The 90/10 Principle: Controlling life

I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a while back and never fully backed the 90/10 principle. It was on a work trip that this was really affirmed for me, but let me explain the 90/10 first.

The 90/10 Principle

The 90/10 principle or rule is the notion that we can control ninety per cent of what happens in our lives, and ten per cent we cannot. What I mean by that is, ninety per cent of our lives are made up by how we choose to react. The other ten percent is things that happen to us. I have always thought of this in terms of questioning how bad things happen to us.

Take for example, you have a bad day. It starts with a terrible coffee, from a trainee barista. You drink it, and get more bitter; much like the coffee right? It continues with a meeting with your colleague, Susan, who fails to show. You do not get the approval you need. Both of these things, frustrating. The day ensues with you getting snappy with your colleagues. Your day ends on a bad note. All these things, you could not control, right? Wrong. Your reaction was within your control.

The alternative

So, in the same game, when taking the bad coffee, you choose not to drink it. The kid was a trainee right, may as well give them some slack. You get into work and make an instant coffee instead. Not as good as the one you usually have from the local cafe, but it’s okay. The colleague still does not turn up, but you just use the time to respond to emails. In the afternoon, Susan walks in the door apologising profusely. Because you were in a good mood, she did not hide in her office in the afternoon like the previous scenario. And you were doing emails earlier instead of brooding, so you had time to meet with her. Your day ends on a good note, with the approval you needed.

The difference

What was the difference? The key facts were the same. The coffee was bad, Susan missed your scheduled meeting. The difference was the response. This was something I realised when I drove from Launceston to Hobart (Tasmania, Australia) for work. I was driving and a rock hit my windscreen, adding a nice chip to the glass; growing into a crack. I had a moment I thought for a second about it, and I remembered the 90/10 principle. So, I called a friend for advice on the windscreen. I could have got panicked and stopped driving, or drove home. The friend told me it was fine to drive for a couple of days. I organised to have my windscreen replaced over the next few days while I was away. The result was, I still had a successful week at work.

There were lots of different ways this could have ended. But because of remembering 90/10, I ensured I responded in the best way I could. So, next time we get stuck as that ten percent does not go our way, remember the 90.