Yesterday, we discussed the benefit of closing iron doors on the past and the future, and choosing to focus instead on today.

This change of focus pulls us out of worry and back into an analytical mode of thinking. Before we move on in the book, I want to give you three very good steps to follow in times of worry, with the extra mental bandwidth the day-tight doors provide. Dale Carnegie learned these steps from a man to whom we already owe much of our daily comfort.1

Then let me tell you about the method worked out by Willis H. Carrier, the brilliant engineer who launched the air-conditioning industry,2 and who headed the world-famous Carrier Corporation, in Syracuse, New York. It is one of the best techniques I ever heard of for solving worry problems, and I got it from Mr. Carrier personally when we were having lunch together one day at the Engineers’ Club in New York.

“When I was a young man,” Mr. Carrier said, “I worked for the Buffalo Forge Company in Buffalo, New York. I was handed the assignment of installing a gas-cleaning device in a plant of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company at Crystal City, Missouri—a plant costing millions of dollars. The purpose of this installation was to remove the impurities from the gas so it could be burned without injuring the engines This method of cleaning gas was new. It had been tried only once before—and under different conditions. In my work at Crystal City, Missouri, unforeseen difficulties arose. It worked after a fashion—but not well enough to meet the guarantee we had made.

“I was stunned by my failure. It was almost as if someone had struck me a blow on the head. My stomach, my insides, began to twist and turn. For a while I was so worried I couldn’t sleep.

“Finally, common sense reminded me that worry wasn’t getting me anywhere; so I figured out a way to handle my problem without worrying. It worked superbly. I have been using this same anti-worry technique for more than thirty years. It is simple. Anyone can use it. It consists of three steps:

“Step I. I analyzed the situation fearlessly and honestly and figured out what was the worst that could possibly happen as a result of this failure. No one was going to jail me or shoot me. That was certain. True, there was also a chance that I would lose my position; and there was also a chance that my employers would have to remove the machinery and lose the twenty thousand dollars we had invested.

“Step II. After figuring out what was the worst that could possibly happen, I reconciled myself to accepting it, if necessary. I said to myself: This failure will be a blow to my record, and it might possibly mean the loss of my job; but if it does, I can always get another position. Conditions could be much worse; and as far as my employers are concerned—well, they realize that we are experimenting with a new method of cleaning gas, and if this experience costs them twenty thousand dollars, they can stand it. They can charge it up to research, for it is an experiment.

“After discovering the worst that could possibly happen and reconciling myself to accepting it, if necessary, an extremely important thing happened: I immediately relaxed and felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t experienced in days.

“Step III. From that time on, I calmly devoted my time and energy to trying to improve upon the worst which I had already accepted mentally.

“Now I tried to figure out ways and means by which I might reduce the loss of twenty thousand dollars that we faced. I made several tests and finally figured out that if we spent another five thousand for additional equipment our problem would be solved. We did this, and instead of the firm losing twenty thousand, we made fifteen thousand.”3

Fear is the mind-killer, and when we become stuck in fear and worry, we lose the ability to see a way out.

When you feel the familiar onset of anxiety, let this serve as a tripwire calling you to detach. First, begin by focusing on the task at hand—not the mistakes that brought you here, nor how your life is now ruined. Second, step methodically through these three rules. Grab a sheet of paper off the printer and write it out.

When you’re done, you’ll know what to do next.

This post is one part in a series on worry. Feel free to dip in anywhere or start at the beginning.

  1. Wait for it… ↩︎

  2. Boom. ↩︎

  3. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, pp. 33-4. ↩︎