80/20!! What Does It Mean and Why Is It Important to You?

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Wow! Life’s full of mysteries – and a whole lot more fun when we can continue to learn each and every day. While the growth of the internet has been a detriment to society in countless ways, the knowledge gained and research shared has provided some extremely valuable insight that’s both entertaining – and enlightening. This brings us to the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principal (or in language, it’s known as Zipf’s Law). This is a natural phenomenon that occurs in nature and trickles over into culture, behavior, and is a pretty interesting mathematical concept that provides very realistic, predictive outcomes and possibilities. Imagine if you could find out the top 20 things you do that bring you 80% of all your happiness and success just to be able to focus on those top 20 things and throw the other 1000 activities aside saving stress, time, and making life just a little bit better?

Would you do it?

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Unfortunately, human beings are creatures of habit. Funny thing is – the 80/20 rule defines your habits and behaviors, too. Look – trying to explain this to you in terms of all the math, rules, etc. – could take a long time and be very confusing. However, this YouTube video by Vsauce, although long (and a little boring), does do a fairly good job explaining it and demonstrating the cool ways in which it applies to life. The short of it is this:

There is a mathematical “law” of constants that can be tested against language, natural events and outcomes, behaviors, habits, economics, and, well .. so far … almost everything! It says that 80% of effects are a result of only 20% of the causes. To put it another way (that’s more applicable to daily living): only about 20% of what you do in your life will bring you 80% of the most profound results (like being happy). It’s pretty amazing. It’s one thing to be able to customize a theoretical equation to fit a unique situation that turns out to be convenient … and another to discover a mathematical constant that has macroscopic and microscopic implications across the entire spectrum! To illustrate the difference, an example of applying a limited mathematical equation for only limited purposes is that we can take almost any novel and using data mining, customize a formula that on occasion, works to identify hidden text patterns. One of the most popular of these is the Bible Code. And, while the math may work on occasion under specifically unique circumstances for only that book, the same equation cannot necessarily be applied to any other book and has to be re-customized.

So … why is the 80/20 rule different? The 80/20 rule is not really about numbers (<- this is a great post explaining how not to get caught up in that aspect). Since the 80/20 rule is a constant that has been identified in countless instances as naturally occurring, it’s easy to understand (through unconscious observation), why human beings adapt to fit within this rule. Language, habits, and behaviors “mostly” tend to follow the same patterns. And, while some of those patterns are successful … most are not. In fact, the 80/20 rule (where 20% of what you do causes 80% of your happiness), can be inversely applied (where 20% of what you do causes 80% of your unhappiness). In other words, if you find yourself looking for a better path toward success that doesn’t require winning the lottery or becoming an instant celebrity (two major options that I frequently find myself … NOT contending with … *sigh*), then this rule can provide some guidance.

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For dieters, the 80/20 rule can change the way you tackle any diet. Some aspects of the rule are applicable, while others are not. Some of the websites I linked to early on in this article discuss the application of the 80/20 rule as a blueprint to life. But, let’s face it – what this really comes down to is logic. We know that too much time on a cell phone, or a video game, or television, or away from real-life social contact, and so on and so on, is all unhealthy. We know that we need to eat fruits and veggies and cut down on McDonald’s and pizza … WHOA! WHOA! WHAT THE HECK? PIZZA? Okay … forget I said that last part …. What’s important here is that we all agree that while pizza’s okay … grease-filled french fried, sugar-glazed covered donut ice cream bars are not! (<- Although, hey … that sounds pretty good … even after the ulcer!).

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Thinking about how this relates back to you:

Can you break down your activities and how they made you feel in the last month on a frequency chart? Maybe you don’t remember them all and need to do it on a day by day basis until you have a chart. Sure, going to work may not be on the top of the list for the things that bring you joy … but that’s a necessity if you want to have a roof over your head. And … having a roof over your head brings joy … so … it’s not going to leave the list … but may not make the top 20. However, what about working is not so joyful? Maybe you can break that down, too, into activities, interactions, and so on that allow you to then focus on those parts of the day that are okay. Where we expend the most energy is where we create the strongest memories, the strongest habits, and thus, the strongest outcomes.

The 80/20 rule is a good way to start mastering time management, if that’s one of your hot topics. If you’re an I.T. Administrator / Network admin, the 80/20 rule is an applicable, mathematical formula that Microsoft even encourages (for example, in DHCP management <- Yes, I know … it works for computers, too? Yep!). But, most importantly, the Pareto Principal allows us to more logically focus on those areas of life that bring success and therefore, lead to a more constant rate of success which leads to even more happiness.

But, why does “logically” breaking down our activities matter vs. just being rational about our daily choices?

It’s far too easy, as a human being filled with complex emotions, massive daily input, and the overwhelming amount of stress in the world to make bad decisions. For example … a smoker might not be smoking because the taste of tar and nicotine are as enticing as a strawberry pie. However, 80% of their daily lives may involve stress and pain which then drives up any anti-stress activities into the top 20% of desired behaviors, and given patterns of behavior, drives smoking up to the very top. Thus, the idea of not smoking means that 80% of their stress and pain would return and is, in and of itself, excruciatingly stressful! For those creative folks who are constantly jumping from activity to activity, the 80/20 rule is a blessing. While it generates positive emotions to exercise creativity, without a focus on what’s most successful, the 80% of rewards are rapidly diminished. This may mean some activities are put on the back-burner, which can be difficult at first, but in just a short period of time, the rewards will be tremendous. To understand just how illogical emotions can make us in regard to our behavior, what we do, and what we put ourselves through … I have five words for you: “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.Really? Have you watched this show? There are people addicted to this! The absolute absurdity of the show as a cultural phenomenon is mind blowing! And, I quote: “You have to look at her Tumblr. It’s just like – so her soul.” Or, how about this: “I’m not buying her a f—ing pair of shoes, I bought her a f—ing career.” Really?!? .. I  … um … well … am lost for words. THAT’S what passes for FAMOUS and meaningful quotes from that show? I’m telling you … emotions make us do stupid things …. some more stupid than others … but I digress –

Like Chris Freytag with the Huffington Post says: the 80/20 rule’s not about being perfect. It is about shifting our focus. Remember, distractions, especially ‘commercialized’ distractions, are designed to draw our attention away from the important activities in life to focus on being a consumer. That’s great … if you’re the multi-billion dollar corporation that’s going to benefit from it. For the rest of humanity – the fact that these people get away with it should be a crime – except for the fact that “we” are responsible for “our” actions and don’t have to let commercialism win. I don’t want to get off on a tangent about commercialism, but the fact is: you’re surrounded by it. Commercialism governs how you feel about your social status and the car you drive or the cell phone you own. It governs what clothes are acceptable and what social activities you should engage in. Ever been asked if ‘you’re on Facebook?’ Without taking a poll or having a statistic to support it – I’m willing to bet that almost everyone, at least in America, has been asked that question at some point – whether by a person or a computer! These are distractions. And, many of you are going to find that 80% of your day is filled up with distractions while only 20% of your day is filled with meaningful activities.

It’s funny that I didn’t know this rule many years ago. When I was younger, through observation of several female friends who couldn’t understand why their relationships failed, I began watching and listening to others – hundreds of them. The observation I made at that time was: “When you go out, make a mental list of the top 10 guys you see and meet. Throw out the first 7 or 8 and look toward the last 2 or 3.” My logic was this: If these gals were making bad choices in men on a repeat basis, then their criteria list was flawed. Appearance, social status, wealth, and the high points on the list (the superficially immediate gratification items) seemed to supersede sincerity, integrity, and devotion (what they secretly desired long-term, and as an intelligent creature … not a primate). I would tell them: “The unfortunate part is that you’d have to be willing to make some dramatic changes in the way you think to even look at the bottom 2. Maybe it’s their appearance or a lack of confidence that makes them seem like less of a mate. However, we’re not primates and breeding with the jocks may make for a strong crop in the future … but it does nothing for intelligence, sincerity … or love.” The reason it’s funny I didn’t know the 80/20 rule? I was right. The few of those friends that finally took that advice … are still married – and happy! It doesn’t make me a ‘relationship’ expert (especially as there are always more and complex facts to consider), it just means that an impartial, unbiased, and non-emotionally involved observation can often times clear the air and help for making better decisions! And – shifting focus to the 20% of most successful decisions is such a natural occurrence in the world – that it really does work!

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The 80/20 rule may not be for you. It may only be an interesting and passing thought. But, for everyone else, maybe it’s just something to keep in the back of your mind. Perhaps you can start thinking about the things you’ve done infrequently, that brought you happiness, that may be something you can start doing more frequently. Maybe a look into the checking account will show that 80% of what you’ve been buying really hasn’t been as satisfying as it should be (it sucks to spend $80 bucks at the store and come home with 1 or 2 bags and have to double check your receipt because it feels like you were somehow ripped off in that transaction!). Remember … it’s not about giving up! It’s about shifting your focus to what works better without letting your emotions demand that you sit through another IQ sucking moment with Ms. Kardashian! (Sorry … not ‘trying’ to pick on the Kardashians … but they really do make for a great example …).

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Anyway – this is all just food for thought. It’s all just designed to inspire you to think, to question, and to find answers that make you happy! 80/20 is presented here as a pretty universal “guideline“, only. There’s only one thing in life that you can controland that’s you! Enjoy!

Doing less is not being lazy. Don’t give in to a culture that values personal sacrifice over personal productivity.

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