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Forgetting Perfection: The 80/20 Rule

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I recently read an article aimed at small business entrepreneurs like myself. The author discusses how owning and operating a small business can utterly consume one’s life, and as a small business owner trying to tread water in the Time of The Covid, I can relate. 

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, extensively discusses the 80/20 Rule: for most situations, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In business, it’s often said that 80% of the sales come from 20% of the clients. I’ve also learned that in almost any given group situation, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. This is why students hate group projects and why non-profit organizations often run with the same handful of people for year.

An interesting component of this “Law of the Vital Few” is the difference between efficiency and effectiveness—the difference between doing things right (perfection and efficiency) and doing the right things (moderation and effectiveness). Efficient people do tasks quickly and precisely. While that sounds good in theory, if the things they do don’t actually matter, then how quickly or accurately the task was performed doesn’t matter either. 

This article got me thinking about the 80/20 rule and efficiency versus effectiveness, because they’re not just sound strategies for business, but also for improving our health.

One of the reasons I don’t recommend diet plans anymore is because anyone can get motivated and stick with something for a couple of months. Novelty creates short-term excitement and the desire to “follow the program” to perfection, like restricting what you eat, sticking to meal plans, or counting points. Anyone can get results on a diet plan in the short-term because the focus is on efficiency and perfection. This is how I felt when I did a Whole30. But that situation is not sustainable, because those diet plans don’t teach us how to eat in a healthy way for the rest of our lives. By learning how to eat moderately by applying the 80/20 rule, we are looking at the big picture—which is really about the effectiveness of our eating over the long-term. Long term effectiveness can only be achieved through a realistic, sustainable eating approach. This is exactly why I created Fit for Life Foodies, why I believe in moderation, and why I think it’s okay to eat a cookie.

Another approach that embraces the 80/20 rule is hara hachi bu, a Japanese, Confucian-inspired adage that basically translates to ‘eat until you are 80 percent full.’  That’s because it takes the stomach about 20 minutes to tell the brain it is full. This is a concept first highlighted by Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, as he was researching the lifestyle of Okinawans. A “Blue Zone” is a geographical area in which people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer with high quality of life than anywhere else. Okinawa, Japan is one of those areas, and hara hachi bu has been identified as one of the social behaviors that helps Okinawans stay healthy.

Case in point: Last Friday I made a batch of chili. Whenever I make chili I always make sweet cornbread to go with it—the sweetness of the cornbread contrasts pleasantly with the spice of the chili, and we love the combination in my house. As a southern gal, I LOVE cornbread, and after I had eaten my bowl of chili and piece of cornbread (with butter), I decided to have a second piece. Big mistake. I actually felt like crap the rest of the evening—overfull and uncomfortable. 

I should have practiced hara hachi bu. I would have diminished my caloric intake and felt pleased and satisfied after my meal instead of wanting to unbutton my pants! 

When I do indulge, it’s easy to beat myself up, feel like I’ve failed, and even quit. But knowing that I have given myself to be human, and intentionally allowed space for that—well, that is liberating! I’ve begun to use this approach not just in how I eat, in how I manage other aspects of my health.

I’ve noticed that with others, the self-imposed necessity to be perfect isn’t about food, but about their time. We can’t allow work—whether that be a job, a business, or even volunteering—to crowd out fun, love, health, friendships, and family.

The 80/20 Rule is an approach to help us live a life that we love—a life built around learning, experiencing, and enjoying rather than working and restricting.

HI, I'M CANDACE!

I am a science-based wellness coach with over 30 years of experience specializing in helping people 40+ reduce pain using corrective exercise therapy, get stronger through smart fitness programs, and increase energy and vitality through sustainable nutrition.

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