Bertrand Russell, the mathematician and philosopher, used a technique on himself to prevent worry, and he recommended it to others in his book, The Conquest of Happiness. "When some misfortune threatens," he wrote, "consider seriously and deliberately what is the very worst that could possibly happen. Having looked this possible misfortune in the face, give yourself sound reasons for thinking that after all it would be no such very terrible disaster."
Of course, most of us would say, "But it would be a terrible disaster!"
Russell anticipated this remark. He goes on to say that there are good
reasons to honestly assert it might not be so bad: "Such reasons always
exist, since at the worst nothing that happens to oneself has any cosmic
importance. When you have looked for some time steadily at the worst
possibility and have said to yourself with real conviction, 'Well, after
all, that would not matter so very much,' you will find that your worry
diminishes to a quite extraordinary extent."
to point out two things here. He said to look at the worst possibility
"for some time." This is not a technique to do for ten seconds. Give it
some time. If you really want to ease your worry, it will take a little
Also, he said when you can say to yourself it doesn't matter, and say it with real conviction, he does not mean pretending to say it with conviction. He means actually having looked at it enough to be able to legitimately say it really wouldn't matter that much.
has a little more to say about the technique: "It may be necessary to
repeat the process a few times, but in the end, if you have shirked
nothing in facing the worst possible issue, you will find that your
worry disappears altogether and is replaced by a kind of exhilaration."
is an effective technique. It actually works, and surprisingly well.
Dale Carnegie took the technique one step further and said, "Then try to
improve on the worst," which I think most people would do anyway. But
you can't skip ahead to improve-on-the-worst part and expect this
technique to work. You have to go through a truly honest appraisal of
what the worst would be and how bad that would actually be, until you
realize with full conviction that even the worst wouldn't be that bad.
you really do this exercise, you can really and truly cure yourself of a
particular worry, and ease the strain on your system that the worry has
been causing. To learn more about this technique and how to use it,
read: The End of the World.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).