“Your nickname when you were a kid was Wart wasn’t it?” Paddy asked as he joined me at our regular table in the coffee shop.
“It was,” I agreed.
“And,” he went on, “if I remember right, you got it because you worried a lot and there was a comic book character called the Worry Wart.”
“It was a character in the daily comics,” I corrected him, “but I did get the nickname because I worried a lot.”
“But you managed to get rid of worry; tell me again how you did that,” Paddy said.
“I didn’t actually get rid of worry,” I told him. “But I did learn how to manage it. I took the Dale Carnegie Course when I was a teenager. One of the text books was Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, and one full session of the course was devoted to managing worry. I still review the book every year or so.”
“So how should I manage worry?” Paddy asked.
“If there’s a one-size-fits-all method for managing worry,” I said, “I’ve never come across it. People have to experiment to find out what works for them.”
“OK,” Paddy said, “give me some examples.”
“Most people find that getting busy is the best way to handle worry, and Dale Carnegie was a big fan of that,” I offered. “The most effective method seems to be to do something that requires both physical and mental activity, such as playing a sport. Others hook up their iPod and go for a walk or a run. One friend of mine has a punching bag in his office and another in his basement at home. He finds that whenever worry threatens to become a problem, a few minutes pounding the bag works wonders.”
“What else,” Paddy urged.
“Another of Carnegie’s methods was to ask yourself the following questions: what’s the worst that can happen; what are the odds on it happening; how can I improve the odds in my favour; and, what will I do if it does happen?”
“But aren’t there things we should worry about?” Paddy asked.
“Of course there are things we should be concerned about,” I admitted. “But there’s a big difference between being concerned about something and worrying about it. Being constantly worried about things accomplishes nothing. Dale Carnegie said that concern is forethought whereas worry is fear thought. When we refuse to let our concerns escalate to worry, we’re more apt to come up with ways to deal with difficulties whereas worry is counter-productive, a waste of time, and harmful to our health. Carnegie also said that worry is when your stomach is firing bullets and your brain is firing blanks. When worry slips in, take time to think but not to tremble.”
“What do you think the greatest cause of worry is?” was Paddy’s next question.
“Trying to make decisions before having enough information on which to base them” I answered. “Another Carnegie suggestion was that instead of stewing about a problem we should consider what the causes of the problem are, what all the possible solutions are, what the best solution is likely to be, and what action we’re going to take. The degree of worry usually depends on the amount of time spent thinking about a concern instead of getting busy and doing something about it. It’s always better to do something about a problem than to just sit and fret.”
“Anything else?” Paddy prodded.
“Sure,” I said, “the most senseless worry of all is worrying about something that we can’t do anything about. Not only is it a waste of time, but worrying about things that we can’t do anything about will adversely affect dealing with those that we can do something about.”
“I remember you telling me one time about a system you had for dealing with this situation,” Paddy said, “but I don’t remember all the details. Remind me, please.”
“OK,” I agreed, “but first let me put it in context. I used this technique mostly when I was still working. As with most people, worries that crept into my mind were usually things that I couldn’t do anything about right then; so worrying about them meant that not only was the worrying useless but it interfered with whatever I was supposed to be concentrating on at the time.”
We both paused to sip our coffees before I went on. “So, in my mind I’d make an appointment with myself, say, fifteen minutes at 3:45 the next day, during which I would worry about the issue to the exclusion of everything else. If I caught myself worrying about the subject before then I’d remind myself to put if off until the appointed time.”
I paused to take another drink of coffee and then continued. “What usually happened was that when 3:45 the next day rolled around I’d either have forgotten about the problem or something more important would be occupying my thoughts. In the rare instances when I did remember it, I’d give it some thought as planned. Then one of two things usually happened; after a few seconds my mind would wander off to something else, or I would actually come up with some ideas about how to deal with the situation.”
“But,” Paddy suggested, “wouldn’t you be reminded about the problem every time you saw the 3:45 appointment in your diary.”
“Oh,” I said, “I forgot to mention that I never entered the ‘appointment’ on my calendar because, as you said, if I’d forgotten about it, which was usually the case, that would just bring it back to mind.”
“Is the book How to Stop Worrying and Stop Living still available?” Paddy asked.
“It certainly is,” I assured him, “and it’s available in paperback. I think every high school student should be given a copy.”
“Fat chance,” Paddy snarled as he got up to leave, “that makes too much sense.”