This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying and Start Living about? Can it help you decrease your tendency to worry?
In How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers timeless advice for stopping worry from ruling your life. He discusses how to cultivate a worry-free mindset and explores ways to work through common worry triggers.
Here is a brief overview of How To Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.
Book Overview: How To Stop Worrying and Start Living
None of us is a stranger to worry—our minds are clouded by ambitions and goals, relationships, work obligations, concerns about the future, generalized anxiety, and so on. Left unchecked, worry and stress can easily consume you. But, with the right mindset and skills, you can start cutting unnecessary worry from your life.
In How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie teaches how imagining a worst-case scenario can stop your anxiety, why criticism is a compliment, and why smart spending is better than a raise—and you’ll come away with the right tools to build a happier, less worried mindset.
What Is Worry?
Worry is focusing outside of the present—overthinking the past and harboring anxiety about the future. You can combat worry by shutting your mind off completely from the worries of yesterday and tomorrow, instead focusing all your attention and energy on the present moment. This ensures that you’re only carrying one day’s worth of stress at a time and keeping your thinking uncluttered. Two major benefits of this practice are being better prepared for the future and being more engaged with your present life.
Prepare for the Future, One Day at a Time
Not worrying about the future doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare for it. It’s necessary to save for retirement, plan your schedule, and so on. But keep in mind that no one can predict what’s to come—the only thing in life that you can control is the present moment. Effective preparation for the future is focused on the present, doing today’s tasks one at a time, as well as you possibly can.
- For example, instead of fretting about whether you’ll have enough money for retirement, focus on ways to start saving today—by creating a budget, setting up a meeting with a financial advisor, or simply outlining your savings goals for the year.
Engage With Your Present, One Day at a Time
When you focus on doing “today” as best you can, you avoid the bad habit of putting off living your life because you’re focused on a far-off, attractive future.
As a child, you talk about what you want to do when you’re older. As a teen, you think about life as an adult. In college, you think about your future job. Once you’re in your career, you dream about what you’ll do when you retire. At the end of your life, you realize how much you missed by always looking toward the future. Living one day at a time helps engage you more deeply with the life that’s sitting right in front of you.
The Physical Cost of Worry
Besides better immersing you in the present, mitigating worry also helps you avoid serious mental and physical manifestations of worry. Doctors have repeatedly found strong correlations between worry and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Additionally, there are numerous links between worry and serious physical symptoms such as ulcers, headaches, insomnia, cardiac issues, diabetes, and rashes—just to name a few.
Basic Worry Management: Analysis and Decision
Though you might understand that worry is a waste of time and energy, avoiding stressful situations isn’t always possible. In these cases, you can lessen your worry by analyzing your situation and finding solutions. There are three parts to this process.
Part 1: Gather the facts. Gather all the information you can about the situation so that you know exactly what you’re worrying about. Otherwise, you end up basing decisions on false information or getting stuck on “what-ifs.”
- Be sure you’re gathering all the facts, not just those that confirm your thinking. To remain unbiased, pretend you’re gathering information for someone else or that you need to argue the issue from the other side.
Part 2: Analyze your information. Once you have your facts written down, ask yourself: What is my worry? What can I do about it?
- These questions lead you to possible solutions, from which you can decide on a clear direction to move in—instead of getting mired in possibilities.
Part 3: Act on your decision. It’s crucial to start acting on your decision right away so that you don’t have time to second-guess yourself. Don’t try to solve the entire problem at once—just start on what you can do.
- For example, if you’re worried about your health and decide to change your unhealthy habits, you can’t revamp your entire lifestyle right away. However, you can start cutting soda out of your diet immediately.
Cultivate a Less Worried Mindset
Having a generally less worried mindset puts you in a better position to work through difficult or stressful situations clearly—or even gloss over them. First, we’ll tackle the common habit of worrying, and then discuss how to keep your everyday mindset as worry-free as possible, moving forward.
Break Your Habit
Method 1: Keep busy. Occupy your mind with productive, positive thoughts rather than worry and anxiety by keeping yourself mentally and physically busy. Some positive ways to keep busy include joining activities like a sports team or a class, or developing a hobby like painting or learning an instrument.
Method 2: Reframe the small stuff. A strange aspect of human nature is that we easily become emotional and reactive toward small, unimportant matters. When you find yourself fretting about something small, try:
- Asking yourself: Am I going to let this setback ruin my entire experience? This question often reveals that the matter isn’t important enough to derail an entire event.
- Thinking of how you can make a small irritation more pleasant. For example, you might think of your noisy neighbors as a good excuse to buy a luxurious sleep mask and white noise machine.
Method 3: Consider probability. When you step back and examine anxieties—such as a house fire or plane crash—you’ll often find that they’re not very likely to happen. This interrupts your imagination’s irrational spirals and grounds your anxious thoughts in fact.
Method 4: Accept what’s out of your control. Practice acceptance of situations you can’t change or control—cooperate with your circumstances instead of pushing back against them.
- For example, if your company announces coming layoffs, no amount of stressing on your part will make them rethink their strategy. Instead, accept that you may lose your job, and start looking through job ads.
Method 5: Set limits. Determine how much time and energy you’re willing to spend worrying about small issues. Think: Do I really care about this issue? How much of my time will I allow it to take?
- Imagine a friend always shows up 30 minutes late to lunch plans. Instead of wasting your lunch hour in frustration, tell them, “I’ll be at the restaurant at 12:30. I’ll wait 10 minutes for you. If you’re not there, I’m going to find lunch elsewhere.”
Method 6: Remember that what’s done is done. Ruminating on the past is useless. You can’t change actions or decisions that have already happened. Instead, focus on mitigating or managing the present outcomes of those actions and decisions.
- This may look like committing to your chosen path, changing course, or finding small ways to better your circumstances.
Adopt a Happier, More Relaxed Attitude
When you’re happy and relaxed in your everyday life, stressful situations have less power to send you into an anxious spiral. There are seven rules for maintaining a relaxed attitude.
1) Attitude is everything. Many problems and worries don’t stem from your actual circumstances—they stem from your perception of and reaction to your circumstances. However, sometimes it’s just not possible to approach a problem with a sunny attitude. In these cases, keep in mind that actions can influence how you feel—performing productive actions can help improve your attitude.
- Imagine that you just received news that you have a serious illness and need to undergo surgery. It might not be possible to approach the situation with positivity, but you can start stocking up on cozy blankets and your favorite snacks to ensure that the post-op period will be as comfortable as possible.
2) Don’t try to get even. Holding grudges clutters your mind and preserves long-term feelings of anger and tension. When you let go of a grudge, you take away the other person’s power to occupy your thoughts and rule your emotions. There are three ways to let go of a grudge:
- Forgive and forget. Forgive your enemy and refuse to mull over it. If they’ve taught you a valuable lesson, take your forgiveness a courageous step further by thanking them.
- Distract yourself with a bigger cause. When you’re deeply involved in a cause you’re passionate about, it’s easier to ignore insults. Instead of responding to your enemies or critics with anger, push yourself further into your cause and commit to proving them wrong.
- Put yourself in your enemy’s shoes. You may have acted the same if you’d been in their position. Attribute their wrongdoing to their circumstances, not their character, and leave it behind you—as you’d hope they’d do for you.
3) Expect a lack of gratitude. Gratitude is a cultivated practice—ingratitude is human nature. Expecting natural gratitude from others will only lead to frequent disappointment or resentment. It’s better to expect no gratitude at all and be delighted when you do receive it.
4) Count your blessings. We often waste what we do have while wishing for what we don’t have. When you’re feeling irritable or down, consciously take a moment to reflect on all the good in your life.
5) Find—and act like—yourself. One of the easiest ways to make yourself anxious and unhappy is to reject who you are and strive to be someone different. Instead of trying to become an imitation of others, put your time and energy toward discovering and developing the skills, passions, and stories that make you who you are.
6) When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Think of setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth. When something goes wrong, ask yourself:
- What can I learn from this situation?
- How can I improve this situation?
7) Find ways to do good for others. Commit to doing at least one good deed for someone else every day. When you’re thinking of others, you’re naturally distracted from thinking about yourself and your worries.
- You can practice kindness toward anyone—a cashier, the mail carrier at work, and so on—simply by asking them about themselves and how their day is going.
Dealing With Worry About Criticism
When criticized, most of us instinctively react negatively—either becoming angry and defensive or worried sick about what people must think of us. There are three ways you can make criticism less stressful.
Method 1: Remember That You’re Not Perfect
When faced with justified criticism, recognize that it’s a valuable learning opportunity. It can be difficult not to react emotionally to criticism, but you can avoid emotional reactions by:
- Being your own worst critic. When you examine and criticize yourself, you ensure that you won’t be taken by surprise by others’ criticism and can learn from your mistakes privately instead of in a public—and therefore emotionally charged—setting.
- Recognizing and welcoming sincere and helpful criticism. When criticized, take a moment to consider where the criticism is coming from—is it helpful and kind? If so, accept that it’s legitimate criticism and ask yourself what you can learn from it.
(Shortform note: For more tips on productively accepting feedback and criticism, read our summary of Thanks for the Feedback.)
Method 2: Do Your Best
Many people react to criticism by trying to please their critic and thus avoid future criticism. This is a waste of time because no matter what you do, someone will be able to find a reason to criticize you. Instead of focusing on actions that you think will draw the least criticism, focus on doing what you absolutely believe is the right thing to do.
- If you act within your values to make the best decisions you can, you’ll be less likely to internalize and worry about the opinions of others. The comments of others will more easily bounce off of you.
Method 3: Take Unjust Criticism as a Compliment
When you’re criticized unfairly, it’s usually because your critic needs to feel more powerful or important than you. In this way, unjustified criticism is a compliment. It signals that whatever you’re doing is worth jealousy and attention.
Dealing With Worry About Work
It’s important to get a handle on work-related worries because you spend so much of your time and energy at work—work stress naturally touches all aspects of your life.
Search for Ways to Enjoy Your Work
Boring work is a significant source of negative emotions such as resentment, frustration, and worry. On the other hand, enjoyable work energizes you and adds positivity to your life. Even if you don’t particularly like your job, you can consciously make it more enjoyable. There are four ways to do this.
1) Add interest and challenge to your work by making small goals for yourself, or by taking on extra projects that are more interesting than your regular work. These small changes often lead to genuine enjoyment.
- For example, someone bored with data entry can make a goal to increase their entry speed by 2% each day, adding a motivating challenge to the task.
2) Think of the gains. When you enjoy your work, you naturally work faster. This means that you don’t have to spend extra time at work finishing up tasks, and your efficiency might line you up for a promotion.
- For example, the data entry employee might be chosen for a promotion into a less boring position, based on their impressive spike in efficiency.
3) Reframe the way you think about your obligation to work. When you’re feeling resentful of your work, think about how many people would love the opportunity you have. Remember that you’re lucky to have a job, even if it’s not exactly the job you want right now.
4) Start your day with a pep talk. Talking to yourself positively and reflecting on your goals helps you approach your work with a positive attitude—this boosts your motivation and helps carry you through the tougher moments of your job.
- For example, you might start your morning by saying, “Today I’m going to make x number of sales and beat last month’s numbers. I think this is achievable, based on last week’s sales and the feedback I’ve gotten.”
Find Work You Love
While pretending to enjoy your work can reduce your frustration and worry, it’s even better to genuinely enjoy your work. Unfortunately, many people choose their paths when they’re young and don’t quite know what they enjoy. The good news is, you can always change the direction of your career. There are numerous ways to find and pursue enjoyable work:
- Find a vocational counselor or books that can help direct you toward a career path that suits you.
- Avoid professions that are already saturated or hard to break into—such as modeling or acting—unless that’s truly what you want to do. It’s very difficult to get ahead in these professions, which can lead to high levels of insecurity, stress, and worry.
- Do thorough research before choosing a career field—a huge portion of your life is devoted to your career, so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
- Remember that you can change your line of work at any time. No one is destined for one occupation only—there are many fields you can succeed in if you apply yourself.
Establish Good Habits Around Work
When you’re in the right job or are at least doing your best to enjoy your job, you have the mental space to make your working life more organized and stress-free. There are four actions you can take to create less stressful workdays.
Action #1: Prioritize Rest
You don’t need to grind yourself to exhaustion—you’ll be much more efficient if you take adequate time for rest before you’re tired. Accomplish this by scheduling frequent breaks into your day.
Action #2: Relax as Much as You Can
Interestingly, most of your work-related fatigue isn’t mental fatigue, though it might feel that way. Your fatigue is more likely physical—even if you don’t work in a physically demanding job. You naturally experience negative emotions at work like frustration or anxiety, which cause near-constant physical tension that exerts your muscles and tires you out. There are three ways to reduce your tension at work.
- Regularly check in and train yourself to relax. Set an alarm to go off every hour or so, prompting you to think about what parts of your body are holding unnecessary tension. Consciously think about relaxing those muscles. Once the tension there dissipates, move on to another muscle—like the jaw or the shoulders. Repeat this practice throughout the day.
- Do your work in a position that’s comfortable for you. This might look like working at a standing desk, purchasing a comfortable chair, or lying down if possible.
- Perform an end-of-day check-in. Determine if your end-of-day energy level corresponds with the work you did. If you feel exhausted after doing relatively easy, non-strenuous work, you were likely holding tension all day.
Action #3: Establish Good Working Habits
There are four habits that are crucial to an organized, uncluttered workday that won’t drain your mental energy.
1) Clear your desk. Remove everything from your desk, except for whatever needs your immediate attention. This removes distracting, worrying reminders of everything you need to get done and lets you focus on one problem at a time.
- Similarly, don’t hold issues in the back of your mind for later. Try to deal with them immediately—for example, dedicate your morning to responding to emails right away instead of letting them sit in your “drafts” folder.
2) Prioritize. Make a plan of how you’ll prioritize and take care of your most important issues each day. For you, this might look like waking up early to plan out your day, or you might create the next day’s schedule each night.
3) Come to a decision ASAP. When you have all the relevant information you need, make a decision right away—this helps clear your to-do list of things that need to be discussed or executed. Keep in mind that “decisions” can take several forms:
- You might decide to execute an idea; you might decide that you need to prioritize another idea or decision first; or you might decide that no action is necessary.
4) Learn to delegate work. If you don’t delegate work to others, you end up trying to do everything yourself—making you overworked, stressed, and resentful. Start delegating small, easy tasks to others and move on to larger and more important tasks once you’ve established that you can trust them.
Dealing With Worry About Finances
Most people think making more money could solve all their financial problems. However, your income usually isn’t the source of your worries—it’s the way you spend it. Financial problems are solved by making a clear plan of how you’re going to use your money.
There are 10 rules for keeping your finances under control and easing your financial worries.
- Visualize your spending. Write down everything you spend your money on for at least one month—from rent to lattés. This practice builds an accurate picture of where your money goes.
- Create a personalized budget. Once you have an accurate idea of your spending, put together a budget suited to your specific needs. Budgets create a sense of security and control that prevents you from worrying about your spending.
- (Shortform note: There are many resources you can use to build a budget, such as a financial advisor, or online budgeting resources like Mint.)
- Spend wisely. Wise spending means researching purchases to be sure you’re getting a good value for your money. It also means spending your money on things that are meaningful to you and will bring you genuine happiness.
- Avoid “lifestyle creep.” With an increase in income, many people start upgrading their lifestyle in small ways, such as buying nicer clothes or going out to eat more. Your spending creeps higher and higher over time, preventing you from saving money
- Be careful to modestly spend within your means—this gives you a financial cushion and a sense of security.
- Maintain your credit. If you have good credit, you can get loans, buy a car, or get a mortgage. Using credit is easy enough, but be sure you are maintaining it as well. You can do this by strictly using your credit cards only for purchases you can afford, and making on-time payments every month.
- Get insurance and build emergency funds. Give yourself peace of mind by safeguarding against major financial setbacks, such as accidents or job loss. You can do this in two ways.
- First, set money aside in a savings account specifically for emergency use.
- Second, make sure that you have health, home, and automobile insurance to cover you in unexpected events.
- Teach your children money management. Teaching your children about responsible spending and saving can ease your worry that they will one day have financial troubles.
- One way to do this is to act as a “bank” for your children’s allowance so they can learn to save and track expenses.
- Start a side hustle. Think of skills you might be able to turn into a profitable business—many people create businesses out of their hobbies, such as selling handmade goods, tutoring, or dog walking.
- Do not gamble. Many people easily become addicted to the chance of winning big, even though we rationally know that the odds are slim to none. Gambling is never a good use of your money.
Practice acceptance. If you can’t improve your financial situation, you can improve your attitude toward it. First, remember that almost everyone understands the struggle—many successful people got their start by borrowing money or scrimping and saving. Second, focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t—otherwise, you’ll never be happy, no matter how much you have.
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- What worry is and how it manifests both physically and mentally
- How to deal with worry about work, finances, and criticism
- How to cultivate a less worried mindset