Bad habits will force you to live an anxiety-driven, unfulfilling life, getting and giving less than you are capable of. Good habits, on the other hand, will help you perform at your best every time. That is one reason why everyone should evaluate their daily habits regularly to see what to eliminate and what to increase. That is where the 80/20 analysis is invaluable.
Habits are simply behavior patterns, repeated over and over again. Habits are the default ways of acting, behaving, or reacting to specific situations, based on past experiences and beliefs. Your habits will determine your health, wealth, and happiness in the long run. It is not about luck but your habits, over the long term. That’s why many lottery winners end up broke.
A vs. B: Where will they end up?
Person A has the habit of sleeping late, getting to work just in time or few minutes late. He eats lunch at a local buffet, eating as much as humanly possible. After A gets home, he plops onto the sofa to see if there is something worth watching on TV. There always seems to be. He eats whatever he can find in front of TV. A gets to bed when he has to, to get the minimum amount of sleep he can get by with.
Person B wakes up early and spends a few minutes contemplating the most important outcomes he wants to achieve that day. He prepares a healthy breakfast, reads few pages of a life changing book and gets to work. He goes to eat at a place that is filled with healthy options. B makes sure to focus on the greens and stops after he has had enough, as opposed to when he has to. Once he gets home from work, he takes a long walk or goes to the gym to refresh his mind and body. He might go alone, listening to an audiobook or enjoying the nature, or he might go with a spouse or friends. After he gets home, he spends the rest of the evening doing things he enjoys, preparing healthy foods, or having fun with friends and loved ones. He goes to bed early, journals about things he is grateful about for few minutes and reads a few pages of a book to relax for sleeping.
The other life has default habits; other has habits by design. Would you agree that they will have radically different lives in 10 years?
What are you allowing into your life as a default? You don’t need to plant for weeds; they grow automatically. If you want to cultivate things like health, vitality, gratitude, fulfillment, strength, or valuable qualities, you need to expend some effort to plant the habits into your life. The other option is to pick up harmful habits along the way without effort, habits like sloth and unreliability. They will get you safely and efficiently to a place where you don’t want to go.
Everything doesn’t matter equally. The 80/20 analysis
Things don’t matter equally. Vilfredo Pareto was a 19th-century Italian engineer and economist, who discovered that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. He noticed the same imbalance of effects and causes could be found in economic matters as well; approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
The insight that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes can be found in many areas of life. The ratio doesn’t have to be 80 to 20, but the general principle of only a few things making most of the results is widely present. There are probably only a few things that bring you most joy, fulfillment and positive results in your personal life and your work. But we are not taught to focus on the few most important things and maybe let the other things be what they are; secondary. The same principle holds for things that cause the most anxiety and stress in your personal life as well as in your work.
The trick is to identify the few things that give you the biggest positive results as well as negative ones. After identifying them, you should make a plan to make sure you are focusing even more of your time and energy on the most important 20% and do all in your power to get rid of the worst 20%.
You have at least three options for getting rid of the worst 20%.
1) The easiest, but also the most emotionally challenging option: Just don’t do them. We are told growing up, that we need to be doing everything everyone else is doing, or maybe should be doing. That is not true. You can eliminate many things, without any repercussions, aside from relief and joy. Experiment and see what you can get away with, in your personal life and at work.
2) Hire someone to take care of it. You could hire a professional, a teenager next door, someone from India, use your imagination. Many things that need to get done don’t need to be done by you. It is enough that it gets done. As an example hiring someone to use 2 hours of their time for $10, instead of you using 2 hours of your finite time should be worth the investment, if you value your time and energy at all.
3) Alter the experience to be more pleasurable. If something stressing can’t be eliminated, make it as positive as possible. Play your favorite music while doing the dishes, put your favorite movie playing in the background, drink your favorite tea, while doing it.
I find that at any given time approximately 90% of my anxiety and stress is caused by one or two things. Simple deletion and delegation can have staggering results; Most of the time I wonder why I didn’t do anything sooner.
Remember that the 80/20 analysis shouldn’t be just a one-time thing. You will get results the first time you use it. But in a few weeks, other things will come up to dominate both categories. For best results, do the analysis every few weeks to see what you need to be focusing and eliminating at the moment.
The 80/20 Analysis: The Process
Take a blank sheet of paper and divide it into two. List out on the left side the few things, the 20%, that bring you disproportionate, the 80%, happiness and fulfillment in your life at the moment. List out on the right side the few things, the 20%, that cause you the bulk of your suffering. After you have identified the 20% choose 1-3 things, you will focus on. How can you do even more of them (or less depending on the column)? Be specific on creating your plan.
Activities you enjoy most are probably things you don’t focus on enough, for whatever reason. If they bring you massive amounts of happiness and fulfillment, there should be no reason not to devote even more time and energy to them. Things don’t matter equally. Focus on the most important things and let everything else be just that, everything else.
Habits are like lined up dominoes: Tipping one could trigger a cascading effect, toppling other dominoes or making the easier to tip.
What one thing do you need to focus on first? What is the one thing, if mastered would have a massive impact in your life and would subsequently make everything else easier or unnecessary? The one thing could be something you need to eliminate or something you need to add, for massive effect.
The 80/20 analysis described above can be helpful in identifying the habits you should be focusing on. But be aware that habit change can be difficult. I suggest you focus only on 1-3 habits at any given time. The more complicated the habit, the fewer you should focus on. It doesn’t matter if you struggle with ten habits for a month if you end up sticking to none of them. Rather master one and build others on a strong foundation.
A good place to start with eliminating negative habits is the Pain and Pleasure exercise.
Closing thoughts: Balance-Shmalance
The magic of the 80/20 analysis is that you can deposit all the energy and time freed up from the anxiety-producing tasks and invest it into the most happiness producing ones. Sooner or later you should start thinking what is the big picture goal; what do you want your life to look like? It is not an easy question, and you will probably not have a satisfying answer right in line waiting if we dismiss the ambiguous “be happy.”
Your big picture goal should identify areas of your life you need to and want to focus on more. As a side effect, you will find things that seem important but on closer inspection don’t contribute to any of your important life areas.
A balanced life is a lie. Knowing what things are most important lets you focus on specific few areas more at one time and let your life get unbalanced for a time. For massive progress, you need to focus deeply on fewer things, rather than trying to tend to everything. You want your life to be unbalanced, not too long in any one direction, but periodically. Rather than trying to create a balanced life, not being able to focus on anything, it is smart to counterbalance your life from side to side.
Focusing only one ball while juggling will result dropping all the others. Don’t totally neglect any important areas of life for too long. It might be that you are juggling glass balls, instead of rubber balls, that bounce back. Your work is probably a rubber ball, always bouncing back, but your health and relationships might not be. Treat them accordingly.
You can have anything you want, but not everything. And not right now.
I’ll leave you with few ideas and questions
- Think more. Make time for daily or at least weekly contemplation in some place where you have peace and calm. Find a quiet place in nature, a pleasant café, or some other place you enjoy. Be specific with your questions. Tim Ferriss has a helpful rule of thumb:
Before spending time on a stress-inducing question, big or otherwise, ensure the answer is “yes” to the following two questions:
1. Have I decided on a single meaning for each term in this question
2. Can an answer to this question be acted upon to improve things?
- Don’t expend too much energy to questions you can’t clearly define, or you can do nothing about. Questions like “What is the meaning of life” fail the first question and should be eliminated.
- What would you love to do with your time and energy? How much more could you focus on it if you eliminate three of the most detrimental habits from your life?
- What are you disgusted by in your life? How could it be improved? Generate as many ideas as you can, don’t censor yourself. As you generate more and more ideas on how to improve things you will probably find few effective solutions to act on.
- What do you need to eliminate to get what you want?
- Who are you around? Is it serving you? Are you spending enough time with the right people?
- Experiment and test different ideas. Remove things that don’t work and make sure you focus even more on things that do work. Measure your results and make adjustments as you go.
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