Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity or personal development book.
I’ve written before concerning the positive effect that Dale Carnegie’s more famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People had on me, and also wrote a detailed overview of the book. It took years, however, before I bothered to pick up any of Carnegie’s other books, not until I was well into a career.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is basically a continuation of the philosphy of How to Win Friends and Influence People: break things down into smaller steps, then let the smaller steps add up. This time, however, the philosophy is applied to the idea of stress and worry, both workplace-related and otherwise. Much like the other Carnegie book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is a large collection of small, practiceable pieces that anyone can apply.
Does the advice work? Is the book worth reading, even given that it was written in the 1930s? Let’s find out.
Looking At How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
Part One: Fundamental Facts You Should Know About Worry
Most worrying comes down to either things entirely out of your control or things that are further out than today. You can tackle the first one by merely imagining the worst possible outcome, visualizing what would become of it, accept that, then realize that anything better than the worst is better than what you’ve already accepted. For long-term worries, focus on the immediate task at hand and do it as well as you possibly can, because even if the connection isn’t obvious, doing the best you can on your immediate task will help solve that long term task, either directly (by building a foundation for making it easier) or indirectly (by opening up alternate paths).
Part Two: Basic Techniques In Analyzing Worry
When you’re worried about something, be proactive. Start gathering as many facts as you can about the situation, then use those facts to develop a plan of attack. Once the attack plan is in place, get down to business implementing that plan and just focus on the task at hand. Most worrying is reactive – take it to the problem by being proactive.
It all comes down to four questions: what is the problem? What is the cause of the problem? What are all possible solutions? What is the best solution? Answer these questions in order and you’ll dig down to the root of any worry and attack it head on.
Part Three: How To Break The Worry Habit Before It Breaks You
Another tack to take in battling stress is to find other ways to fill your time. For me, for example, the best solution to fighting stress is to keep busy all the time. If I’m always busy and have an organized system of keeping relevant tasks at hand, stress goes away because I’m constantly keeping up with the things I need to do. One should also let go of the past and focus entirely on the present and future; those are the areas where you can affect things, not the past.
Part Four: Seven Ways To Cultivate A Mental Attitude That Will Bring You Peace and Happiness
In a nutshell, the seven methods are:
Meditation Spend some time filling your mind with thoughts of peace. Find a meditative technique that works for you and practice it.
Don’t worry about enemies Instead of thinking about people you don’t like, spend some time thinking about people that you do like.
Forget about ingratitude If someone else isn’t grateful for your help, don’t worry about it in the least. It’s a reflection on them, not you, so don’t concern yourself with it.
Count your blessings Think of all the good things you have in life.
Don’t imitate others Find your own path. Imitation leads directly to jealousy.
Look for positives in the negative If something bad happens, try to find the positives in it.
Be nice to others Even if you’re unhappy, positive actions and attitudes towards others might make others less unhappy.
Part Five: The Perfect Way To Conquer Worry
Interestingly, it’s prayer, whether you happen to believe in a God or not. The point of prayer isn’t that you necessarily expect someone to answer or that you’re communicating with a higher power (though this is definitely of importance to people of faith), but that you can express what ails you, voice it in some fashion within, and open yourself up to receiving an answer, whether from your own subconscious or from a higher power. If you haven’t prayed, even if you’re an atheist, give it a shot.
Part Six: How To Keep From Worrying About Criticism
Criticism comes in three flavors. If it’s unjustified, just view it as a compliment – it’s coming from a person jealous of your success. If it’s well-stated and mature, be thankful for it, because it’s coming from someone who sincerely wants to help you and may have wisdom to share. This eliminates a lot of criticism; you can fend off the rest by just doing your best and then weathering it when it happens.
Part Seven: Six Ways To Prevent Fatigue and Worry and Keep Your Energy and Spirits High
These six techniques boil down to two basic things: get plenty of rest and eliminate distractions. This chapter is actually a much longer list of tips than just six; the titular six are merely groupings. In fact, one set of the ideas (those to handle workplace issues) sounds an awful lot like a prototype version of GTD.
Part Eight: How to Find the Kind of Work in Which You May Be Happy and Successful
This section was extremely outdated, but the very core of the advice boils down to figuring out yourself first. If the topic of this chapter really interests you, this germ of an idea grows into full bloom in the book What Color Is Your Parachute? (read my detailed review of it).
Part Nine: How to Lessen Your Financial Worries
Here, Carnegie lays down the very basics of personal finance, from the simple “spend less than you earn” statements to the basics of budgeting. The advice is simple and very much geared towards families during the Depression, with such interesting dated tips as “never give life insurance money to a widow in cash.” Much like the previous section, the advice here can be found in a more modern context elsewhere quite easily.
Part Ten: “How I Conquered Worry”
The book concludes with a large assortment of stories from various people, many of whom were well-known contemporaries of Dale Carnegie. I found Jack Dempsey’s essay particularly interesting, mostly because I happen to be a big fan of prizefighting from the early twentieth century, once even going so far as to decorate my dormitory room with posters of Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey. The stories reiterate the advice in several ways and are both culturally interesting and also great for providing examples of how Carnegie’s advice can be implemented in day-to-day life.
Buy or Don’t Buy?
One of the biggest criticisms of Carnegie’s books is that they focus too squarely on the immediate and the mechanical and don’t look often enough at the deeper meaning. For example, with How to Win Friends and Influence People, the book is often criticized for discussing specific mannerisms and presentation tips and conversational tips, but missing out on the bigger issue of how to actually relate to people.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is loaded with lots of very specific ideas for conquering stress in the moment, which is quite useful and makes this book worth reading. However, it doesn’t address fixing some of the true root causes of stress: overall lifestyle choices and the like.
In other words, if stress is a constant in your life, you may need to look deeply at the root causes of it. Carnegie’s advice is an excellent balm for your wound, but it won’t heal the wound – you may need to look elsewhere for that type of help. I found that Carnegie’s immediate advice on stress and happiness worked very well when coupled with the long view of advice from books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; neither one really addresses it all as a whole, but they compliment each other quite well.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is well worth reading and adding to your repertoire of personal techniques, but it isn’t a be-all-end-all answer to stress.