The 80/20 rule

A good portion of our everyday life is based on the 80/20 principle (or 80/20 rule) which is also known as the Pareto Principle. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto first formulated this theory in 1897. Pareto was studying incomes and money and discovered that a small portion of the population had a large portion of the money. Pareto referred to this phenomena as the “unequal distribution of wealth”, and developed several mathematical formulas to quantify his this maldistribution.

The work of Pareto was later taken and expanded on by an industrial engineer by the name of Joseph Moses Juran. Juran took the work Pareto had done and made it into a more universal law with his work on what Juran called “vital few and the trivial many”. Juran had worked much of his career as a quality control engineer and he observed that often 80% of a problem is caused by 20% of the causes. It was Juran who is actually credited with coining the term “The Pareto Principle”. In his paper The Non-Pareto Principle Juran explains it this way.

“It was during the late 1940s, when I was preparing the manuscript for Quality Control Handbook, First Edition, that I was faced squarely with the need for giving a short name to the universal. In the resulting write-up2 under the heading “Maldistribution of Quality Losses,” I listed numerous instances of such maldistribution as a basis for generalization. I also noted that Pareto had found wealth to be maldistributed. In addition, I showed examples of the now familiar cumulative curves, one for maldistribution of wealth and the other for maldistribution of quality losses. The caption under these curves reads “Pareto’s principle of unequal distribution applied to distribution of wealth and to distribution of quality losses.””

Thanks to the diligent work of Duran we can now see how the 80/20 rule can be applied to any area of our lives or our work. As he points out “the trivial many” are the areas we do not need to spend our time or energy on as they are just not all that important to our end result.

The first time I can remember consciously using the 80/20 rule to my advantage was in my grade 10 math class. That year I had 2 teachers who would alternate months in which they taught, on of which I liked, one of which I did not. At this stage of math class the equations were beginning to get quite complex and multi step. I discovered however that with creative thinking I was able to skip most of the steps in the process and still come up with the correct answer. In essence I was doing 20% of the work but still coming up with the desired effect. One of my teachers saw my gift and encouraged me to continue using it to my advantage. It was he who coined the term for me “The Chuck Method”. The second teacher however saw things in an entirely different light. He decided that even though my answers were correct he wanted to grade on compliance to the system and would give me 20% on the tests because he could not come up with how I got to my answers.

I use this story because I believe it really illustrates why so few people actually put the 80/20 rule into practice. We live in a society that places emphasis on compliance more than creative thinking. When we try to develop something new it is often shot down as disobedient. I believe that each one of us has the power to challenge this system. This is one of the major reasons why the 80/20 rule is so powerful is, 80% of the population is willing to accept things as they come and don’t believe that they deserve anything better. It is the top 20% who will not accept this and they increase the gap between the haves and the have nots. It has been said that one of the biggest problems people face is not that they aim to high and fail; it is that they aim to low and succeed.

One great example of putting the 80/20 rule to a very positive use is the Windows operating system we are all familiar with. The Windows desktop is a fantastic example of the rule in action. On any given computer there are hundreds of programs installed but most are rarely used. On our desktop we have a small number of programs we use on a regular basis. It is much more convenient to have things like our web browser in an easily accessible place, but we don’t need every program there.

There are plenty of examples in our everyday world of the 80/20 rule being used, often times by each one of us. The real power of the rule however comes into play when you begin to make a conscious effort with each decision you make during the day. As soon as you become deeply and innately aware of the power the 80/20 rule has over your life the sooner you can begin to unleash to power it contains.

The secret to success is knowing what are your 20% activities which are producing the 80% of your results. Doing more of the productive activities in your life will allow you to earn more in less time and have more free time to do the things you enjoy.

Reticular Activation System

Have you ever noticed that if you buy a new car you immediately begin to see the same make and model of car all over the place? It is not that no one owned the car before you, they were always prevalent. What has changed is that now the car is part of your focus on a daily basis. It is something you own that is new, you are passionate about your new car, and you focus on it; consequently, you become aware of all the people in your city with similar taste in automobiles.

This takes place due to what is known as “Reticular Activation System” or RAS. In very simple terms our RAS functions kind of like a filter for us to the world around us. If you were to look around in the room you are currently in, there are thousands if not millions of things you could look at. Where I sit right now writing this I can see various office supplies, books, batteries, a water bottle to name a few things. The RAS helps our mind focus on what it deems to be the important parts of your current environment.

Take the water bottle that is sitting beside me, I may not notice it is empty until I begin to feel thirsty. When my body becomes thirsty my RAS goes into action to bring my attention to the items, which can remedy my situation. If I were to begin to feel cold my RAS would bring my attention this items such as the room’s thermostat.

The most important thing to remember about your RAS is it is always in motion. Whether you are conscious of it or not you are attracting people and activities into your life. The trick to it is to create a focus in your mind of things you would like to attract into your life. Your RAS can be used to help you or hinder you. It work whether you are consciously aware of it or not. However; once you become aware of it, you can channel it and use it with laser precision to get almost anything you want in your life as long as you crystalize your focus to attract the right things into your life.

The RAS is what makes the Law of Attraction work. I am sure you have heard of this law as it has been around for thousands of years. It really is one of the universal laws of our world. It can be traced as far back as the bible “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23:7. The Law of Attraction has recently been imortalized in the book and movie “The Secret”. The Secret has done a great job of getting people to focus on the things they want in life and beleiving they can have what they truly want.

The Secret however is not always a good thing. There is a phenomenon which psychologist call a “self fulfilling prophecy.” The American sociologist William Isaac Thomas defined the term “self fulfilling prophecy” when he said “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” What happens is a fear is created in the mind and it becomes the focus of a person. Since it becomes the focus, all actions taken by a person are complimentary to that focus.
What ends up happening is people focus so much on bad things happening because of decisions, they fear to make decisions. In not making decisions they become creatures of circumstance and end up being the brunt of bad events. A self-fulfilling prophecy is another example of the Law of Attraction in action. Our RAS kicks into action with us focusing on what we fear to happen and thus further misfortune finds us.

This can be put another way, we get what we think about most of the time. This is why it becomes very important to think about positive things most of the time. One of the items I love to talk about the power of positive thinking and how affirmations can have a profound effect on your life. So often what we think about is what we get, but I wanted to use a real life example of a trap many of us fall into.

Have you ever founder yourself saying to a friend or loved one “don’t let me forget this”? It is a very common expression most of us have used. If you take a look at this though, what our minds focus on is the verb, in this case “forget”. In this example we are conditioning our brain to focus on forgetting.

A simple switch of words in this expression, “help me remember this” is all it takes to focus on the positive. The verb in this expression is “remember” and this is what your mind is focusing on. I use this as a very simple example of how we can think we are focusing on the positive but allowing ourselves to slip back to the negative on a regular basis.

How much time do you waste during the day going back to pick up something you forgot? How much more productive could you be if you always knew where everything was? The simple process of remembering where you put things can greatly increase your productivity and your results. All it takes to achieve this is a slight change in your focus.

When it comes down to it, we are inundated in negative expressions on a daily basis. It does take a conscious effort to break the cycle and focus on positive things all the time; though, it is an effort that is well worth it. Think about it, if you could have anything you wanted in life and all you had to do was focus on it, would it be worth your time? I do believe it would be. I am not saying it is easy, but I am saying you will love the results. Many of the key lessons in life are very simple to implement, the problem however is they are just as simple to not do.

One of the most proliferate forms of negativity is our television. Turn on any news network or broadcast and you will hear about all sorts of terrible things happening locally and globally. We live in a society where bad news is what sells. What we hear about are scandals, wars, the greedy government and the like. It is very rare we hear heartwarming stories that will motivate us. Knowing this, one of the simplest ways to escape negativity in your life is to simply avoid watching, listening to or reading the news. Just this act alone will drastically cut the amount of negativity you are exposed to on a regular basis.

Simply put your RAS is always in motion, you just need to make a conscious choice as to what it is focusing on at all times. Fill your mind with positive ideas and thoughts of the things, emotions and people you most desire and your life will be much more fulfilling and meaningful. Focus on the end result you hope to achieve and you are one step closer to its ultimate achievement.

Copyright © 2024 Chuck Brady.