The 80/20 Rule and Inner Fitness



Have you heard of the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 Rule?


This principle states that roughly 80 percent of outcomes come from 20 percent of causes.


Here are a few examples…

  • 20% of the time expended on something produces 80% of the results.

  • 20% of the world's population controls approximately 83% of the world's income.

  • 20% of an application's features are used 80% of the time.

  • 20% of a business's customers drive 80% of its sales.

Through the lens of inner fitness, here's another way to see the Pareto Principle in operation: 20% of our emotional past drives 80% of our current disquiet. In other words, we all have wrestled for years with something that happened to us long ago…


The teacher who discounted us, an embarrassing moment that haunts us, and a family incident that left us feeling ashamed, incapable, or unworthy are examples that come to mind. When it comes to taking charge of our wellbeing, seeing this disproportion can be important and instructive.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established that 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive.


Since our thoughts determine what actions we will take, these NSF stats show us that 80% of our behavior is being driven by negative ideas and limiting beliefs. The repetitive nature of thought creates mental and physical habits that are also negative or destructive. This all happens automatically, without our conscious consent.


We are conditioned to doubt and think poorly of ourselves and even life. And, unfortunately, we will live that way all our lives unless and until we consciously choose to interrupt this negative bias.



Wait, There's Good News


There's good news to be found in this weighty 80% reality: This is not how YOUR brain works. It is how ALL brains work.


You can stop beating yourself up because of how your mind operates. Instead, starting today, you can learn interventions that support your ability to consciously recondition your thinking and change the positive to negative thought ratio.


Also, there's more good news when you zero in on the positive 20%. Even though the 20% accounts for a relatively small percentage of our thoughts that are not negative, that 20% can make a significant difference in our lives.


The potency of the 20% is powerful enough to overwhelm and recalibrate the negative bias.


Think of it like what happens when you drop black ink into a test tube of water. A few drops and the color of the water begins to change drastically. In our lives, the brain's cortex is responsible for executive thinking. It can self-observe and act and react outside of established habits. How we respond from the cortex can impact patterns found in the reactive reptilian part of the brain.


This means you can increase the positive side of the negative bias by interacting with your thinking in new ways. This isn't just great news; it's exciting and highlights new possibilities.



Time for A Little Imagination


Here's a frame that can help you begin to see your thinking differently.


Instead of thinking about yourself as a monolith, imagine there are three selves inside of you: a surviving self, a thriving self, and an infinite self. The 20% of our affirmative thoughts come from the latter two Selves, as these are the parts of us that are responsible for our growth and fulfillment in life. The 80% of our negative thoughts come from the surviving self.


The surviving self is the part of us humans that leads with worry, doubt, and fear and is wary of change or people and things that are different or unfamiliar. The role of the surviving self is to help us avoid danger and keep us alive. Over time, being in survival mode (fearful, stressed, negative, unhappy) has become our habituated behavior because survival-based reactions have been a part of the development of the human species since human evolution began.


Your mission is not to defeat or overcome the surviving self; it's to understand and manage it and even be thankful for the masterful ways it has kept you safe. Your challenge is recognizing when your surviving self is in the driver's seat, leading with fear and negativity out of habit rather than necessity. Then you can work to interrupt the pattern by choosing new and empowering thoughts.


This is where the thriving and infinite Self can step in and facilitate altering the positive to negative ratio. The thriving self can support you by changing, redirecting, and rechoosing the nature and frequency of your thoughts.


You can stop being controlled by the relentless harassment of the naysaying and anxious surviving self that is responsible for the 80% of your negative thoughts. You do it by reconditioning your mind with new thoughts that will lead to more objectivity and self-affirming behaviors.



Put It to The Test


Achieving this change takes practice. To destabilize the pattern, you'll have to be mindful of your thinking and effort to redirect it many times throughout an hour or a day. Be patient with yourself. It takes ongoing practice to develop mastery over moving your attention from where you don't want it to be to where you want it to be.


I encourage you to do the following five-minute exercise to give you an idea of how your mind typically works and begin to work with it more intentionally:


  1. Go to a quiet place with a journal and pen. Take a couple of minutes to think about the last 24-48 hours. Now, set a timer for one minute, and list as many times you can think of when you felt afraid, anxious, worried, or doubtful over the past day or two. Those were times when your surviving self was in charge.

  2. When the timer goes off, set your pen down, and turn the page. Take a deep cleansing breath when the timer goes off. When you feel centered, reset the timer, and this time write down as many thriving Self thoughts and experiences that you can think of over the past 24-48 hours. These are experiences where you had a sense of hope, were curious, or felt capable and enthusiastic about new possibilities for your life. When you're finished, compare the two lists. If you were honest with yourself, you'll likely see that you felt fearful and anxious far more often than you felt optimistic. Here's the good news about that... Up until now, you've been programmed with negative, judgmental, disempowering thoughts. But from this point forward, it can change for the better. You can deliberately change the nature of your thoughts with awareness and intentionality.

  3. Revisit your response to exercise #1 (above). This time, take a deep breath and say aloud to yourself, If I tell myself the truth, then re-read the list you made and, from your deepest honesty, put an "H" next to the reactions that have become your habit.

From this point forward, you can opt to choose one habit, like fear or distrust, and practice thinking about how you might respond with more thriving-self courage or trust.



What A Difference 20% Can Make


It's astounding that with the brain's negative bias, we humans can ever grow, achieve goals, or make any significant improvement in our lives. Yet, we can, and you have. This is clear evidence of how potent the thriving Self and Infinite SELF are; hope and a sense of possibility are potent agents of change.


Pareto Principles observations are not good or bad. The important thing is to become aware of any such disproportions in your life. Then you can choose if you should act on your observations or leave things as they are.


Based on the Pareto Principle, practicing intentional thriving/infinite-self behavior will positively affect your life.



Tina Lifford plays Aunt Vi on the critically acclaimed television show, Queen Sugar. The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey Into Inner Fitness is her first book; released by Harper Collins, November 2019, and is full of the kind of internal “actions” that will transform your thinking and your life. You can also join her at a workout in her Inner Fitness Studio to practice strengthening your wellbeing and making it actionable in your day to day life. Don't miss the latest news from Tina Lifford and The Inner Fitness Project. Sign up our monthly newsletter here.


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