Day-tight Compartments

The world is being overtaken with worry. Well…that’s not exactly right, it would be more accurate to say the world has been overtaken with worry. We have more to worry about than ever before. 

Or do we?

I think it’s good to keep “things” in perspective so let’s look at a few numbers. 40% of the things most people worry about never happen. 30% of the things people worry about are completely out of their control. They couldn’t change them if they tried. 20% of our worries come straight out of someone else’s opinion and have nothing to do with fact. 

If I’m counting my fingers and toes correctly that adds up to 90%! 90% of our worrying is a complete waste of time and energy. 90% of our worrying does nothing but pummel our joy and enthusiasm. We receive no return on that investment of time and energy so stop investing in worry. 

So what about the other 10%?

In Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (the greatest book every written on the subject of controlling worry) he provides a set of principles that are life changing. One of them has served me particularly well. It’s one of the first principles in the book and it says to “live in day-tight compartments.” 

That principle simply says don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. It says to focus all your energy on what is happening right now because that’s what you have the greatest chance of controlling. 

Take the pandemic for instance. I have no idea (does anybody?) how this ends. I have no idea what happens tomorrow or next week. I just know what I can do today to give myself and my family the best chance of staying healthy…so that’s where I’m focusing my energy. 

I have a bunch of big presentations coming up in the next few weeks. If I tried to focus on all of them I’d probably go crazy. So I’m only focused on my next one. That’s the presentation that has to be the best. Once I’m done with that one then it’s the next one that must be the best. The fact that some of these are on the same day or consecutive days makes no difference, they are all in their own “tight compartments” and they will happen one at a time. So why worry about one a couple weeks away?

I know the first thought of many people when they hear “don’t worry” is “easier said than done.” Well EVERYTHING worth doing is easier said than done. But here’s another bit of advice from Mr. Carnegie’s book that might help.

He says when facing trouble to do these three things:

  • Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is if you can’t solve your problem.
  • Mentally prepare to accept the worst if necessary.
  • Then calmly work to improve upon the worst possible outcome.

I’ve found very few antidotes to worry that are more effective than using your time and energy to solve the issue that’s causing the worry. Even if you’re unsuccessful you’ll have eliminated a great deal of worry from your life. 

So worry if you must but don’t worry about yesterday, that’s now completely out of your control. And don’t borrow worry from tomorrow, just deal with it as it comes. There is at least a 40% chance that it never does. 

Submarine Your Stress!

Most people have at least heard the phase “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s not just a saying, it’s actually the title of one of the greatest books ever written. It was written in 1936 by the legendary Dale Carnegie. It has been a best seller forever, translated into more languages than virtually any other book. 

It is truly a life changing book, to this very day. 

But many people who know Dale Carnegie’s work well would tell you it’s not his most impactful book. They would say it’s the book Carnegie people call “the worry book.” It’s official title is “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” 

It is truly a masterpiece of tactical insights into how to control worry in your life. 

The insight, or principle as Mr. Carnegie called them, that has made the biggest difference for me is the very first one discussed in the book. 

The principle says that to avoid worry we should “live in day-tight compartments.”

A submarine is divided into compartments so that when a problem develops in one compartment the other compartments can be sealed off from the trouble. Dale Carnegie suggested that we live our lives as a submarine is constructed. 

Live each day as a separate compartment. Don’t let yesterday’s troubles seep into today and never let tomorrow’s potential worries (which often never happen anyway) leak into today’s opportunity for success.

As simple and as easy as that sounds it is anything but. It requires a steely discipline and faith that today’s good can drown out yesterday’s not-so-good. 

Here’s one thing I’ve found that helps me to live in day-tight compartments. I don’t just compartmentalize my days, I put many things into their own compartments. 

I work hard to keep my work life separate from my family life. As bad as it is to let one bad work interaction negatively affect the next work interaction it’s absolutely terrible, tragic really, to let something bad that happened at work have a negative impact on my family. 

There is never a good reason to “take out” my work frustrations on the people who are far more important to me than anything to do with my job. By compartmentalizing those two areas of my life that’s much less likely to happen. 

I once had a participant in a Dale Carnegie Class tell the class that he passed over a long bridge on his way to and from work each day. He said that at the end of each work day he packed up all his worries and put them in a box. On his way home as he crossed the bridge he rolled down his window and tossed the box out the window and into the river he was crossing over. The problems and the worry they caused never came home with him. 

He went on to say that sometimes the box would be waiting for him on the bridge when he was returning to work but that was okay, he was back at work and that’s where his work worries belonged. 

If you want to attempt living in day-tight compartments then you need to find your own metaphorical bridge. Maybe you’ll need several of them, that’s perfectly okay.

This much I can tell you; developing the discipline of living in day-tight compartments will do more to relieve stress in your life than anything else you can do. There is enough stress for most of us in a single day, we don’t need to be dragging stress from yesterday or tomorrow into today. Most of us can deal with the weight of stress from one day, it’s when the days start to pile on that we have real trouble.

Live in day-tight compartments and the worries of life will find it very hard to gang up on you! 

By the way….read the book.