Written in an age before self-help, which is what makes it useful, especially helpful during these uncertain times that cause stress.
These uncertain times can change us.
I don’t consider myself a worrier, but over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a small change. There are three ulcers in my mouth, a higher than normal rejection rate from prospective customers, and an uneasy feeling about the financial markets and the state of the global economy.
The guy that’s not supposed to worry anymore, is.
In an attempt to help get some perspective, I started reading an 80-year-old guide to dealing with worry in the form of a book by Dale Carnegie called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.”
The guide was written during a different time in history where women were considered housewives, working in a factory was a typical job, computers and cellphones were non-existent, and World Wars were far too common.
My initial reaction was to dismiss the book as being too old to still be relevant. By the time I got to the end, I realized the ideas Dale Carnegie shares are actually helpful because many of them are so obscure. Our worries 80 years ago are not that much different and the solutions are similar too.
Looking in the past for answers shows you how similar these uncertain times are to what has already transpired. Worry looks pretty similar throughout history.
Here are the ideas I’ve been experimenting with, inspired by Dale’s guide to worrying from 80 years ago.
A 4-step approach
For those who don’t want to read until the end, here’s a quick approach.
- What am I worrying about?
- What can I do about it?
- Decide what to do.
- Start immediately taking action on your decision (not tomorrow)
The key to this strategy is to never leave the sight of a decision without taking the first tiny action. For example, when I decided to get my lazy, skinny little ass to the gym, I took the first step and emailed the gym, requesting an appointment to check out the facilities. This action made me feel good and gave me leverage against myself.
The energy you spend making a decision is wasted if you don’t follow it straight up with an action that simultaneously prevents further worry. Use this four-step strategy next time you have to deal with a problem that makes you worry way too much.
Every day is a new life to a wise woman/man
Imagine if you started each day like you’d forgotten the past. How much would you worry then? A lot less. Every day you wake up, you get a chance to change your approach and think differently. A good night’s sleep helps you forget your worries and wake up with a fresh outlook.
Start today as if you forgot yesterday.
So you get blown up and die — you’ll never know the difference!
Another story Dale tells is about a biscuit salesman who becomes the “Supervisor of Explosives” while working for the Coast Guard on a big ship. He’s constantly worrying about getting blown up by all the TNT he is surrounded by at work.
To stop him from worrying, he compares getting cancer to being blown up at work and dying. He realizes that if he’s blown up he will never know the difference when he’s dead.
It’s a quick and painless death and an easy way to die compared to the long struggle of cancer and having your loved ones watch you die. Thinking about the fact he won’t live forever and combining that idea with what a good death might look like, helped him stop worrying. All the fantasies we have about how we’re going to die are a waste.
When you’re dead, you won’t be able to relive your death over and over and optimize it for better results next time. So why worry about it?
Acceptance is the first step to overcoming misfortune
Bad stuff happens to all of us. Until you accept what has happened, you can’t process it properly and so your default mode is to worry about it.
Preparing to overcome your worry starts with accepting what has happened. In my recent experience of worry about way too many things, I wasn’t able to move forward until I accepted that this is what was happening.
Business people who can’t fight worry die young
Dale Carnegie features many stories, in his guide to worrying, about people in business who didn’t learn to deal with their worries. Many of them died young.
Throughout my career, I have met many high-paid individuals who make more money than you could ever spend, yet they never get to enjoy their money because they’re always worrying. They worry about being fired, or making a bad investment decision, or having someone outshine them, or having to hand back their leased Mercedes Benz. This is no way to live your life.
If you don’t learn how to handle all the worries that come from your career, you’ll struggle to enjoy the work you do. This problem is made worse when there is global uncertainty as we have now.
Fight worries associated with your work, so you don’t die young and become office furniture for the rest of your career.
Worry is caused by trying to make a decision before you have enough information
When you don’t have all the information or haven’t done enough research, you make assumptions that lead to worry. Wait until you understand the problem before worrying about the outcome and what might happen.
There’s only so long you can think about a problem before it creates worry and confusion
There is a tipping point where anymore thinking or investigation about the problem is destructive and unhelpful.
If all you do is think about a problem and don’t experiment with a few solutions, you’re just going to overthink the whole situation and end up confusing yourself and those involved.
Clarity comes when you make a decision about the problem you are worried about.
Break the problem down and become an ideas machine
- What is the problem?
- What is the cause of the problem?
- What are all the solutions to the problem?
- What solution do you suggest?
If you break the problem down then you can prevent yourself from worrying. The list of solutions you come up with gives you hope and optimism that what you’re worrying about has an expiry date. It’s hard to feel despair when you’ve spent so much time understanding the problem and writing the solutions.
With a long list of solutions, it’s then time to curate. What solution to the problem would you suggest if it was your best friend you were advising?
Become too busy to worry
Idle time can be a curse when you’re worrying too much.
That’s why, recently, with all of my worries, I sat down and started reading books like Harry Potter that took my mind off the situation. Then, I read books like the one described in this article to find solutions. I became so busy reading every day that I forgot about many of my worries.
You worry less when you’re busy doing something constructive.
The law of averages suggests you’ll probably be okay
This is a thought worth considering, especially when it comes to a global health crisis that requires a mask to fight the war.
You could get sick and die, but look at the law of averages. What’s the chance that what you worry about is going to happen? A lot of the time it’s tiny. You have more chance of being killed in a car accident than almost any other health disaster your mind could dream of. The statistics are probably going to prove your worries to be false.
Nearly all worries come from your imagination not reality
Your imagination is a gift. It helps you dream up awesome possibilities for your life and have crazy dreams of changing the world.
Your imagination is also good at ignoring reality and lying to you. It can take a petty problem and make your brain believe it’s life-threatening. Think about what effect your imagination is having on your thoughts next time you catch yourself worrying.
It’s astonishing how quickly we accept a situation when we’re forced to
You would think a man who had lost a hand would have a lot to worry about and deal with.
In Dale’s book, he features a story of a man that operates a freight elevator. He lost his hand many years prior and when asked about it he said he was only reminded of his missing hand when he had to thread a needle.
It’s amazing how quickly something we worry about can become the norm when we accept the situation and move on.
Attach a value to each of your worries
We could annihilate fifty percent of all our worries at once if we developed a gold standard of what things are worth to us in terms of our lives.
Your values determine what things are worth.
How much are you willing to pay for this worry?
Have you paid too much already for this worry?
Hating your enemies is giving them power
And the worry you place on your enemies is making you age quicker. Don’t let your enemies rob you of your good looks.
Unjust criticism is often a compliment in disguise.
Help other people to cure your worries
Then you’ll get out of your own head and no longer have time to worry. The fulfillment you get from giving away a piece of yourself will far outweigh your worries.
When I worry, my remedy is to write for others.
A bit of the fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses
— Chinese proverb
Translation: Part of the gift you give is left behind for you without you trying.
Fatigue often produces worry
Try to have an optimistic point of view about a problem when you’re dead tired. It’s really hard.
Get some rest when you are tired and if you must worry, do it on a full stomach after a good night’s sleep — your worries will look smaller.
Take action in order of importance
Crush the biggest worries first. Or start with a small worry to build momentum, then tackle your big worries in order of importance.
Once you have one big worry out of the way, the rest of your worries look achievable and you have evidence to support the argument that you’re going to overcome what still needs to be taken care of.
Few things cause more worry than dishonesty
My obsession with honesty stems from the need to avoid worry. I know if I tell a white lie it’s going to cause me a great amount of stress. Covering up a lie causes more worry than speaking the truth.
Those who are serial liars have to get used to a constant life of worry. You may gain something by lying, but the worries you will experience are not worth the price. Doing the right thing is always the right thing for your peace of mind and worry-free lifestyle.
Don’t worry about a problem until it’s at least a week old
How do you know something is worth worrying about? Sit on the problem for a week. Worries lose their power when they are put to the side for a week. If the problem still feels huge after a week, then consider the next action.
After enough reflection, you will think of other people
My favorite story told by Dale Carnegie is about John D Rockefeller. John was one of the richest people of his era and was a lifelong worrier. He nearly worried (and worked) himself which forced him to retire.
When he did, he finally had time for reflection. This massive insight came to him which changed his life:
He stopped thinking, for once, of how much money he could get and he began to wonder how much that money could buy in terms of human happiness.
This led John to give away a lot of his money and experience a sense of fulfillment that was far greater than the accumulation of money that brought him all his prior worries. The meaning from his work eradicated the scarcity mindset money had accidentally helped him develop.
What is the worst that can possibly happen?
This question changed my life back in 2013.
I was worried about every little thing and this question helped me plan for the downside. In doing so, I realized almost every time that what I was worried about was highly unlikely to happen. Every fearful situation I endure, I carry this question with me as a tool to overcome worry.
The worst that can happen is you learn.
What would be more disappointing is if you let your worries stop you from experiencing the lessons that shape who you become.
I have avoided reading Dale’s advice on worrying for many years as I was naive enough to believe it was outdated. My recent cause for worry led me back to Dale’s work and helped me get my worries under control again.
It’s normal to worry in these uncertain times and I hope some of these strategies can help you rethink yours. There is no point worrying yourself to death; you have a life to live and enjoy.
Your worries can be useful when you break them down with questions and see them for what they really are.