Technological progress has put amazing tools in the hands of mankind. You can see the signs of progress everywhere: scientific advances have cured diseases, extended life spans and enabled instant worldwide communication. That’s all terrific, but because society generally misunderstands the fundamental nature of progress, people are not using all these advances in the best ways possible. People still assume that they get more out of doing more – and that’s the wrong approach.
In reality, if you want to be happier, find a way to get more by doing less. Specifically, examine your life until you identify the most valuable, productive and easiest 20% of your activities, the part that gives you the best return for your effort. This highly productive and pleasurable fraction exists in everyone’s life, in every area. However, the area of peak performance and pleasure is different for everyone, because everyone is unique. Your job, then, is to find that special area in your life.
Using the 80/20 principle to identify the best elements in your life – and the world – is not elitist. In fact, anyone can act on it, because it arises out of attributes that are common to everyone.
Most people assume they must work hard. But to apply the 80/20 principle, rather than work hard, you must think hard. Fundamentally change the way you think and resist the influence of society. Paradoxically, although the goal of applying the 80/20 principle is ease and pleasure, achieving this goal is not easy: you will probably find it harder to do less than to continue to work hard.
When you start to apply the 80/20 principle, you will quickly encounter three major pitfalls:
- First, if you decide you will work only long enough to get all that you want, you’ll never finish. Human desire is infinite.
- Second, if you’re like most people, you compare yourselves to others. But if everyone is doing this, the competition is endless; every time someone else adds something, you must also. Even more importantly, the 80/20 principle requires you to discover and act upon your own unique desires and values, without getting distracted by others.
- Third, like most people, you may feel that ambition and striving are good things in and of themselves. But ambition is good only when it is focused and enables you to extend yourself to reach your goals.
Step 1 – Find Your Passion
To live the 80/20 principle, you must take action. First, identify that small percentage of all the elements in your life that is the most important and profitable to you, the part you feel passionate about doing. Review your life methodically, examining all possible areas to find what excites you most. Then comes the tough part: making that the core of your life.
This exciting area should have another characteristic as well: it should be easy. The things that give you the most benefit will require the least effort. That’s how progress works, both on the species level and for individuals. If you think you’ve found the thing that really matters to you, but you’re gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to work at it every day, you haven’t found your core passion yet.
Step 2 – Subtract
Once you’ve identified your core passion, your second step is to recognize that most things have limited worth, and to subtract those elements of your life that don’t add value. The 80/20 principle does not require you to be good at everything. In fact, it requires you to recognize the opposite truth. Your gifts lie in specific areas. Focus on those, to the exclusion of everything else. As you do this, you’ll become more individual, more yourself. The 80/20 principle is one of elimination and subtraction – even of attractive ideas like “effective habits.” You don’t want to develop effective habits. You want to develop fewer habits. Your habits should be the particular ones that fit you best and enable you to reach your goals most pleasantly.
Step 3 – Living on “Happiness Island”
The next conceptually difficult step is to slow down and live in the moment. Once you identify those parts of your life that matter most, you’ll get the most out of them by lavishing plenty of time upon each one, not by rushing from one to the next. . Spend more time on your personal “happiness islands” – those areas of peak satisfaction that currently make up only a small fraction of your life. If you really practice the 80/20 principle, you can extend those periods until they fill more and more of your life.
Merely contemplating the 80/20 principle and the areas of your life that matter most is not enough. You must develop an action plan if you’re serious about living an 80/20 life. Clearly identify your goals and the route you’ll follow to reach them. Like the goals themselves, your route should be easier, more enjoyable and more profitable than any of the alternatives. Set aside time to work on your 80/20 plan. Carry a reminder of your plan with you so you can refer to it. And review it regularly to make sure that you are moving closer to your goals and that your path is an 80/20 path. Always ask yourself, “Can I find easier, pleasanter, richer ways to achieve my goals?”
Reaching your goals is not a matter of positive thinking. The 80/20 principle does not require you to deny negative emotions. Instead, learn to accept them as natural part of life. When you encounter negativity, shift your focus and act. When you take positive steps toward your goals, positive emotions will follow.
Start with Yourself
To apply the 80/20 principle to your life, focus on one area at a time, starting with the core: yourself. Be who you want to be, clearly and intensely. Ask the fundamental questions:
- What do you care about most?
- Who do you care about most?
- Who do you want to be in the future?
- What qualities do you most want to possess?
- What qualities do you currently possess?
Answer these questions with complete honesty – do not give the answers that you think will gain other people’s approval or even the answers you’ve always given in the past. Then, commit completely, cutting away the inessential. Once you start, your subconscious mind will recognize your intense focus and will offer you new ideas that will enhance it.
As you follow the route to your goals, remember that the 80/20 principle is counterintuitive. Nowhere else in your life have you learned that you can reach your goals by the good, easy, pleasant route. You must wake up to your own vision to see these options. So ask yourself more questions: What would you usually do? What wouldn’t you do? Might that work? Can you make a familiar path easier? Can you follow it in ways that benefit you more?
Throughout your self-questioning, keep your focus on your positive qualities, and don’t worry about your negative ones. In fact, don’t worry at all – it’s pointless. Everyone has weaknesses, including superior performers. Life’s benefits and pleasures come from your strengths and gifts.