Recently, I was speaking with a fellow blogger about resolutions and one that we discovered we had in common for 2013 was the desire to be able to be more present in our daily lives. Sounds simple enough, but in my experience, plans of the future can too often infiltrate the present thereby squashing potentially memorable moments. For others, an obstacle that impedes one’s ability to fully enjoy the present may be hanging on to the past, refusing to let go or move forward.
Whether the past or future is hog-tying your mind, the foundation for many of the reservations that prevent people from being fully present and living the rich and full life that is available to them involves an element of worry: a worry that things will never be the same after something loved is lost or a worry of uncertainty of how things will work out in the future.
Did you know that worry, stress, despair, angst, selfishness, anxiousness, anger, all decisions procured in our very own mind can cause a long list of illnesses, unnecessary diseases such as ulcers, headaches, insomnia, depression, tumors, rheumatism, just to name a few? While this may seem far-fetched, it is what the worry causes our bodies to do internally that prevents it from doing the job it was meant to do – heal itself. Our bodies are amazing machines, so much so, we don’t realize how well it does take care of itself, so long as we take care of ourselves, and that includes our minds.
Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is based on common sense, science and many first-hand stories that reveal the unnecessary need to worry, how to conquer it and the benefits of doing so. After pouring over the book this weekend, I have come up with my own list to share with you that include his tips that I have found to work for myself, along with a few I am looking forward to incorporating into my own life.
1. Respond rationally to what you’re worried about. Follow this four step plan which I have found eliminates 99% of any worries I have running around in my head – (1) write down exactly what you are worried about, (2) write down what you can do about it (3) decide the best course of action (4) start immediately to fulfill the course of action you’ve decided upon
2. Master your thoughts. As stated above, our thoughts create the reality in which we live. If we believe we are living a grand, full life that is brimming with potential, our attitude is projected out into the world, and we draw to ourselves others of like thinking. Dually, the opposite is true as well. One of the first pieces of advice Carnegie shares is “keep day tight compartments”. In other words, much like a large commercial cruise ship, drawing down the steel doors to separate the compartments of our mind as safety precautions, it is imperative in order to live our best life that we stay present in the present, remaining confident that we’ve assessed and learned the lessons of our past and we’ve adequately put ourselves on the right path for the future to work out in the best possible way. When you know these two things, it is much simpler to live in the present.
3. Never stop gaining knowledge. Last month as December 21 drew near, I was flabbergasted by the fear-mongering and ignorance that was swirling about. Had those who were terrified done their research and gained knowledge they would have come to realize that the Mayan’s calendar may have been coming to an end, but much like an odometer it would have reset. And interestingly enough, it wasn’t the Mayans who predicted the end of civilization; it was instead our modern culture feeding our fear-fetish society. The lesson is, whatever it is that is causing your fear, stop fretting and start doing something productive beginning with gaining credible knowledge so that you can squash unnecessary fear, and if need be make a plan to deal with what is ahead of you in a constructive manner. “Confusion is the chief cause of worry.” Eliminate the confusion; eliminate your worries.
4. Relax, before you need it, and do so regularly. It has happened to me a few times, once in college after finals and another instance at the end of a seemingly endless build-up of demands at work that I refused to say no to, when upon finally stopping to rest, I became quite sick. Had I balanced my workload with intermittent respites to relax and unwind, time away from work and simply putting my responsibilities down even if they weren’t entirely done quite yet, I may have saved myself the utter exhaustion that prompted my body finally forcing me to stop. What I have come to realize is that in order to do our best, we must be at our best. And that means resting our minds (as well as our bodies) regularly to allow them both to recharge.
5. Get busy. This may sound counter-productive to #4, but when an intensely horrific emotional event has happened, often the best medicine as a way to silence our worries, is to throw ourselves into a project, work or something that is physically or mentally challenging. So much so, that the brain has to focus on that one task and is not able to wander to worry. While there must come a time to slow down and assess (because we can’t run from what scares us forever if we wish to live a contented life), until we have some distance, sometimes the best thing is to focus on something that is productive, purposeful and distracting.
6. Sit down regularly and self-assess. One of the ways I have found to be the best when it comes to ensuring I don’t make the same mistake twice and to be certain I am doing the best that I can to achieve my goals is to regularly self-assess. Benjamin Franklin was quite regular in this practice, sitting down every evening to pause, reflect, gain wisdom from his mistakes and ascertain what he should do the following day to productively move forward. While you may not want to do it every day (although, your evening journal time would be a great time to indulge), make it a habit to structure your life to include this valuable routine.
7. Ignore unjust criticism and see it as a compliment. Keeping today’s quote in mind, while gathering constructive criticism is important, what makes it constructive is knowing that it is coming from a credible source that has no ulterior motive. And more often then not, if naysayers are taking the time to speak up, its because they see you rising, standing out or doing what they wish they could.
8. Do your best and let it go. Perfection is impossible, so there will never be an instance when everything goes off without a hitch. However, you can control whether or not you bring your best self, performance and preparation to the table. So long as you know you did your best at that given moment based on the experience and resources you were able to gather, let the criticisms that come roll off your back. Had you known better, you would have done better. And be sure that you do so next time.
9. Don’t waste a minute on your enemies. At some point in your life someone may have hurt you or you may have been unjustly wronged, but it is wasted time, energy and chances for potential opportunity to give them any of your thoughts. Move forward and let the past worry about itself. Stay in the present.
10. Expect ingratitude. One of the grandest gifts of giving is what the giver unexpectedly feels; however, often people expect a certain gesture in return and when they don’t receive it, they become agitated. Such agitation is energy being wasted that could be put to better use moving on to the next act of kindness. Never do something to receive something, simply do it and let it go. We cannot control others, we can only control our own actions and thoughts. Accept this and allow it to free you.
11. Be grateful. Upon watching one of my favorite holiday shows last month White Christmas, I can’t seem to get the tune “Count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings” out of my head. And while it is a simple reminder, it is a reminder most importantly that by realizing how fortunate we already are, we bring about peace to our mind, calming ourselves down and instilling a state of contentment.
12. Don’t imitate others. Find yourself and be yourself. The most powerful and life changing discovery we can each make is to take the time to discover what makes us smile, become unconcerned with time and long to immerse ourselves in. Self-discovery takes time and actually continues (so long as we continue to be curious throughout our entire lives) until the day we die. By refusing to be anyone but who we are, we offer our gift to the world, we stop trying to fit in and be accepted, we reveal to the world the gift that we are and that is when the magic happens (and a lot of unnecessary pressure falls away).
13. Do something for someone else. As a way of being productive and focusing your mind on something that needs tending to, why not help someone else out? Perhaps anonymously. Don’t worry about how small the act is, simply choose to do something good.
14. Let go of the little things. Often times it takes a significant lesson to remind us what we should and shouldn’t be filling our minds with. Once you’ve survived a plane crash or car wreck, worrying about matching socks isn’t that big of a deal. Learn this lesson now before a grand lesson has to take place and free your mind of worry so that it can be free to enjoy all that is going well.
15. Realize that most things we worry about never materialize. If you look at the law of averages on a variety of scenarios, the truth is revealed that we worry unnecessarily far too much. Think of all that could be imagined, created and enjoyed with the energy spared from worrying so much?
16. Acquiesce and accept the inevitable so that you can focus on making your new life richer. There will be things that happen in our lives that we don’t want, cause great pain and destroy the vision we had for our lives; however, the most productive and helpful thing is to accept the facts and vow to make the new life as rich as humanly possible. Who knows what beauty awaits to be found.
17. “Don’t saw sawdust”. Stop worrying about the past. Such simple axioms, yet based on how much we emotionally invested ourselves into something, this can be hard to actually do, even though we know it’s sound advice. However, so long as we know we did our best, take time to learn the lesson to ensure it doesn’t happen again, we help ourselves to move forward faster.
18. Never give more energy to a thing than it is worth. While it is healthy to grieve, cry and mourn for something that is lost, depending upon what it is that is causing the emotional upheaval, set a limit and then once that limit is met, dry your eyes and move forward. You may need someone to help you do this initially, but the purpose is to ensure you don’t spend more energy than is necessary on something that doesn’t deserve it, or doesn’t deserve more than what you already gave it.
19. Keep a clean desk/home/files etc. By keeping an organized and clean environment without the excess, you are able to focus on the present. A messy desk is not going to help you move forward if you haven’t dealt with items that are lingering from your past. More than anything, vowing to keep a tidy home and office forces you to deal with what presents itself at that moment so that you don’t put it off, which can cause worry and stress to build up until you choose to finally deal with it.
20. Master your thoughts. Yes, I’m repeating myself. Because it’s that important to living a worry-free, and ultimately, very happy life.
Now, trust me. You can do this, and it will change your life . . . allowing it to become richer, fuller and help you reach your full potential.
~The entire post is inspired by Dale Carnegie’s 1944 book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. I highly recommend this book as a resource to refer to if this is a topic of interest.