100-Year-Old Self Help Book

03/10/2015 7:32 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

“Write on a piece of paper all the things you are worrying about. If you were worrying this morning that your slippers were misplaced, write it down. If you were worried that the telephone girl gave you the wrong number, write that down too.

"Then, when the whole dark list of your troubles is on paper, take your pencil and strike out those that do not matter -- and see how few there are left.”

When Canadian author Herbert N. Casson wrote Getting Over Difficulties in 1928, he may not have thought his advice would still exist and be relevant in 2015.

I was strolling around a Sydney vintage market, when I stopped to rummage through a treasure chest filled with books, which smelt strongly of once-loved paper.

An avid collector of vintage books, I was immediately struck by the simple cover -- a list of some of the difficulties Casson would tackle between the yellowing pages.

  • Lack of money
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Competition
  • Personal Deficiencies
  • Family troubles
  • Ill Health
  • Oblivion

Then I was struck by how relevant his writing is today -- we might have come a long way in terms of technology but, inside, our minds are plagued with worries, big and insignificant.

Casson on Worrying

“There are three degrees of worrying. Worrying over serious difficulties, worrying over trifles and worrying over the future. The first is excusable. We are all guilty of it at times. But there is no excuse for number 2 and 3. No one should worry over trifles or over things that have not yet happened.”

Perhaps this paragraph is the best way to illustrate the fact that people in 1928 and people in 2015 will waste time worrying about things they should not be worried about. Many a grandmother has imparted the wisdom, “Worry is like a rocking chair. You go back and forth and you achieve nothing".

Decision instead of Delay’ tackles a problem many of us wrestle with today: procrastination.

“Delay has become a national weakness. It is caused by timidity, lack of accurate knowledge and weakness of will. Delay! What it’s costing us at the moment will never be known. Hundreds of people postpone improvements in their business and life. If you wait until the dark clouds are all turned inside out, you will wait too long. Decide what to do, and do it. Don’t mark time. Don’t dig yourself in. Now is the best time to move forward. After all, nothing counts but ACTION."

Casson’s chapter on time management. At a time when the term was yet to be coined, these words still ring true.

“Many a man dashes down to his office and flies about like a bee in a bottle. He thinks he is busy. He thinks he is a marvellous worker. The truth is that he could do far more in half the time if he would sit down quietly every morning for an hour and plan the whole day’s work. The busier you are, the more you should take the time to read and prepare.

"Recently, a large London firm announced to its staff that a lecture on salesmanship would be given at 9 o’clock every Monday morning. The workers grumbled. They were ‘too busy to learn.’ However, they obeyed orders and came to the Monday morning lecture. In a few months, these workers increased their sales by 25 per cent, and they were manly enough to give the full credit to the Monday lectures. Few things are more profitless and disorganising than planless, headless, fussy business, dashing here and there in a spirit of irritation and wrath.”

Other self-help books that have withstood the test of time include Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. First published in 1936, it has sold more than 15 million copies and is still available for sale online. Thomas Anthony Harris’ 1969 self-help book I’m OK You’re OK was a best seller in 1969 and deals with the concept of ‘Transactional Analysis’ as a method for solving problems in life.

Author Katerina Cosgrove told The Huffington Post Australia that while our environment has changed and technological sophistication advanced, the human heart stays the same.

“The primal, universal concerns remain so today: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we die? We still ponder the complexities of love, meaningful work, parenthood, joy -- much as our ancestors did. We crave their wisdom more than ever in these times of flux,” Cosgrove said.

“Readers will always appreciate wise and insightful writing, no matter when it was written? The classics of literature bear this out. Many of us still dip into Tolstoy and the Brontes to unravel these pressing questions. I think the earliest personal development book was written by the Ancient Greek Hesiod. And many of the Greek philosophers, such as Socrates or the Stoics, could be also be classified today as self-help writers.”

May the last word belong to Casson and his insightful chapter, Fears and Regrets:

“These are the ghosts of the brain. They will haunt a man until he has no will power and no courage. They rob him of his sleep and his health and his peace of mind. They grow stronger if they are not resisted. Fears are caused by the misuse of imagination. Regrets are caused by a misuse of memory. Life is too short and too busy for fears and regrets. You have no time to lose worrying over what has happened or what may happen. The present is worth more to you than all the past and future put together. There is no enemy in the world who can harm you as much as your own fears. Act. Do something. Be positive. Fears and regrets fly from an active mind as darkness flies from the sunlight."

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