How to Stop Worrying

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My favorite highlights from Dale Carnegie’s smart, no-fret philosophy.

Who doesn’t have more worry in her life than she’d like? Here are some timeless anxiety-busting strategies that will help you settle your mind.

Day-Tight Compartments

“Let’s be content to live the only time we can possibly live: from now until bedtime,” Carnegie writes.

The big idea here is to stay grounded in the present moment (where you actually have some influence) instead of fretting and losing sleep over things that have already happened or haven’t happened yet, and that you have no real control over at the moment.

“Shut the iron doors on the past and the future,” Carnegie advises. “Live in day-tight compartments.”

To get back to the here and now, ask yourself:

1. Do I put off living in the present in order to worry about the future?

2. Do I embitter the present by regretting things that happened in the past?

3. Could I get up in the morning determined to get the utmost out of the next 24 hours, regardless of the circumstances?

Be Willing to Have It So

Carnegie cites the wisdom of the father of applied psychology, William James: “‘Be willing to have it so.”

In other words, if you want to stop worrying and start living, it helps to stop arguing with reality. “Acceptance of what has happened,” says James, “is the first step in overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

In challenging times, of course we want a better future (whether that’s five seconds from now, or five days or weeks or years), but first we have to accept what is. Whatever the present reality, we must simply “be willing to have it so.”

When we’re not resisting the present, tension melts, worry evaporates, and we have the strength we need to embrace the moment and take the next constructive step toward creating our ideal life.

Decide!

“Experience has proved to me, time after time, the enormous value of arriving at a decision,” Carnegie writes. “I find that 50 percent of my worries vanish once I arrive at a clear, definite decision; and another 40 percent usually vanish once I start to carry out that decision.”

This means you can banish about 90 percent of your worries by taking these four steps:

1. Write down precisely what you are worried about.

2. Write down what you can do about it.

3. Decide what to do.

4. Start carrying out that decision — immediately.

Rest Before You Get Tired

Another good worry-busting suggestion from Carnegie is to get enough rest: “To prevent worry, the first rule is rest often. Rest before you get tired.”

The point is simple: You can prevent worry by preventing fatigue, since a tired, addled brain isn’t likely to see things clearly or be an Olympian problem-solver.

Carnegie cites a few great examples to prove his point:

• Winston Churchill worked 16 hours a day during World War II, and he was in his early 70s. His secret? He worked from bed a lot, took naps and rested frequently.

• Thomas Edison attributed his enormous endurance to his habit of sleeping whenever he wanted to.

• And here’s the coolest example: your heart. “Your heart pumps enough blood through your body every day to fill a railway tank car,” Carnegie writes. “It exerts enough energy every 24 hours to shovel 20 tons of coal onto a platform 3 feet high. How can it do that? Dr. Walter B. Cannon of Harvard Medical School explains: ‘Most people have the idea that the heart is working all the time. As a matter of fact, there is a definite rest period after each contraction. When beating at a moderate rate of 70 pulses per minute, the heart is actually working only nine hours out of the 24. In the aggregate, its rest periods total a full 15 hours per day.’”

So, how about you? Are you following your heart’s lead and building in plenty of recovery time? If you’re worried, check in and see if you’re also fatigued. And then get some rest!

Relax While You Work

Carnegie offers another great big idea as a dual fatigue-and-worry-reducer: “Learn to relax while you are doing your work!”

Here are some how-tos on relaxing while you work:

1. “Relax in odd moments. Let your body go limp like an old sock.”

2. “Work, as much as possible, in a comfortable position.”

3. “Check yourself four or five times a day, and say to yourself, ‘Am I making my work harder than it actually is? Am I using muscles that have nothing to do with the work I’m doing?’”

Love that. Back when I was a stressed-out CEO, I used to get what I’d call “Frankensteined” — my neck wouldn’t move because it was so tight. I realized that all the tension of the job was exacerbated by the fact that I had my computer monitor set up so I had to look to my right while typing. Is your office set up to support you while you work — really? Make any necessary changes, get comfy and relax while you work.

I often set my stopwatch’s timer to repeatedly count down from 30 minutes. When it beeps, it’s a brilliant reminder for me to pause, stretch out, shut my eyes, breathe deeply and do a quick recharge. I also like to say a few mantras to get my mind and spirit in a good place.

Get Your Mind Off Other People’s Thoughts

“People are not thinking about you and me or caring what is said about us,” writes Carnegie. “They are thinking about themselves — before breakfast, after breakfast, and right on until 10 minutes past midnight.”

Too true. If you’re worrying about what other people think of you, you’re wasting your time and energy. In fact, most people are likely to be worrying a lot more about what you think about them. So, a key way to stop worrying and start living? Forget about the good or bad opinions of others, since they’re not thinking about you anyway!

Get Busy!

Carnegie recommends action as a great antidote to anxiety. Once you click into action, he notes, “Your blood will start circulating; your mind will start ticking — and pretty soon this whole positive upsurge of life in your body will drive worry from your mind.”

Of course we need time to reflect and envision our ideal lives, but be careful lest you spend too much of that reflection time in anxiety. Action itself can be a great relief.

Let’s stop worrying and start living our greatest lives!

Brian Johnson is a philosopher and (professional) student of life. He used to build businesses. Now he reads a lot and has fun integrating universal truths into his day-to-day life. He also likes to hike, laugh, write, think, teach and hang out with his wife, Alexandra. Learn more at PhilosophersNotes.com.

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