One of the keys to success is understanding the ’80/20 rule’ but another important principle is ‘incremental change’.
A combination of these two principles could be a very powerful tool to apply in life, especially when it comes to your physical and mental health.
Let’s look at both of these in a little more detail and see how they can work together.
Incremental Change Brings Success
One of the keys to building a stronger physical body is lifting weight. It has been found to reduce bone and joint diseases, and I highly recommend it, having healed my busted spine personally over many years of incremental change.
In order to get continually stronger, it has been shown that increasing the weight being lifted gradually over time is most effective.
For example, a common goal for strength-training programs is to increase or to maintain one’s physical strength or muscle mass. In order to achieve more strength, as opposed to maintaining current strength capacity, muscles (see skeletal muscles) need to be stressed in such a way that triggers the body’s natural, adaptive response to new demands placed on it.
Progressive overload not only stimulates muscle growth, but it also stimulates the development of stronger and denser bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Progressive overload also incrementally increases blood flow to exercised regions of the body and stimulates more responsive nerve connections between the brain and the muscles involved.
Another example is Business.
Even ordinary, incremental progress can increase people’s engagement in the work and their happiness during the workday. Across all types of events our participants in one study reported, a notable proportion (28%) of incidents that had a minor impact on the project had a major impact on people’s feelings about it. Because inner work life has such a potent effect on creativity and productivity, and because small but consistent steps forward, shared by many people, can accumulate into excellent execution, progress events that often go unnoticed are critical to the overall performance of organizations. (4)
We’ve all heard of big businesses going belly up because they grew too big too fast. It is much safer and more reliable to grow in small steady stages over the long-term.
You can imagine how this gradual ‘steady as she goes’ approach could apply to many other areas of our life, including diet and mind-body practices.
Remember, Slow and Steady Wins the Race!
The 80/20 Rule
You may have heard of the 80/20 rule when it comes to business. Usually, it means that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. Sometimes it can be used to describe our society, for example, 20% of the people do 80% of the work.
The rule is also called the Pareto Principle. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto also observed that about 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.
This rule is also called a Power Law. Power laws appear widely in physics, biology, earth, and planetary sciences, economics and finance, computer science, demography, and the social sciences. For instance, the distributions of the sizes of cities, earthquakes, solar flares, moon craters, wars, and people’s personal fortunes all appear to follow power laws. (1)
The original observation was in connection with population and wealth. As mentioned previously, Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. This means that the 20% is far outweighing the 80% in wealth and power. We know that in the world today it’s actually less than 10% of the population who hold up to 90% of the money.
But how can this law be used in our everyday lives, especially with regard to our health?
Tipping the balance
When it comes to your health it’s normally a case of what you do 20% of the time that is causing 80% of your problems. i.e. the binge drinking on the weekends, those late-night snacks, or that morning coffee instead of breakfast. Whatever it is, the power of that 20% is enough to throw your body off balance and potentially make you sick in the long-term.
Why is 20% ultimately allowed to rule the roost? There is a simple answer to that, it’s called ‘distraction’. If we’re not paying attention 80% of the time, if 80% of the people are distracted by gimmicks, advertising, and being sold up the garden path, then 20% of the people will be making the money. If 80% of people were paying attention and focused on their own higher purpose and personal progress, then the balance would be restored.
If we’re too busy 80% of the time with work, family, and other commitments, we are distracted from our health most of the time, and the bad habits creep in. The 20% bad becomes all-powerful and starts to rule our lives. We look forward to those bad things and we become slaves to them. This is how addiction starts and before long the 20% has become 30% or more. We lose our power and our health begins to suffer
Of course, the 80/20 rule can be conquered and work for us if we know-how.
On the flip side, what if we were 80% super kind to our body, provided amazing nutrition and superior foods, herbs, and healing thoughts. What power would this have? It would be like some kind of revolution by the people. An uprising of sorts, where 80% of the population said ‘enough is enough, we’re assuming control’. Would the 20% be able to maintain control? I don’t think so.
When you are extra good 80% of the time your body will become powerful, and your cravings diminish. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Christmas, birthdays, celebrations, or any other party time without restriction. What it means is that your body will cope much better and you will find yourself feeling in control of the situation.
Yes, you can eat chocolate, have a barbecue, or go to the movies and eat popcorn. It’s what you do the next day and the three days after that which will determine your balance. If you’re extra good 80% of the time then you will stay in control.
It’s when you get distracted and let your guard down 80% of the time and allow yourself to get distracted that the 20% sneaks in the back door and takes over.
The 80/20 Diet
In fact, there is now an 80/20 diet that recommends you eat clean, whole foods for about 80 percent of your calories in the day, and you treat yourself for about 20 percent of the calories in the day.
I would recommend trying this out on a daily basis during the holidays, but then also trying it out on a weekly basis long-term i.e. go healthy for 6 out of 7 days which is 85% clean. You will notice the change in how your body feels.
So here is my 80/20 incremental rule for health.
If you’re extra good 80% of the time you can be a little naughty 20% of the time. This way you can still enjoy life without feeling guilty. You can eat your cake and have it too! Over time you will find that you will automatically be good 90% of the time and love it.
Take one step at a time, and try improving life in small steps. I recommend trying to improve on one habit per year, start some new ‘good habit’ which enables you to replace something not so good. Don’t beat yourself up and have patience with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I hope this has been helpful and enjoy yourself on the journey,
(1) Power laws, Pareto distributions and Zipf’s law. https://arxiv.org/PS_cache/cond-mat/pdf/0412/0412004v3.pdf
(2) The 80/20 diet https://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/80-20-rule-best-diet
(3) Progressive overload https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_overload
(4) The Power of Small Wins. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins