Are you someone who can honestly say that you never worry about anything? If you are, then you’re one in million—though I doubt that you never give way to the “worry trap.” According to many scientific reports that can easily be found online, worry ages us faster than almost anything else. It can also produce stomach ulcers, arthritis, headaches, premature coronary disease, and countless other negative physical effects.
You may be thinking that it’s all well and good to detail the horrors of worrying, but given the myriad complications of life, how can we not worry? Well, I’m here to tell you that there is a way out, and it’s already working great in my life. Hopefully, you’ll want to keep reading to see how I transformed myself almost overnight with a simple little book I happened to find in a used bookstore.
Written by Dale Carnegie and published way back in 1944, the title of this wonderful book is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. The worries people had then eerily read like those we all face today—money, family, drugs, loneliness, joblessness, failure of one sort or another, and last but not least, health issues that have the potential to devastate our lives.
Dale Carnegie is known for his prolific writings on life and how to find success even when the odds are stacked against us. His book impressed me so much that I started practicing some of his techniques, and they are actually working. I hope that sharing some of what I learned can help you too start worrying less, and it would be a good way to close out the year. Peace of mind is really not that hard to achieve once you read this book.
How Do We Define Worry?
One of the most important aspects of Carnegie’s book is how he differentiates worry from concern for any issue. He makes it clear that we spend more of our time worrying than we do thinking about our problems with serious concern.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph J. Luciani nicely explains this difference in the following quote from his self-coaching website (emphasis mine):
“Worry is the incessant, ruminative speculation of what might go wrong—an anticipation of chaos. This can be because of a past mishap: What if I insulted her? She may bad-mouth me at work; or because of a mishap that’s waiting to happen: What if I don’t find an apartment? Then what will I do? It’s a form of self-torment, best described as what-if thinking.
“Concern, on the other hand, is a calculated consideration and assessment of actual danger. Whereas worrying anticipates problems and things going awry (loss of control), concern is more fact-based and geared toward problem-solving. Which do you think serves you best when facing a life challenge: dealing with fact (being concerned), or dealing with fiction (worrying)?”
Interestingly enough, when I interviewed a group of my clients and asked them to share their daily thoughts on how they perceived the events of their life, I found that most of them thought in terms of fear. They worried that this or that situation wouldn’t work out for them and consequently felt fearful and threatened. Unfortunately, the mind and body don’t know the difference between real and fictional danger, so it’s no wonder that most of these clients were suffering from serious adrenal burnout and other unresolved health issues.
After helping them work on their issues by proposing other options, they switched from worrying to focusing on what they could do if some particular hoped-for event didn’t come to pass. It was a huge relief to some of my more serious worriers to discover this simple lesson. They hadn’t realized that they were thinking in terms of the “what ifs” more often than not.
In the event that their expectations were not met, I advised them to immediately STOP, sit down, and write out a few sensible options so they would understand that they had other choices, and there was no need to worry. Peace of mind and calmness followed in every case.
How do you solve your problems? Do you get worried, or do you get concerned and logically map out other options, which preempts the need to worry when you don’t get exactly what you want?
Personal note: People who have difficulty waiting patiently in lines or during other circumstances when time is needed for an issue to resolve itself are generally worrying types. They should definitely switch to thinking of options rather than being impatient and possibly losing out on their desired outcome.
Cooperating with the Inevitable
This is the second most important recommendation for avoiding the worry trap. In the chapter of his book titled “Cooperating with the Inevitable,” Carnegie relates the stories of real men and women, some of them famous, who experienced devastating bad fortunes yet gained control and went on to live healthy, happy lives. For example, those who had dealt with a failed business or marriage were nevertheless able to move on with a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
What is the inevitable? These are situations that you cannot or could not avoid or evade. A sudden car wreck or a wild fire burning down your home are just a couple of things that are unavoidable regardless of how well you’ve been handling your life.
Carnegie relates his own experience of the inevitable. As a young boy, he was playing in the attic, and he jumped out of the window. His left ring finger got caught on a nail and was literally torn off. No medical efforts could save the finger. He was devastated at first. But as it was one of those inevitable situations that he could not remedy, he had to learn to live with only three fingers and a thumb on his left hand. And soon, he forgot to even think about it unless someone mentioned it.
All of us experience inevitable situations in our lives. They cause many of us to fall into depression, get anxious or worried, or suffer other forms of self-made mental and physical torture. Life is a precarious adventure to say the least. We hear of human tragedies every day. It is especially sad to see tragedy befall small children who’ve barely begun to live. Carnegie concludes this chapter with the following wonderful quote (emphasis mine):
“Would you like to know what is the best simple bit of advice about worry that I have discovered in all that reading? Well, here it is—summed up in twenty-seven words—words that you and I ought to paste on our bathroom mirrors, so that each time we wash our faces we could also wash away all worry from our minds. This priceless prayer was written by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr:
‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.’”
In other words, we must cooperate with the inevitable so our worry will not drive us to the hell it causes!
I believe everyone can profit from Dale Carnegie’s insights, and I’m hoping that you’ll make it part of your New Year’s resolution to find the time to read his book and share it with others. Life happens no matter what, but how we handle it can make it either a heaven or hell right here on earth. So please, “don’t worry, be happy.”[xyz-ihs snippet=”Begin-Authors-Note”]
Afterthoughts from the Traditional Cook
Just for Today
- Just for today I will be happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from within; it is not a matter of externals.
- Just for today I will try to adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come and fit myself to them.
- Just for today I will take care of my body. I will exercise it, care for it, nourish it, not abuse nor neglect it, so that it will be a perfect machine for my bidding.
- Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.
- Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways; I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do as William James suggests, just for exercise.
- Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible, talk low, act courteously, be liberal with praise, criticize not at all, nor fault with anything and not try to regulate nor improve anyone.
- Just for today I will try to live through this day only, not to tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do things for twelve hours that would appall me if I had to keep them up for a lifetime.
- Just for today I will have a program. I will write down what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. It will eliminate two pests, hurry and indecision.
- Just for today I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax. In this half hour sometimes I will think of God, so as to get a little more perspective into my life.
- Just for today I will be unafraid, especially I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love, and to believe that those I love, love me.
If we want to develop a mental attitude that will bring us peace and happiness, here is Rule #1: Think and act cheerfully, and you will feel cheerful.
Note: Many 12-step programs rely on the “Just for Today” passage above. Dale Carnegie includes it in his book and attributes it to Sibyl Partridge. However, the true author of the passage is the cause of some debate.[xyz-ihs snippet=”End-Authors-Note”]
Disclaimer from Maria Atwood, CNHP: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor or health practitioner prior to following any recommendations I make in my blog posts or on my website.
Images from iStock/fizkes (main), Motortion (man comforting sad woman), fizkes (happy elderly couple).