All my adult life I have been a worrier.
I worried about things which I might have some control over, like how I would perform in exams and what grades I would get. I worried about things which I was unlikely to have control over, like whether my boyfriend would cheat on me and whether I'd be alone for the rest of my life. I worried about things which absolutely no one has any control over, like will it rain on my daughter's birthday, will there be a global pandemic of bird flu and will a meteor hit Earth any time soon.
It's hard to explain it, really (but most of us get caught in the net of worry at some time or another - it is such a common human predicament). Worry defies all rational explanations, because it is not rational. Worry does not prevent bad things from happening (although that is its symbolic purpose - you worry in advance, as if you could somehow affect the outcome) - on the contrary, it makes us think about the bad possibilities so much that it brings them into the present life, as it they had already happened. Worrying is a habit, an addiction, a way of living. It can be mild and irritating, or obsessive and torturous. Over the years I have experienced both of these extremes and pretty much everything in between.
So when I came across Dale Carnegie's book 'How to Stop Worrying and Start Living', I thought I'd give it a go.
Of course, it is not a new book so when I say 'I came across it' I mean that it somehow popped up on my Amazon, being offered to me as something that might interest me (clearly Amazon knows me too well). Dale starts off by explaining the background to this book and how it came into existence (it was actually written for an adult night school class he was teaching). He often refers to his own life and anecdotes from it which makes everything he says very believable, very authentic. In each chapter he presents you with a new strategy on how to banish worry from your life forever, fortified with stories of real people who have grappled with it and won. Every chapter ends with a one-sentence summary of this strategy, for example 'Co-operate with the Inevitable' or 'Put a stop-loss order on your worry'. He covers every angle, from analysing how likely it is that your perceived disaster will ever happen (often not at all) to how to make peace with bad things which did happen, and everything in between.
My favourite by far is the advice to live in 'day-tight compartments'. What this means is letting go of the past, which is no longer here (not even yesterday, although it is so close!), forgetting about the future which isn't here yet, and simply focusing with all our power and skill on today. It means doing everything the best we can right now, today, just until bed time - without worrying about the future. It is essentially a very Buddhist approach of 'Be here, now'.
Lead, kindly light...
Keep though my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I have to say I think that his approach is amazing. While I don't normally believe in quick fixes for complex problems that arise from our pshyche, I have actually caught myself thinking that I will never again waste my time and energy by worrying, that least productive and useful of all human preoccupations, because I now simply understand how worry works, and I can exclude it from my life and my thoughts. There is nothing to be gained by it and a lot to be lost, missed or downright ruined.
If, like me, you are a person of anxious nature and you think you might benefit from something to stop your mind churning over those 'worst case scenarios' all the time, then I can't recommend this book highly enough.
What books have you read which have helped you with a personal challenge?