Editors Note: This is a guest post from my homegirl Ali Vanputten of Createapreneur. #herndonvirginia
I’m having a 20% problem. Not to be confused with a 1% problem, like why the Whole Foods salad bar is currently out of roasted butternut squash or how someone could dare to put agave in a raw chocolate mousse and completely ruin my chances of having a bite, no, this problem is something else entirely.
See, the other week I had what I would call a stellar week. I’d put the call out there to the world, to the Universe, for several projects that were really important to me, took some risks by letting go of some mediocre assignments I had worked on, and opportunities had started to align.
I hate to be all scientific about it, but it was definitely magic at work.
So one would think on Friday night I’d be celebrating, appreciating and relaxing in the power of manifestation and the obvious signs from the higher-ups that step up to support us when we get clear on our priorities.
But instead I was frustrated; I was having a talk with my friend and getting all riled up running through the one situation in my life that still felt out of sync. I started replaying past conversations, hashing out email drafts to those involved in the scenario and watching my heart rate level increase with each minute that passed.
I needed to fix this, I needed a solution, and all my energy was being channeled in that direction, this felt like a code red, hot off the press, emergency priority.
Except it wasn’t. And I was giving it that power and letting it take over my life, my mind and my precious Friday night.
I was letting the 20% of my life that was not in an “ideal” spot overpower the other 80% that felt aligned and awesome.
Why? The real issue here came down to a belief malfunction. The idea that the purpose of our lives is to get ourselves to a place of 100% perfection, where every single relationship, project, and ounce of fat/protein (never carbs) is in balance, and believing that this is the spot is where living begins and suffering ends.
Not only does the idea of 100% mean we have to get ourselves to 100%, (which can maybe happen in fleeting moments) but, then, that somehow we have to use our superhuman powers to maintain that, or else we’re some kind of horrible, unspeakable, form of a failure.
And anyone who’s been alive for longer than five minutes, knows that life, like nature, is cyclical, nothing is static, fixed, or permanent. Which means this searching for 100, or 110% (because I was always the girl to go for the extra credit) is really a waste of my time, energy and is quite possibly the very thing that prevents me from experiencing the contentment and freedom I so desire, in this moment.
And not to mention, really, the message I was telling the Universe was something to the effect of, “I ain’t goin’ to love you till you’re perfect” and if you’ve ever had a partner or friend send you that vibe, well, you remember how motivating that feedback was. Right?
So what if as creative, fluid, intangible, contradictory beings, our goal isn’t to get to 100% but really to direct our energy towards the 80%, or if we’re not at the 80%, shifting our lives so that the ratio starts to tip in that direction?
What if, focusing on the 80% that is working, fueling us and thriving right now, will actually make our life experience feel like 100% or 1000%, all the time?
Well consider the opposite. If having 20% of life feel “off” was able to make my Friday night feel completely derailed and consume my whole mind space, then surely if I just redirected my energy towards the opposite, I can just as easily feel “on” again. Perhaps it’s even plausible that I’ll find that oh-so-coveted peace of mind and spontaneously combust in a bubble of complete contentment, just from a simple perception shift.
And the magical thing about formulas is that once we enter them into the Excel workbook of our mind, we can use that handy little paintbrush icon and drag them over to apply to all other areas of our lives.
80/20 In All Life Situations
80/20 The body and Physical Health
For a long time I wasn’t going to be happy until I had six-pack abs, I constantly focused on that, and was miserable when it came to my appearance. This was absurd.
Waiting for physical perfection was boring, it got old real quick (well ten years kind of quick) and finally, I experimented with changing my outlook.
Whenever my Ego got into a bikini contest with those around me (I always took home the bronze) or I’d go down a rabbit hole googling ridiculous words like ‘cankles’ in a state of panic, I’d force myself to focus on what I actually, god forbid, liked about myself. Even practicing the exercise of giving myself a compliment, every time a negative thought came into my brainwaves. It was obnoxious at first, but effective.
I also prioritized activities, like yoga, that made me feel connected with my body and allowed me to see in real-time, how powerful it was. This immediately got me out of just thinking about the body, as this disconnected entity and forced me to take a joy ride in the experience of having a physical form. How could I knock this vehicle that would let me balance on my forearms or my head for several minutes? Now that felt hot.
80/20 Our Relationships (especially the romantic ones)
Romantic as in, that person who used to make you swoon but now troubles you because of the wet towels they leave on the floor and the way they are always late (total 20% problem). Yes, I’ve found that people always show up in the context in which I paint for them (because I’m creative, I like to paint). When I focus on the qualities of someone who I perceive as negative, that grows, and I start to enjoy their company less and less.
If this agitation with someone occurs over and over to us, then this could be a red flag, but if deep down we are aligned to how much we love or care about this person, than really it’s up to us to gear ourselves towards the 80% again. Asking ourselves, are we letting the 20%, the standard quirks and nuisances that come with the package of being human, keep us from loving a brilliant and amazing person?
80/20 The Diet
How we eat is such great feedback for how we feel about ourselves. If we want our diet to be 100% clean and perfect 24/7 (hand raised), then that is usually because we want to be 100% perfect as a human with no room for cracks or flaws. Now we’re conveniently back in that controlling, fixating and changing state.
If we look at our diet holistically and 80% of the time, feed ourselves in a way that feels sustainable (to us and Earth), using nourishing whole foods and in a way that makes our body feel good, than we’re doing a pretty damn good job.
And then maybe we’re able to let ourselves off the hook and veer energy away from that 20% of the time when one might, let’s just say hypothetically, find themselves drowning in their fifth bowl of chia seed pudding topped with raw almond butter and cocoa nibs.
Why 80/20 Works
When I was studying at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, one of the class modules was on the Red Cape/Green Cape theory. It’s an experiment on positive psychology that was intensely studied by someone besides me, who knows how to measure things and quantify them, like a doctor or a scientist. I, on the other hand, just know how to feel, observe and hyper over analyze to the point of obsession, so I leave the expert work, to the experts.
His name is Dr. James Pawelski, PhD, from the Positive Psychology Center at University of Pennsylvania and here is what he found through his research.
These results were summarized by the nice folks over at Profound Conversations:
Imagine you have been charged with making the biggest possible difference for the world and the seven billion of us on it, quite the challenge. But you are in luck, because there is a magic genie that can grant you one wish. You can receive a RED cape, which will let you stop “bad” things. Or a GREEN cape which will let you grow “good” things. Which cape would you choose?
Red Cape: Want to stop Famine? How about ridding the world of all disease? Simply put on the red cape and wish them away. But what do we get if you stop famine? People who are no longer starving. But is it enough? What happens if we stop disease? Does the absence of sickness imply health? No. Simply ending the problem is insufficient.
Green Cape: If we want to end famine, what would we grow instead using green cape? How about something like “well-nourished” people. If we wanted to end disease, what about growing “healthy” people? Notice how focusing on what we want more of, versus what we want less of can actually have a much bigger impact in actually dealing with the problem.
When we focus on what’s working and more of it will come, the 20% will start to drop away and in this moment, like right freakin’ now, we can release ourselves from the need to fix, change or perfect anything in order to feel happy, free and at peace.
How to practice 80/20
This is no new concept. Ancient yogi’s, great leaders like Gandhi, Mother T and His Holiness have made this practice their life’s work and tree huggers and hippies alike have been popularizing or polarizing this idea every time they say the G word, gratitude.
So really, gratitude is not just some esoteric practice for chakra tuning retreats and raw foodies, it’s a tool, like a hammer than can get us from point A to point A. Or move us away from 20% and into 80%.
If we need to hang a picture, we find a hammer and a nail and we use these tools to get the picture hung on the wall.
When we find ourselves down a waterslide of negativity, obsessing over the 20% wrong or a problem in our lives we want to fix, we can pick up gratitude, and use this tool to redirect our energy back towards the 80% to expand that area.
If you’re done with equations and math for today and have enough to soak up, read no further. But if you’re an addict like me, who finds one sip of pleasure or positivity and wants to dive headfirst until I’m literally suffocating myself with it, then no fear, there is more.
80/20 applied to Work, Time and More of Life
This rule of 80/20, with a slightly different twist can also be very effective, with regards to our work, life, business, and that terrible T word, time.
Tim Ferriss, the life hacking guru, uses this as his answer to time management forever. Forever ever? Forever ever. Basically when we use this, we don’t need to manage time anymore (I mean really, does anyone like to be managed, no wonder time reacts so poorly), but instead we can co-pilot and co-create with time.
Now I like Tim, and his hacking approach to time and life, I think him and I would be good lovers friends, so I was open to the two questions he proposed:
1. What 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
Identify them. Some of them are projects; some of them are situations at work, while others could be social obligations. They can show up as other people or toxic relationships that we let into our realm and allow to hijack our lives.
I’ve also found, the more aware we become, the greater disguises these little distractions take on, and they can even be our own habits, neurosis and numbing devices that cause us to feel that our lives are off track, derailed or unfocused.
Identify them all. Tim’s advice is to drop them, if that is not possible, I believe that just by identifying them, we’ve increased our attention to how/where they show up in our lives and what they cost us. If one of these areas cannot be immediately fixed, we can then use the approach outlined above to redirect our energy towards what is working.
- Identify 20% of problems – - > immediately eliminate what we can.
- Identify 20% of problems – - > if they can’t be immediately eliminated, choose instead to focus energy on other 80%.
This leads us to question number two. The opposite.
2. What 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes of happiness?
Identify them. I like this a lot because when we lay it all out I think it will surprise us how incredibly simple and straightforward the items and activities that cause us to feel fulfilled are and how over complicated we make our everyday life circumstances.
Than we can take the green cape approach to spend more of our time on this 20% to grow it, get into it and expand what is working. Make it the 80%.
This is like finding our compass, when we’re clear about what’s actually in the driver’s seat of our income, our happiness, our peace of mind and our overall feeling of physical well-being, than we can prioritize it. We can let everything that is NOT it, fall away and do so quickly and repeatedly.
The 80/20 concept is a practice, in my experience, this isn’t the pole vault where we have that one shot to nail the landing and finally get a smile from our Ukrainian gymnastics coach who has beaten us, delayed our puberty well into our 20s and told us we’re not good enough our whole lives, no, this is something we have to keep coming back to.
Like maybe we’re able to start practicing it 80% of the time, and well, hopefully now we know what to do with the other 20%.
Shake Something Up. Take Action:
- Identify your 80/20s. Use the questions above and write them out.
- Practice gratitude to get back on track when you’re in the wrong 20%.
What are some of your 80/20′s? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.