How To Stop Worrying and Start Living

After reading How to win friends and influence people; which quickly jumped into my Top 10 books of all time, I couldn't wait to start reading Carnegie's next book. I always tell people that I am a bit of a ‘worrier’; If only it was it's homophone ‘warrior’, but unfortunately, the less heroic type. Few of us realise, though, how damaging it is to our health.

Worrying excessively can actually make you physically ill. Being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 40; with no medical reason that can explain exactly why; my uneducated guess is that worry had a lot to do with it.

As Plato already knew, the mind and the body are intimately linked. In fact, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, once declared that over half of our hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair.

Carnegie mentions in his book that arthritis, for example, is one of many debilitating conditions which can be brought on by worry. In fact, the two leading causes of arthritis are worry-related: marital shipwrecks and financial woes.

He goes on to say that there are also medical cases that suggest that worrying can increase the likelihood of insanity and diabetes. Clearly, worrying is bad for your health, and perhaps I am not a million miles off my own self-diagnosis.

Unfortunately for us, there are causes of worry everywhere, and they’re especially common in the work we do. High-pressure jobs tend to generate more worrying and, predictably, more illness than calmer, more tranquil jobs. The high-stress levels we associate with high-pressure jobs can lead to heart disease. One study showed that more than a third of business executives suffer from heart-disease, stomach ulcers and high blood pressure.

Another study mentioned in the book found that twenty times as many doctors as farm workers die from heart failure. This means that if you’re in a highly stressful job that causes you worry, you need to find a way to fight worrying or you may soon wind up with an ulcer, or worse.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

  1. Worrying about the past or future is pointless

  2. One way to feel happier is to act happier

  3. So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself

Confusion causes worry.

Confusion is the chief cause of worry, said Herbert E. Hawkes, Dean of Columbia College. According to him, few people bother analysing the facts of their situation when they are worried.

He proposed that all kinds of worries can be resolved by applying a simple three-step analysis. His solution was to follow these three simple steps:

  1. First, get the facts about why you’re worried.

  2. Second, analyse those facts “What can I do about it?”

  3. Third, make a decision about what to do, and do it

It’s all about taking action.

Carnegie asks; have you ever made a decision in life only to constantly second-guess it afterwards? This tendency is very common in people; we constantly wonder whether we did the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path. Although this tendency is common, it can also be very damaging when you’re trying to find ways to address your worries.

When you’re trying to decide how to resolve a worrying issue, you do of course need to start by analyzing the facts. But once this analysis is complete and you have chosen a course of action, you should not revert back to the analysis phase. Remember: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it. Don’t stop for a moment to hesitate, to reconsider or to retrace your steps. Even the slightest doubt can lead to a chain reaction of doubts, unravelling all the analysis and work you’ve already put into addressing your worries. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver. Otherwise, you will find yourself back at square one.

The power of Now.

Have you ever spent a night tossing and turning, mulling over something that happened in the past or that might happen in the future? If so, you’re not alone – most people have, says Carnegie; but to what end?

Worrying about the past or future is pointless. Writer Stephen Leacock described this absurdity aptly by describing a child who speaks of “when I am a big boy.” Then when the child is a big boy, he says, “When I grow up.” As a grown-up he says, “When I am married.” And as a married man, he thinks, “When I can retire.” But when he has retired and looks back over the distance he has come, he will feel a cold wind and realise he has missed it all, and it's too late. ‘One Day’ or Some Day’ is not a day on the calendar. It's now, or never.

Therefore, to avoid such a sad fate, you should live only in the present. The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Of course, you can and should still plan and prepare for the future, but there’s often little use in worrying about it. The best kind of preparation for the future is to do the very best that you can, in your life and work, in the present moment. Yesterday is dead and tomorrow is unborn – so do not worry about them. Instead, focus only on what you can do today.

Embrace the worst-case scenario and then try to improve from there.

Carnegie tells the story of a man named Earl P. Haney. Earl was told he had duodenal ulcers, the outlook was bleak: doctors told him he must rest and watch what he eats, but nevertheless that he would likely die very soon. In response, Earl did something spectacular: he embraced his fate. This simple idea is the basis for a magical three-step approach to stop worrying.

If you’re worried about something, first ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Define the absolute worst-case scenario. Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed? For Haney, he figured all he had to look forward to was a slow, lingering death. Next, accept this worst-case scenario.

Assume for a moment that the worst is what will happen. Most likely, the worst-case scenario is not that bad, and it’s conceivable you could even bounce back from it. If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept this worst-case scenario, you will likely feel much calmer.

For Haney, of course, his worst-case scenario was horrible. But he accepted it and prepared for it; he even bought a casket so his body could be shipped to this family plot in Nebraska. Finally, devote your efforts to improving on that worst-case scenario. Haney decided that if he was going to die anyway, he might as well make the most of it. Over the objections of doctors, he decided to travel around the world (with his casket in tow!). He drank cocktails and ate strange native food; he endured monsoons and typhoons, and he sang songs and made friends.

By the time he returned home, he had forgotten all about the ulcer, and promptly sold the casket back to the undertaker. He hasn’t been ill for a day since!

Focus on the positives in life.

Most people would say their emotions influence the way they think and act. But in fact, as psychologist William James said, they go hand in hand. This means that though we can’t directly influence how we feel, we can influence it indirectly through how we think and act.

One way to feel happier is to act happier. If you’re feeling sad or low, just put a smile on your face and start singing your favourite song. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful, according to Carnegie. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; an alternative (and complementary) way to feel happier is simply to think happier thoughts. The great philosopher who ruled the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius, summed it up aptly: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

The next time you feel down, try to think and act happy – you might succeed. And even if not, at least you will be focusing your thoughts away from the negative.

Give for the joy of giving.

Think back to the last time you did a favour for someone. Were they grateful? If not, did you feel slightly offended and frustrated? When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harbouring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed. People tend to be thoughtless and ungrateful – it’s just human nature, and you can’t change that.

One person who knew this well was the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wrote in his diary one day that he will meet “… people who are selfish, egotistical, ungrateful. But I won’t be surprised or disturbed, for I couldn’t imagine a world without such people.” Another person well aware of people’s innate selfishness was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself. This will make you happier and give you pleasure, even if the other does not appreciate the act.

Finally, says Carnegie; remember that gratitude must be cultivated. This means that if your children are ungrateful, this is your fault. You must teach them to be grateful for the things they receive.

Don’t envy or imitate others; be yourself.

Congratulations, you are unique. There is no one else like you, nor will there ever be on this earth. Embrace that uniqueness and strive to be authentic. Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is one in 300,000 billion; says Carnegie. Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else; for some reason, we’re convinced the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. It’s far better to embrace your uniqueness and be comfortable with who you are.

In fact, there’s a great risk in wanting to be someone else: If you don’t accept yourself and embrace your uniqueness, you could trigger many psychological afflictions. No-one is as miserable as someone who longs to be someone else. Not only will such longing likely lead to misery, but it’s also a huge waste of potential. According to the psychologist William James, people who have not found themselves use about only 10 percent of their potential. It makes sense then that we should not waste a single atom of that potential trying to be someone else.

Criticisms against you should be seen as disguised compliments.

Have you ever wondered why politicians and celebrities seem to attract so much public criticism? The reason is quite simple: people take satisfaction in tearing down those more accomplished than they are. Why is this, asks Carnegie. He answers that belittling those we envy is a basic human tendency. We do it because it makes us feel more important by comparison.

One extreme example of this tendency is a caustic letter the author received from an embittered and spiteful woman. The target of her vitriol? None other than William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, whom she denounced as a fraudster and embezzler. Evidently, she gained some pleasure from attempting to smear such a publicly acclaimed figure.

Because people are so prone to criticising those they admire and envy, you should take such criticisms not as an insult but as a compliment. As the saying goes, “No one kicks a dead dog.” In other words, if you are criticised, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, if you continue along this line of reasoning, you can conclude that the more you are criticised, the more influential and important a person you likely are. So the next time you’re criticised, don’t let it get you down. Take it as a compliment!

Relax and rest before you get tired.

Carnegie goes on to ask the reader; have you ever noticed that after a rough, tiring day, you’re prone to be more gloomy than at lunchtime? Most people would assume that all the intellectual labour at the office has worn them down. But those people would be mistaken – mental work alone cannot make you tired; the author says. Scientists have discovered that, even after twelve hours, mental labour alone will not tire out the brain.

So what’s behind this exhaustion? Psychiatrists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. Not positive emotions, like joy and contentment, but negative ones, like feelings of boredom, of anxiety, and of being unappreciated. But psychiatrists have also found that it works the other way around too – fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

It should be clear, therefore, that you must rest and relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other. It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively. An example given is that of Frederick Taylor, who was employed at Bethlehem Steel where his aim was to increase the rate at which workers could load steel onto freight cars.

What do you think he did to accomplish this goal? Somewhat counter-intuitively, he instructed the worker he was experimenting with to rest more than the other workers: 36 minutes out of every hour, in fact. The result? The worker in question was able to load almost four times as much steel as his colleagues, who did not conserve their strength by resting in such an organised fashion, but rather did so only when they became tired.

The lesson from the psychiatrists and Mr. Taylor could not be simpler: rest and relax before you get tired, and your worries greatly decrease.

Enjoy your work and negate stress by being organised.

There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. Being successful in your job depends on having a good time while you work. Thomas Edison, who laboured 18-hour days transforming industrial America, famously said, “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.”

It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing. But say you already have a job – how can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mail and memos is sure to breed worries.


What I took from it.

Worrying can be detrimental to your physical and mental health, therefore you should find ways to deal with your worries. A simple method is to get the facts about what you’re worrying about, choose on a course of action and never look back. To avoid worrying about the actions of others, don’t expect gratitude for your kindness, don’t hold grudges, and understand that other people may criticise you because they are envious of your success.

Put in a stop-loss order on your worry. The next time you experience an unpleasant event, like having a row with a friend, use the stop-loss strategy: allow yourself to mull the event over for a certain period of time, like a few hours, but then, if you’re still unable to solve it, simply walk away from it. It is not worth dwelling for longer than that.

Accept and improve on the worst-case scenario. When you find yourself worrying about something, instead of avoiding thinking about the worst-case scenario, define it. Think about what the true absolute worst-case scenario really is. Probably, it is not catastrophic. Still, accept the scenario and start working towards improving on it.

Relax before you get tired. The next time you are working on something, make it a point to take rest and relaxation breaks before you feel tired. It will greatly increase your productivity, and decrease your worries.

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