Leaders, Here’s How to Break Out of the Prisons Called ‘Worry’ and ‘Fear’

This article was originally published in AllBusiness.

Out of all the obstacles that come our way in life, worry and fear may be the two biggest killers of success. Those struggles can be so damaging because they not only prevent business leaders from taking risks and getting out of their comfort zones, but they actually convince them that they don’t deserve opportunities or won’t succeed if they were to take advantage of them.

Leaders that give in to these struggles enough times often question their self-worth. There is also evidence that worry and fear are responsible for all kinds of debilitating illnesses: both physical and mental. It’s heavy stuff, to be sure, but luckily there’s good news.

You don’t have to be the victim of your worries and fears. There are many ways to take action against those struggles. With the understanding that nothing happens without effort and commitment, there are paths you can set out on right now—today—to begin breaking away from these self-made prisons.

Plan the jailbreak

First, you need to recognize the truth about your worries and fears. The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne once said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” Most of the things you fear, when looked upon in hindsight, never actually happened.

In his article “The Fog of Worry (Only 8% of Worries Are Worth It),” author Earl Nightingale wrote this about worry:

1. Things that never happen: 40%. That is, 40% of the things you worry about will never occur anyway.
2. Things over and past that can’t be changed by all the worry in the world: 30%.
3. Needless worries about our health: 12%.
4. Petty, miscellaneous worries: 10%.
5. Real, legitimate worries: 8%. Only 8% of your worries are worth concerning yourself about. Ninety-two percent are pure fog with no substance at all.”

Only 8% of worries are actually worth concern? I like those percentages.

So, start eliminating 92% of your worries; be conscious of those percentages. For the remaining 8%, create an action plan on how to deal with them. The following suggestions will go a long way in helping you reduce the impact of your fears and worries, freeing you to be the person you were designed and strive to be, each and every day:

Start your day with a “grateful list.”

If you begin your day actively thinking about the things for which you are grateful, your mind physically cannot simultaneously be actively dwelling on worries or fears. With your first cup of coffee, or during your shower or morning walk, state quietly in your mind, or even out loud, five to 10 things for which you’re grateful. Doing this will start your day on a positive trajectory. (Note: Remember to do this no matter how you feel. It will be tough, but you don’t have to feel grateful to be grateful.)

Live in “day-tight compartments.”

Dale Carnegie has a number of suggestions on how to conquer worry in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living; one suggestion is the “day-tight compartment.” The premise is to shut off thinking about the yesterdays, which are gone and cannot be changed, and also shut off the future, which is full of its own anxieties. Instead, exist in the safety of “today,” where you can live, breathe, and make an impact with your thoughts and actions. It might seem a tad oversimplified, and yes, you may have to deal with past mistakes and should plan for the future, but don’t give those things any right to cause you worry, fear, or anxiety.

Address fears in a head-on manner.

Another of Mr. Carnegie’s principles is to directly address fear and worry. When struggles become realities, try this three-step formula:

1. Ask yourself: “What is the worst that can possibly happen if I can’t resolve this matter?”

2. Once you’ve determined the worst case (which often is much better than you may have initially believed), prepare yourself mentally to accept the worst case, if necessary.

3. Then, once you’ve accepted the worst case, calmly devote your time and energy to trying to improve upon the scenario. Since you’ve already accepted the worst, any improvements you can come up with will be a victory; stop worrying and begin to work on a solution.

Enable a mental “stop-loss.”

One final suggestion for when fears and worries get the best of you is to decide how much they really matter in the whole scheme of life. Put into place a mental “stop-loss,” or a point in which you mentally move past those worries or fears, in order to cut your losses. If you must deal with the fears or worries, only think about them for the time that they’re worth; once you’ve addressed the issues, be done with them. Sometimes they are what they are, and you may not be able to resolve them, no matter how much you might want to.

Just like most things in life, our fears and worries can be controlled and conquered with commitment to a strong plan of action. Try doing this and you’ll find yourself breathing easier day by day.