“If a man will devote his time to securing facts in an impartial, objective way, his worries will usually evaporate in the light of knowledge.”
Life can be scary and overwhelming. There are so many things that are out of our control. The internet and media connect us with every bad news happening anywhere around the globe. There is a lot to worry about and we do. Money, work, health, business, relationships, job security – in our accelerated age of rapid change and information overload, numbers of burn out and depression are soaring. It is therefore more important than ever to find strategies for keeping the worry monkey of your back.
Dale Carnegie is a classic in the self-help/self-improvement world. His name most often comes up for his most famous book on business communication How to win friends and influence people, which was a bestseller and remains popular today. Originally a salesman, Carnegie first taught public speaking and later started writing and publishing books on success and networking.
Despite the cheesy title, How to stop worrying and start living is full of solid advice on mindset shifts, techniques, and little hacks anyone can use to alleviate thoughts of worry. I started reading the book after Tim Ferris recommended it in his Reddit AMA. I found its advice as effective and necessary today as it was at the time the book was written.
While you are reading Dale Carnegie, keep in mind that the book is old. That means some of the language is not up to date. In some cases this is amusing and in some a bit disturbing for the modern reader, such as Carnegie’s free use of words which would be considered racist nowadays. Nevertheless, his advice is sound.
Live in “day-tight compartments”
Only think about today. See the day as a fixed unit with a start and an end point beyond which nothing matters. The book evokes the image of shutting “the iron doors on the past and the future”. I find that approaching each day on its own enhances focus and lets you concentrate all energy on changes you can make today instead of going over past mistakes or things to do in the future.
Accept the worst-case scenario
Oftentimes we run around with a very unclear picture of what exactly we are worried about. We are afraid of “something horrible” without ever taking the time to define what precisely it is we fear. If you sit down and write out your absolute doomsday scenario and then completely accept it, it ceases to be scary. The bogey man is out of the closet.
[This works even better if you take it a step further as advised in the Four-hour workweek: After defining the worst possible outcome, think of what you would do in case it happens. You will often find that even if the worst case comes to pass (which it seldomly does), you are prepared to deal with it. Facing your worst fears in this way is very powerful.]
Secure facts in an impartial way
Most of the time what we call problems are merely facts that we turned into problems because we mixed them with negative emotions. Our fears and egos get in the way and we can no longer be analytical and solution-oriented, thereby creating monsters out of challenges that are actually quite solvable. Carnegie advises two techniques to bring analytical thinking back into the process:
- Pretend you are collecting information for someone else and not for yourself. This way you can distance yourself from it and take the emotions out of the equation.
- Take on the role of a lawyer who will argue the other side. Try to find all arguments and points against your own case. All the facts that are damaging to your wishes. This will make you face everything you are avoiding.
Write down your worries
In my opinion, everyone should write every day no matter what. It is by far the best way to get clarity into your thoughts. This technique is no exception. On a piece of paper, write down two lines:
- What am I worried about?
- What can I do about it?
Answer both of these questions. Be precise in what you fear and worry about, then come up with solutions. This will provide you with a course of action which you can then immediately start taking. See also the next point.
Worry often comes when we have too much time on our hands, when our mind only circles around itself and we freak out in our own head. The cure for this: taking action. Have you ever felt too sick/nervous/worried/frightened to do anything, started anyway and soon found yourself absorbed and forgetting all about what you were worried about? You can not think yourself out of tough spots (nor to success or better health). You can only take action.
[Or as Marie Forleo, one of the bloggers I follow, puts it: “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought”.]
“When once a decision is reached and execution is the order of the day, dismiss absolutely all responsibility and care about the outcome.”
“Rest is not a matter of doing absolutely nothing. Rest is repair.”
The demands of everyday life can be heavy. It is easy to lose perspective at times and let our emotions get the best of us and I am no exception to it. I used to worry about everything. In the past I tried to plan for all eventualities, miniscule as they might be, and often lay awake at night jumping from one worst-case scenario to the next. Definitely one of my more productive periods.
When that sort of thing happens, it is important to have strategies at hand which let you take a step back and analyze the situation instead of spiraling down into overwhelm. The book provides a few nuggets of gold which help you do exactly that. I found writing down my worries and what I can do about it especially effective. It’s simple but can produce a powerful mind shift. How to stop worrying and start living is available on amazon.
Which are the most important books you have read in your life? Which books do you keep rereading? From which did you learn the most important lessons? Tell me about it in the comments.