I wanted to go deep with The Work and I knew I needed regular practice time. It took me a few months to work out the details so that on Jan 1, 2007, I began my practice in earnest and I have continued with it five days a week ever since.

The key for me was to not jump the gun, but rather to wait until I had cleared room for The Work in my life before I began. Not everyone likes to plan the way I do, and my way is not the only way, but this way has served me very well.

Finding Inspiration

If The Work is not something you’re so sure about, then jumping into a long-term practice may be premature. Instead, I suggest spending more time listening to The Work, watching videos, reading, etc.

This is why I offer free Open Sessions each week so you can witness first-hand what The Work is and see if it might resonate with you or perhaps grow on you. You can also try a private session, or a virtual retreat to get a taste of The Work with the support of a facilitator to see how you like it.

There’s no rushing this phase. The Work has to be genuinely appealing to me before I will make any significant time for it in my life. Time always follows interest. I can’t fake it for long.

Getting Through the Learning Phase

Another key component of establishing a long-term practice of The Work is getting over the learning hump. Even when you want to do something, there can be a lot to learn and that can slow you down. Sometimes, I am enthusiastic to begin something new, but my enthusiasm fades when I realize that there is still a lot I don’t understand about how to do it.

This is where gaining from the experience of others can be a big help.

This is why I offer The Work 101, my online course for going systematically through all of the main parts of doing The Work. When you have the support of a training program, and access to experienced practitioners, you don’t have to get hung up on things you don’t understand. With support, you can easily clear up your confusion, doubts, misunderstandings, and other difficulties quickly so that there is no resistance moving forward.

Another advantage of The Work 101 is that there are regular assignments to do, and attendance is taken, and this can help jump-start the habit of a regular practice.

Ongoing Practice

There is one more issue that comes up once you’ve gotten through the steep part of the learning curve: this is a tendency to put self-care last in life. And it can happen for many reasons, for example:

1. I need to take care of others primarily.
2. I think it’s selfish to take time for myself
3. I get distracted by many other things I want to do.

You may value The Work (phase 1 above), you may feel confident in how to do The Work (phase 2 above), but you may still end up not doing The Work even though you want to. I find that this is usually a combination of circumstances and limiting beliefs.

Life is busy. That’s just reality in the modern world. So what gets done depends on priorities. I commonly put caring for others as a higher priority over caring for myself. I’ve even had the thought, “It’s selfish to make time for myself.” These kinds of thoughts can be questioned and, if you get clear, you may find a balance between caring for others and caring for yourself. I highly recommend questioning these kinds of beliefs directly with The Work.

In addition, even if you do create time for yourself, you may still be balancing many competing desires within yourself. So when you have time alone, you may want to just relax, or play a game, or read, or learn, or do many other things. This is where an honest evaluation of priorities can help to find out what you want to do. Then it’s a matter of making a schedule that reflects your honest priorities. If The Work fits in, great. If not, great. At least it’s honest.

One Thing That Can Help

Both of the resistance points to an ongoing practice that I mentioned above (putting others first, and competing desires) can be neutralized by something I use regularly: doing The Work with others.

When I do The Work with others, it can often take on a higher priority for me. When I work with others, my “service to myself” includes holding space for them. This nullifies any argument that “I’m being selfish” by taking care of myself. I tend to keep appointments with others more than I keep appointments with myself for this reason. And I use this to my advantage by scheduling time to do The Work with others.

In addition, there is added joy in doing The Work with others because 1) I learn from others and 2) I feel heard by others. These two added bonuses to The Work can make it even more appealing, and allow it to gain a higher place on my list of things I want to do.

For this reason, I created Inquiry Circle, my ongoing practice group for The Work. There we do The Work together in written form and we read what others write. And we do The Work in spoken form with partners each week, as well as in our monthly seminar, and in our quarterly Inquiry Circle virtual retreat. We serve each other in many ways in this group, which gives a feeling of responsibility and belonging. All of this supports us to keep coming back.

Same Time, Same Place

One principle that has supported me for years is this: I do The Work at the same time and the same place every time. I have changed the time and place over the years, but I’ve always had a particular time and place that was my work time.

This takes the guesswork out of it. I know that from 9:30-10 AM every weekday I will be at my computer writing my work out in Inquiry Circle. I also have a regular work partner for spoken work that appears in my calendar on the same day at the same time every week. This regularly helps a lot.

Two Ways to Work: One-Liners or Lists

Finally, there are two main ways that I’ve found to be helpful when doing The Work on an ongoing basis. The first is to look at what is going on that day, write a one-liner, and question it at once. This approach takes care of the stuff that comes up as it comes up. 

The second approach is to write a list of stressful thoughts about one situation and then question one thought each day from the list for a week or two, or longer. Writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet is one way to write a list of stressful thoughts like this. 

I find that both methods are valuable and I use both of them. The advantage of working today’s one-liner is that I deal with what is up for me that day. And it is very simple. The advantage of writing a list of stressful thoughts and working on them over a week or two is that I often uncover more layers of insight about the same situation as I go deeper. And I don’t have to decide what to work on each day, I just go down the list.

I’d Love to Hear Your Experience

If you’ve tried different things and found ways to do The Work, let me hear your experience. There are so many ways to make The Work a regular practice.

Join us for a 3-day virtual retreat March 26-27-28. During this time I will be available for 30 hours of doing The Work and answering questions. Come for as much or as little time as you can. The cost is only $300 Canadian.

Have a great week,
Todd

“The mind open to being questioned is the only mind that can take this journey. The open mind is fearless in its quest to live without suffering. Eventually inquiry is easy to put into practice, because you learn to respect where your answers come from and the freedom they bring. And eventually the mind understands that it has found its desired path, the path leading home, back to its very own self, its ultimate resting place” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy.

Further reading: The Little Gifts of Daily Practice

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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