“Is it true?” This simple question comes from The Work, a process of self-examination and healing created by Byron Katie. These three little words encourage us to examine our assumptions and beliefs, because so often they are not accurate or true.

My own thoughts can send me down the rabbit hole of fear and anxiety. ‘So-and-so didn’t respond the way I’d hoped. She doesn’t like me or doesn’t approve of what I’m doing.” Is it true? Do I know, really know, that she doesn’t approve of me? Of course not. I’ve made an assumption based on my own need to be liked, or because the ‘not good enough‘ gremlin has appeared for the umpteenth time.

It’s a story I’m telling myself based on nothing. It is possible that this person does not like me. (There are seven billion people on the planet; there are bound to be a few who are not raving fans.) But I have no evidence besides my own fears, and this is not evidence at all.

When I ask myself, “Is it true?” I can take a closer look at what is real. Most likely it was about her, not me. What is she grappling with? Did she get enough sleep? Are her kids okay? There are a hundred reasons to explain it… including my idea not being so great after all, or at least not meaningful to her.

The other side of this is questioning my beliefs about myself. Is it true that I’m not good enough? Let’s see. When have I been successful? And when I’m not, what do I do? When and on whom have I had a positive impact? Of course I am good enough. But somewhere, somehow, I internalized a need to be perfect and to be liked. Crazy, right? And yet it’s how I feel… until I ask myself if it’s true. Byron Katie’s question makes it easier for me to ease the pressure of unrealistic expectations.

Here is an example of how “Is it true?” sparked an insight and relief for a client.

Pattie was feeling sad that her husband didn’t have a good relationship with their son. “Is it true?” I asked. “Is it true that Steve doesn’t have a good relationship with Jason?”

“Maybe not,” she answered. As she processed the question, Pattie came to an important understanding: she was using her own relationship with Jason as the baseline for evaluating a good relationship. Steve didn’t have the same deep conversations and ‘intimate’ moments that she did with Jason, so she assumed that something was missing.

Pattie realized that her husband and son were connected in a different and meaningful way. Steve had also come from a family where parents were not overly affectionate and didn’t communicate at what we would today call a deep level. But his connection to Jason felt comfortable and fulfilling to him, and Pattie thought that Jason would say the same. It took only a few minutes for her to go from feeling sad and disappointed to calm and content.

Questioning assumptions is a tool that can help reduce anxiety from the stories we tell ourselves. Make “Is it true?” your go-to question to make it so.

Originally published at www.fernweis.com