Dale Carnegie is one of the most trusted authors in the self-improvement space, thanks largely to his bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” originally published in 1936.
His 1948 book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” deals with tactics for liberating yourself from nagging anxieties that make you less happy and less productive.
The book grew out of Carnegie’s experiences teaching adult education courses at the YMCA in New York City. Carnegie realized that worry was a common theme among his students, no matter their profession or background, and set out to write a book that would inspire them to take action against their own psychic demons.
In the seven years leading up to the book’s publication, Carnegie researched ancient philosophy and spoke to a range of business executives about their strategies for conquering worry. But most importantly, he conducted an experiment of sorts by giving his students advice for eliminating worry and observing what worked.
We read through “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” and pinpointed Carnegie’s five most compelling strategies for reducing everyday anxieties.
1. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
There’s a simple three-step technique that can help when you’re besieged by personal or professional worries.
First, ask yourself what’s the worst that could possibly happen. Second, prepare to accept the worst. Finally, figure out how to improve upon the worst, should it come to pass.
This technique is based on an anecdote from Willis Carrier, founder of the modern air-conditioning industry. While working for the Buffalo Forge Company as a young man, Carrier found that a new gas-cleaning service his company provided wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped.
Carrier realized that the worst that could happen was that his company would lose $20,000. He then accepted it: The company could qualify the loss as the cost of researching a new strategy. Finally, he figured out how to improve the situation: If the company bought $5,000 worth of new equipment, they could resolve the issue. Ultimately, that’s exactly what they did, and they ended up making $15,000.
2. Gather all the facts in an objective way.
As Herbert E. Hawkes, former dean of Columbia College, told Carnegie, “If a man will devote his time to securing facts in an impartial, objective way, his worries will usually evaporate in light of knowledge.”
Carnegie offers two ways to go about collecting facts objectively. You can pretend that you’re gathering this data for someone else, so you’re less emotionally invested in what you find.
Or you can pretend that you’re a lawyer who is preparing to argue the other side of the issue — so you gather all the facts against yourself. Write down the facts on both sides of the case and you’ll generally get a clearer picture of the truth.
3. Generate potential solutions to the problem.
Leon Shimkin, then general manager at Simon and Schuster (he later became the owner), figured out a way to cut the time he spent in meetings by 75%.
He told his associates that every time they wanted to present a problem at a meeting, they had to first submit a memorandum answering four questions: What is the problem? What is the cause of the problem? What are all possible solutions of the problem? What solution do you suggest?
According to Shimkin, once he instituted this new system, his associates rarely came to him with their concerns.
“They have discovered that in order to answer those four questions they have to get all the facts and think their problems through,” he told Carnegie. Once they did that, they typically found that “the proper solution has popped out like a piece of bread popping out from an electric toaster.”
In other words, action replaced worrying and talking.
4. Remember the law of averages.
The law of averages refers to the probability of a specific event occurring — and you should consult the law to find out if it’s worth fretting. Chances are good that whatever you’re worried about isn’t likely to transpire.
Carnegie writes that the US Navy employed the law of averages in order to boost sailors’ morale. Sailors who were assigned to high-octane tankers were initially worried that they would be blown up when the tank exploded. So the Navy provided them with exact figures: Of the 100 tanks that were hit by torpedoes, 60 stayed afloat and only five sank in less than 10 minutes, leaving time to get off the ship.
5. Place stop-loss orders on your worries.
This strategy is based on a principle in stock trading. One investor said he set a stop-loss order on every market commitment he made. Here’s how it works: Say you buy a stock that sells for 100 dollars a share and set a stop-loss order for 90 dollars a share. As soon as that stock dips to 90 dollars a share, you sell it — no questions asked.
You can use this principle in everyday life. For example, Carnegie once wanted to be a novelist, but after two years of toiling away without much success, he decided to cut his losses and go back to teaching and nonfiction writing.