How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie is a classic published back in 1944 and it has sold over 6 million copies. The book teaches us time-tested methods for conquering worry.
“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” – Tony Robbins
This book by Dale Carnegie is really going to help you handle problems in life without letting those worries crush you.
Read it If you want specific, actionable advice on:
- How to stop being run by worries in your life
- Effective ways to conquer and accomplish your goals
- Enjoying life while handling big problems and challenges
- How to accomplish your big goals while not letting worries in life stop you
This book has over 28 great ideas on how to stop worrying and start living and I’m going to be covering a few of them.
About the Author
Dale Carnegie was a self-help author, speaker, and trainer back in the day. His company Dale Carnegie Training still exists today. Business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett calls the training that he received at Dale Carnegie one of the most important training he received in his career.
Dale Carnegie is also the author of one of the greatest self-help books of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
8 Ideas on How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
1) Live in Day-Tight Compartments
This is one of my favorite ideas in the book. It is about living life like a giant ship.
Ships have watertight compartments. In case there’s a leak in one compartment of the ship, all the other compartments of the ship are shut off from one another so that there’s no leak into another area. If there is a leak in one area, it is limited to just that one area and that’s what we need to do.
We need to operate our lives like that. We need to shut down the iron doors of the past and the future. Instead of thinking about them, let’s just think about what we can do today.
So focus on what you can do right in this moment. That’s all that is. When you shut off the worries of the past and the future and just focus on today, you make a lot more progress and the worry actually starts to disappear.
Break down your goals into daily goals
All you need to do is break down your goals and your big worries into what you can do today.
- What can you act on and accomplish today?
- What would be a win for you today in some ways?
In order to win today, identify exactly what you need to do today and focus on that. The worries will disappear because now you’re trying to live in the present moment rather than in the past or in the future. You’re just focusing on today.
2) Face Your Fears
This is one exercise I’ve used time and again.
- When you’re worried or stressing over something, ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- Then identify what the worst-case scenario is and write it down.
- Accept that worst-case scenario just for the moment. Once you accept it, you have nothing more to lose.
I remember one time when I was really worried about a job interview. What if I don’t get it?
I literally decided to write down the worst-case scenario of not getting the job. Once I had written it all down on paper, it was so much easier for me to breathe again because I could see the worst-case scenario was actually not as bad.
It is when we start to actually write down the worst-case scenario that we suddenly find out it is not as bad as we make it up in our mind.
Tim Ferriss talks a lot about this idea in the book The 4-Hour Workweek. It’s about identifying the worst-case scenario and then working on improving it.
Another way to look at it is an idea called Relentless Solution Focus from the book Executive Toughness by Jason Selk. All he says is, no matter how bad the situation, just find out the 1 thing you can do right now to improve it. Just focus on that 1 solution.
Don’t worry about all the different things that could happen. That’s the 1+ that you’re going to put out there, which will dramatically help you overcome the obstacle or challenge.
When you accept the worst-case scenario, you can go and win the battle again.
MMA fighter Ronda Rousey talks about the same idea in her book My Fight/Your Fight, and I highly recommend that book as well. She talks about how once you accept the worst-case scenario, there’s nothing more to lose. Your fight is now yours to win, and that is so crucial to understand.
3) Make a Plan
As simple as it sounds, most people don’t make a plan, so consider these 3 steps:
- Step 1 – Write down what exactly you are worried about right now.
It’s important that you do these exercises in writing. Don’t just intellectualize them. Take a piece of paper and start writing down these things because that’ll really help you.
- Step 2 – What you can do about the situation? What is directly under your control?
This is stoic philosophy 101. It basically says that we need to be able to identify what is under our control and what is not under our control. The only things under our control are the things that we can do something about.
- Step 3 – What will you do and when will you do those things?
You have to be very clear on the specific time and place. Put it on your calendar. I highly recommend you do that because it’ll really help you make it happen.
This might be one of the most important exercises you can do from this book. This is because when you’re worried, you’re not really thinking about making a plan. You’re just chewing on that worry.
But once you start to write down what exactly you’re worried about, what you can do about it, what you will do, and when you’ll do those things — you’ll have clarity.
Now you can breathe easy. You know there are things you can do to make the situation better.
4) Create Happiness for Others
This is another great idea from the book. When we are worried, our instinct is to just shrink up and be with ourselves to be lonely. We have to do the exact opposite.
A paradox: One of the easiest ways to get out of our own worry is to help someone else in need. When you set out to make others happy, you get even more happiness in return.
There’s a great story from the life of John D. Rockefeller. At 33, he made his first million, and at 43 he was the biggest oil tycoon in the world. Not only that, he went on to become the richest man the world has ever seen. Even in today’s terms, he would be the richest man in the world.
But at the age of 53, he was so worried all the time about money that he ended up being stricken with some mystery disease. Rockefeller started losing all his hair. He could not even digest any food and was only allowed to eat curdled milk and crackers. Sleep also became a problem.
One of his friends said Rockefeller was sane in every respect but was mad about money. Worries had totally brought him down. His doctor said that the mystery disease he had was because of worry and there there was nothing they could do to cure it. He had to take a break from work, which he did for a little big.
One night during an insomnia, he started thinking of other people. He stopped thinking of how much money he could acquire and he started thinking of what that money could do for human happiness.
As soon as he got the idea, he started giving away his money in various ways:
- Rescued a little college that was about to be foreclosed. That college is the University of Chicago today.
- Gave money to the churches. The churches however called it tainted money. Rockefeller was one of the most hated entrepreneurs of his time due to his practices in acquiring oil refineries and building the whole oil industry. But he still continued to give the money away even though the churches wouldn’t take it.
- Started devoting money to help causes.
- Helped wipe out hookworm. This was a deadly problem in the South back in the days. At that time, they just needed 50 cents per treatment to wipe out hookworm and there was no donor to give 50 cents per treatment.
- Donated a lot of money to various other health causes, such as malaria and tuberculosis.
- Created the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped stop spinal meningitis. This disease used to kill 4 out of 5 children.
And that is how he literally got himself out of worry.
After a while came the biggest defeat of his career when Standard Oil was forced to pay the biggest fine in US history. A lawyer asked Rockefeller if he was worried, and Rockefeller said,
“Don’t worry, Mr. Johnson, I intend to get a good night’s sleep.”
Rockefeller went on to live to the age of 98. So at the age of 53 he was stricken with a mystery disease and could not figure out what was happening in life; he felt like it was almost a death sentence. And then after he stopped living for himself and started giving the money away to help others, he lived on to the age of 98.
Another book that I highly recommend is The Upside of Stress by Dr. Kelly McGonigal. In the book there’s a great study of 1,000 US adults from the age of 34 to 93. They were asked how much stress they had experienced in the last year. Some said high, and their risk of death was 30% higher than the others.
However, when they were asked how much time they had spent helping others, here’s what the researchers found:
- The people who had high stress but spent time helping others on a weekly basis, had no additional risk of dying. Their risk of death was reduced dramatically by 30% in this case.
- Meanwhile, people who had high stress but were not helping others had their risk of death up by 30%.
This goes to show that when we are stressed out, one of the best things we can do is to be around people and help them.
5) Get Busy Solving Problems
When we are solving problems that are so demanding, we have no time to worry about anything else.
George Bernard Shaw said that the secret to being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether we are happy or not. We have to lose ourselves in action, and that’s when we do not have the time to worry.
We have to work so hard that by the end of the day we’re exhausted and then we have no time to worry.
How being busy saved a father recover from the loss of his children
There’s a real life story from Dale Carnegie’s class on how to stop worrying and start living. It’s the story of this man who lost his 5-year-old daughter, and then 10 months later he and his wife lost their newborn baby.
They could not take it anymore. He went to the doctors, but the doctors ordered him to take a trip and also gave him a sleeping pill. They asked him to take some rest, but it just wasn’t helping him at all.
The man had another son who was 4 years old. One day his son insisted on helping him build a toy boat, but he had no interest in doing it. But the boy kept on insisting, so he finally gave in.
He worked with his son for 3 years to build the toy boat, and those 3 years were the most peaceful 3 years he had had in a very long time, which led to him to a major realization that being busy had actually cured his worry.
The next day he went around the house making a list of everything that needed to be done, and over the next few months he went on attending to all of those things. He started attacking all these tasks, and that’s when he totally stopped worrying about everything else.
Other examples to follow:
- Winston Churchill
During the war, people would say, “Hey, aren’t you worried about the war and the responsibilities you have?” Winston Churchill would often say, “I’m too busy. I have no time for worry.”
That’s where you want to be. Just get yourself busy and you won’t have the time to worry.
- Lord Alfred Tennyson
Tennyson said, I must lose myself in action lest I wither in despair.
When we don’t have actions to take, we start to despair. Getting busy really works because it’s a fundamental law of the human mind:
It is not possible to think about 2 things at the exact same time.
Quick Exercise: The Elephant and Your Goal
Think of an elephant, and also think about your biggest goal for this year.
Can you think of both of them at the same time? You can’t. You’re either thinking of 1 or the other and that is the key.
When we get busy, we’re only thinking about the thing that we need to do and we stop worrying. Getting busy helps us start living.
6) Accept What Is
This is another Stoicism 101 idea. William James, the great philosopher, said, “be willing to have it.”
Acceptance of what has happened is the first critical step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.
You know or you may not know the Serenity Prayer that’s been popular for so long. It says:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
The Serenity Prayer is simply saying that there are things within our control and things that are outside of our control.
JCPenney once said:
“I wouldn’t worry if I lost every single dollar because I don’t see what’s to be gained by worrying. I do the best job I can and leave the results in the laps of God.”
Whatever Power you want to associate this, with understand that it’s all about accepting what is, and then going on to do only what you can.
Epictetus, the great stoic philosopher, said:
“There’s only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things that are beyond the power of will.”
Stop worrying about the things that you cannot control. That is the way to happiness.
7) Don’t Overpay for the Whistle
The next idea is from the life of Benjamin Franklin.
Back when he was probably 7 years old, he was smitten by a whistle. So he saved up all his money, went to the store, put down all his money, and asked for the whistle. He came back home with it and went around home playing this whistle all day long.
Then his brother asked him how much he paid for the whistle. When the young Ben Franklin told him how much he had paid, his sibling started to make fun of him for paying too much.
And that was when Ben Franklin lost all the joy in the whistle. At 77 years old, he said:
A great part of the miseries of the mankind are brought upon them by a false estimate they have made of the value of things and by giving too much for their whistles. We are basically estimating wrongly as to how much happiness certain things we’ll bring in life.
So literally what he was saying was that a lot of times in life, we’re paying too much for the whistle. We’re thinking there’s something that will bring us joy so we end up paying a lot for it, only to find out in the end that there is no joy in it. We lose our joy because we paid so much for it.
A lot of things in life are like that. We do not realize that we’re overpaying for them, thinking that they will bring us a lot of joy, but it doesn’t bring any. Still we continue looking for it and paying a lot.
Maybe you are paying too much in terms of your health, your family, your happiness, just to get that whistle.
So ask yourself: Am I paying too much? Because if you are, you need to stop it.
Evaluate the goal that you’re after: Is it worth all the price you’re paying for it?
8) Benjamin Franklin’s 2-Column Technique
Here’s a simple 2-column technique whenever you’re worried about making the right decision.
- Make 2 columns on a page — the Pros on one side and the Cons on the other side.
- List out on one side all the pros — the positives of a decision you’re trying to make.
- Write down on the other side the cons — the negatives of the decision.
- Once you have all the decision-making points on one page, start crossing out things that you find to have equal weight, even if it’s 1 point on one side and 3 or 5 points on the other side as long as you consider them to be equal.
In the end you will be left with very few items, and your decisions will be much easier at that point.