“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
~ Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) was an American writer, lecturer and developer of courses in self-improvement. He has always been near and dear to my heart because his book, How To Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948), helped me immensely in my lifelong battle against fear and self-doubt. I purchased the book while in the throes of debilitating anxiety, read it cover to cover, and felt myself relax a little more with each page I read. I don’t have the book anymore. I loaned it to a student who suffered from anxiety attacks and I never got it back. But I don’t mind – I just hope that the book helped her as much as it helped me.
Mr. Carnegie wrote in straight-forward prose that was easy to understand. He wasn’t one for burying his readers in psycho-babble, and I remember feeling grateful about that the deeper I got into the book. I’m sure there are plenty of contemporary tomes to help souls lost in fear and self-doubt out there today, but I credit Dale Carnegie with my success in battling those demons. Those demons never left me – they do come out to play from time to time – but I know them and their tricks, and I meet them head on with plain old common sense and strong resolve.
He begins with very solid advice about how to conquer fear, “… don’t sit home and think about it.” As a teenager and young man, I remember doing just that! I would sit around my room and stew about everything in my life that I thought wasn’t going perfectly. The more I thought about the things I worried about, the bigger the demons became. In actual fact, I was creating, in my mind, the worst scenarios possible and convincing myself that these were the likely outcomes that I’d be facing. The mind is a wonderful thing, and one can conjure up delightful fantasies to while away the hours; but it can also create a frightening prison that is difficult to escape. Been there, done that…
What I love about Dale Carnegie’s approach is that he doesn’t lecture at you that your worries are silly or unreal, but rather, he encourages you to look at them differently. I remember relaxing as I read each page, thinking to myself, hey, maybe I’m not crazy! I felt like I wasn’t alone in the world with my anxieties – that other people had them too. Wow! What a revelation.
The only line I can remember from his book – and I don’t recall the exact words, but it went something like this: if what you’re worrying about won’t kill you, then it isn’t worth the worry. His advice was so simple! Just put the problems or issues in your life into perspective, but above all, use your common sense in the process. You don’t have to be a learned intellectual to sort through the horror-filled mazes your mind creates in the middle of a panic attack. You need to calm yourself down, put your brain in gear, and apply common sense to the problem. But there’s more.
He exhorts us to “Go out and get busy.” There are two ways to look at this advice. First, sitting around thinking about the horror of our problems only makes them worse. I stated above that we need to calm down and apply common sense. The last sentence of this quote gives us the route to follow so that we can make that happen. Advising someone to calm down isn’t very helpful. Carnegie knew that, so, in his wisdom, he tells us to get outside of our heads and get busy doing something. The activity will allow us to get out of that mental maze of horror and find relief. This allows us to relax – and that’s when we can re-engage our brains to apply common sense.
The other aspect of getting busy is that of actually doing something to resolve the problem that is bothering us. A problem won’t disappear because we wish it! We have to actually do something concrete to resolve the issue. Perhaps we need to find out more information, or get some advice from a more experienced person. As well, we need to decide on a course of action and create a plan. Then we’re in a position to act with a reasonable expectation of success. But, sitting alone stewing over a problem and worrying ourselves sick – literally, is self-defeating.
“If you want to conquer fear…” the ball is squarely in your court, and I say… go for it!