By Harvey Mackay
Recently I saw a survey that says 40 percent of the things we worry about never happen, 30 percent are in the past and can’t be helped, 12 percent concern the affairs of others that aren’t our business, 10 percent are about sickness–either real or imagined– and 8 percent are worth worrying about. I would submit that even the 8 percent aren’t really worth the energy of worry.
Did you know that the English word worry is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word that means to strangle or to choke? That’s easy to believe. People do literally worry themselves to death. . . or heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, nervous disorders and all sorts of other nasty conditions. Is it worth it?
Some folks seem to think this is a ’90s phenomenon, but I’ve got news for you: advice about worry goes back as far as the Bible. We didn’t invent it. We just need to find a way to keep it from ruling our lives.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in bookstores lately, in the middle of a 35-city book tour. From one coast to the other, north to south, some of the most popular self-help books concern worry, stress, and simplifying your life. I have a couple of favorite books to recommend.
First, an oldie. Dale Carnegie’s “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living.” It was first published in 1948, but the advice is just as fresh and valuable as it was then and is right-on for the new millennium. Being a chronic list maker, I found two sections that really knocked my socks off. Both were about business people trying to solve problems without the added burden of worrying. Carnegie credits Willis H. Carrier, whose name appears on most of our air conditioners, with these silver bullets:
Analyze the situation honestly and figure out what is the worst possible thing that could happen.
Prepare yourself mentally to accept the worst, if necessary.
Then calmly try to improve upon the worst, which you have already agreed mentally to accept.
Bingo! You can handle anything now. You know what you have to do; it’s just a matter of doing it. Without worrying.
Another approach I like is a system put into practice at a large publishing company by an executive, named Leon. He was sick and tired of boring and unproductive meetings marked by excessive hand-wringing. He enforced a rule that everyone who wished to present a problem to him first had to submit a memo answering these four questions:
1. What’s the problem?
2. What’s the cause of the problem?
3. What are all possible solutions to the problem?
4. Which solution do you suggest?
Leon rarely has to deal with problems anymore, and he doesn’t worry about them. He’s found that his associates have used the system to find workable solutions without tying up hours in useless meetings. He estimates that he has eliminated three-fourths of his meeting time and has improved his productivity, health and happiness. Is he just passing the buck? Of course not! He’s paying those folks to do their jobs, and he’s giving them great training at decision-making.
Another little gem that’s made its way to a #1 New York Times bestseller is Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” Of course, being an aphorism junkie and slave to short snappy chapters, I’ve found this book can improve perspective in 100 small doses. I love the chapter titles: “Repeat to Yourself, ‘Life Isn’t an Emergency,’” “Practice Ignoring Negative Thoughts,” and my favorite, “Let Go of the Idea that Gentle, Relaxed People Can’t Be Superachievers.”
The point is, you can’t saw sawdust. A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work. People get so busy worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, they forget about today. And today is what you have to work with.
I remember the story of the fighter who, after taking the full count in a late round of a brawl, finally came to in the dressing room. As his head cleared and he realized what had happened, he said to his manager: “Boy, did I have him worried. He thought he killed me.”
Now that’s putting the worry where it belongs.