How 4 simple questions can free you from the habit of depression
Depression is not an illness or disease - you can’t catch it. The truth is that you create it, in your thoughts about yourself, the world and your place in it.
That we create our own suffering is one of the hardest things to understand about depression, but can also be the most liberating because if we can create it, we can change it.
Once we realise that nothing is stopping us living a happier life but ourselves, our world opens up and becomes only limited by o
ur own thoughts.
It is so easy to develop negative patterns of thought, patterns that don’t serve us. Over time these patterns become ingrained and it becomes our natural instinct to react in a certain way.
Before we know it, it has become habit, an automatic reaction.
The good news is that if it is a habit, it can be changed - and that should give us hope.
It is certainly not easy, but it is definitely possible, and that belief, that we can change, is so important as it gives us hope and empowers us to take control over our own life.
So, if it is possible to break the habit, how do we do that? How do we stop ourselves creating our own suffering?
I believe that first we must become conscious of the way in which we talk to ourselves. Once we do this we must act as bouncers on the door of our minds - ensuring that we only let the thoughts that support and nurture ourselves stay and showing those others the door.
We need to take note of the thoughts we have and question them, not merely accept them as reality, but truly question them - where are these thoughts coming from, and ask how, if at all, do they serve us?
One particularly useful tool for this kind of reflection is Byron Katie’s 4 Questions, which are based on the Buddhist text, the Diamond Sutra.
You must subject each thought to the following questioning:
Is it true?
Ask yourself if this thought is actually true, or is it based on some internal bias, fear or insecurity which is not founded in reality. Just because we believe them, and so for us they become true, does not necessarily mean they are true.
Can you absolutely know it’s true?
This question seeks to really test your first answer. How do you know it is true? In reality, we often do not. This is especially true if we are making assumptions about what others are thinking (she hates me, for example).
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
This question asks you to reflect on how you feel when you believe this thought to be true. Does it make you feel happy? Or does it make you upset?
Who would you be without that thought?
How would you feel if you didn’t believe this to be true? Would you feel better? Would it liberate you? And allow yourself to think of yourself more positively?
This really is an amazing framework, because you soon realise that your thoughts, in the main, are not based on truth, but rather are based on some fallacy or fantasy that you have created. It allows you to quickly assess your thoughts rationally, and this can be a huge turning point.
Allowing yourself to believe damaging thoughts is like poisoning yourself with your own poison. Once you realise this, and how you would feel if you didn’t believe it, you will be able to let these thoughts go more easily.
Yes, they will return, but each time ask yourself these 4 questions and you will find these thoughts will leave more quickly than before. Until eventually, these thoughts will come and you will be able to laugh at them, shrug and move on.
It truly is liberating.
For me, one of my recurring thoughts is that I haven’t achieved enough in my life, that I should have done more by now (I've just turned 40).
It has tormented me for years and yet once I asked myself these 4 questions, I found a level of peace.
When I looked at my life in this new light, and the things I have achieved - the home I have created with my wife, my loving children, and the time I am blessed to spend with them - it is what I have always wanted.
I also realised that when I believed that I hadn’t achieved enough, I felt a huge sense of dread, a crippling sense of depression, of self-loathing and guilt. I would spiral into negativity, spend time actively avoiding others, convinced that they all thought the same about me.
It certainly wasn’t helpful, for me or those around me.
By using the framework and becoming aware of the way that this thought made me feel, I realised it was destructive and untrue and that if I no longer believed it I could be happier.
So, I resolved to start policing my thoughts and it has made a massive difference to my enjoyment of life.
I now know that I have the power, that I can change the way I experience the world - and so can you.