Lots of times in life it seems like we are merely spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. Then, seemingly for no reason that we can identify, things come together. Things often seem to get done somehow. We get some task, project, or job done despite having no clue what happened. While this does not happen all the time, most people can identify with this strange phenomenon and provide examples. It seems that there is some logic behind these synchronistic events, and it’s not just because the universe momentarily lined up properly.
These kind of apparently random successes may be best identified through what is commonly referred to as be 80/20 rule. This principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The formal name of the 80/20 rule is the Pareto principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of Italian land was owned and controlled by 20% of the population. He later observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. Numerous other measurements of productivity he came across also showed roughly the same ratio. He also notice that the 80/20 ratio of land ownership applied to most nations around the world.
The 80/20 rule also holds up pretty well when applied to human behavior. Stated as a behavioral principle, roughly 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. In some instances you can isolate and quantify the 20%, and others you can’t.
Let’s consider some examples:
-Goal setting is perfect for application of the 80/20 rule. The 20% can be the planning. Taking an adequate amount of time at the beginning of a project, using written strategies will lead to greater efficiency and improved output. The 20% you put in on the front-end yields most of the result that you obtained. In working towards a project, taking time to isolate and quantify the first 20% makes for a far better result.
-Fitness goals can best be obtained through recognition of the 80/20 rule. Taking time to plan out meals, exercise regimens, and rest periods will lead to better results than haphazard eating and training when you feel like it. Your body will respond to diet and exercise along predictable, scientific principles. Using 20% of the process to study your body’s unique responses brings huge results over time. The “it’s bad genetics” excuse that you give yourself for failure simply isn’t true. Using 20% of the process to study what you need to do to get where you want to be will rectify what you thought was impossible. Again, the 20% that goes into planning brings the results.
-Relationships are also subject to the 80/20 rule, but in a slightly different way. Here you cannot control the response on the other person. You can however, control your actions and behaviors. For example, your husband, wife, or partner can never be systematically controlled. They may, however, be positively impressed with approximately 20% of what you do. She may notice and respond positively on Wednesday to the dishes that you washed on Tuesday. He may respond positively to that great meal that you “just threw together” at the last minute. While you didn’t consciously plan either of these, they created a positive outcome. Good relationships are based on these seemingly little things more so than the fireworks, bells, and whistles that are planned.
Parenting also is subject to the 80/20 rule. Your children respond to what you try to instill in them in a very random way. They not only listen to what we say, but they observe what we do. We all know that, “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t work. The 80/20 rule is a possible explanation for this. In parenting, it’s the little things that bring big results. It’s that conversation in the car, vacation you forgot about, understanding that you show your child when they screwed up, and a bunch of nonscientific other things that make the difference.
Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” referred to this 80/20 principle through something he called “sharpening the saw.” He used the analogy that taking some time to keep life’s tools sharp made for a more productive life. While the numbers 80/20 may not always be exact, the principle behind it may be. While we always can’t control what happens in life, we may be able to gain an upper hand by an awareness of this principle.
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