When you get to the bottom of people’s problems, most problems have to do with a lack of peace. Stress, anxiety, sorrow, depression—all these difficult emotions and experiences have the potential to disrupt our equilibrium. Our struggle is often one of trying to regain our sense of balance and peace.
5 Principles for Peace
But how do we do it? Are there certain principles or habits we can engage in that can help us maintain a sense of peace, or reclaim our peace and well-being when we lose it? Here are 5 principles that have been helpful for me in my life.
Responsibility has to do with who or what is accountable in your life. Most people blame others for their problems. This is easy to do—I’m sure we can all point to different times when we were wronged or didn’t get a fair shake in life. But if you want peace, it’s a good idea to take radical responsibility for your life. This means that every thought or emotion you experience, and every action you engage in is your responsibility. Even things that don’t seem like your responsibility (e.g., the actions of your parents when you were growing up) are your responsibility now. For example, it is your responsibility for how you engage with those memories. Your reaction is your responsibility.
Byron Katie recommends engaging in a process called inquiry whenever you experience a stressful or painful thought. The process involves 4 questions and a turnaround. In addition to describing the questions, I will walk through an example of a stressful thought I had awhile back: I’m broken and defective.
- Is it true? In other words, does your thought correspond to the reality of the situation? No, probably not. I was experiencing a failure in one area of my life, but it doesn’t mean that I’m broken or defective overall. I might have just been having a bad day. Or sometimes I just fail, and that’s part of life.
- Can you be absolutely certain it is true? Similar to question #1, but with a bit more force. Are you absolutely 100% sure the thought is true? No, I can’t be 100% certain that I’m broken and defective.
- How do you react when you believe the thought? What is the effect of believing the stressful thought on your body, emotions, and relationships? I get sad and down. I start to cry. I want to check out of my life.
- Who would you be without the thought? What would happen if you were unable to think the stressful thought? What would your life be like? I would just be a man who failed at something. That’s all. I could try again tomorrow. I could reach out to a counselor or friend and get some help.
- Turnaround. After you ask yourself the 4 questions, it can be helpful to turn the stressful thought around by thinking about the opposite. How could the opposite be as true or truer? I am not broken and defective. I have overcome a lot of things in my life through my determination—losing weight and getting in shape, getting my PhD and becoming a tenured professor, etc. I won a Crossfit competition.
Most of our pain and struggle occur in the past or in the future. We experience regrets about our past failures. We feel guilt and shame about past mistakes. We feel anxious about the future and what it might hold. We fear death and loss. And so on. Rarely is our pain and struggling happening RIGHT NOW. Because of this, it’s important to spend most of your time and energy in the present. Are you getting caught up in the past or future? Redirect your energy and focus toward what is happening right now.
We run into a lot of problems, especially in our relationships, because we aren’t honest with one another. We aren’t clear about our needs, wants, and preferences. For example, a friend or family member might ask us for something that we don’t want to do. Instead of being honest and saying no, we say yes because we don’t want to cause conflict or make them feel bad, which leads to pain and frustration down the road. As much as possible, be 100% clear with yourself and with others.
Many people struggle because they don’t get going and take action in their lives. What is the next right thing you need to do? Get going and do it! Turn off the TV. Wash the dishes. Make your bed. Go to class. Join a dating service. Attend a small group at church. Apply for a new job. Call your grandmother. When you are responsible, engaging in inquiry, present, and honest, you will know what you need to do. Get up and get moving.
Discussion: How peaceful do you feel with yourself? With others? What do you think of the 5 principles for peace? Pick one principle to focus on this week.