The Pareto Principle (Vilfredo Pareto), also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. This idea has also been applied to minimalism, with those pushing its mindset state that 80 percent of the time we wear 20 percent of our clothes, thus purging shouldn’t be a problem because we aren’t wearing those items. While Pareto came up with this theory based upon wealth distribution and it was later adapted for minimalism, this same 80/20 rule can be applied to our overall health.

How can this be you ask? Here are a few examples from which we can explore:

  • 80% of stress are caused by 20% of stressors

  • 80% of family problems are caused by 20% of issues

  • 80% of grief is caused by 20% of people in your life

In reviewing this non-exhaustive list, something continues to bubble to the surface; we are allowing a small percentage of time/people/issues to define a significant portion of our lives. An evaluation is required to understand how we have gotten ourselves to this place of 80% that isn’t meeting our needs. Let us imagine how life could be different if we figured out a way to address the 20 percent. To address this percentage that at times can cause us great joy, but yet can be a thorn in our side. Your mental and emotional health is highly important and you don’t need to be focusing on what will not move you forward.

80% of stress are caused by 20% of stressors

Who/what/whom is bringing the stressors that inevitably brings about your stress? Are you aware of your stressors? Do you even notice you are stressed? Take out a pen and paper and write out what stresses you. For each stress you write, next to it write it’s root cause. The root (reason) could be a person, external factors, situation, things, etc. In getting to the root (stressor) you are then able to address the stress. Cross out those stressors that are absolutely unavoidable (i.e. death of a loved one, major illness/injury, etc.). Yes these are stressors that can lead to unimaginable stress, but because we cannot control them and may happen infrequently, they are not included in the 20 percent. This area is focused on those stressors we are dealing with on a consistent basis. There can be emotional stressors, financial stressors, and the list can be for any area of your life where stressors may reside. From there, whatever it may be, then brings on the stress you are experiencing.

While stress is not going anywhere, you are in control of how much and how often you are dealing with it. Get to the root of your stress and begin to implement strategies to cut off (if possible) those stressors that are not beneficial. You know what is and isn’t best for you. If you are staying wound up, stomach in knots, extremely tired and frustrated, emotionally distraught, and overly concerned about what each day is going to bring—it’s time to start figuring out your stressors so that you can shed some of your stress.

80% of family problems are caused by 20% of issues

When was the last time you have family get together and saw it collapse around you? There is nothing wrong with loving your family. There is nothing wrong with being irritated with your family and the drama that tends to follow.

Love from afar!

There might be names popping into your head of that one or two family members that always has something negative to say. This person always like to talk negatively. This person never has anything nice to say.

Love them from afar!

You know who they are and what they bring. They are bringing nothing but family problems, so why keep letting them come around. Why keep allowing them to enter your home, even if they are your family? Why, why, why….You are in control and it is important that you take control of the type of family problems you do and do not want to encounter. Taking control of the 20% of family problems you know will happen and eliminating the 20% of those issues (situationally or personally), will allow you focus your attention on only the 20% that absolutely important rather than being dragged into the 80% that could have been avoided.

80% of grief is caused by 20% of people in your life

We are in control of who we do and do not allow into our lives. Family, coworkers, friends, etc. have a seat at your table because you are allowing them to sit beside you. You have allowed them into your inner circle, yet your grief is being cause by this small percentage of individuals you know. This is the time for you to decide what to do you want. Do you want the great amount of grief that tends to be stuck like glue to ‘you know who’? Do you want the pain this person(s) tend to bring with them as they enter your space? Take inventory of who you have in your life. Are they a need or a want? Do they even need to be near you? Let’s go back to the idea the Pareto Principle points out—this small amount is making a big impact!

Vilfredo Pareto was onto something when he discovered the 80/20 rule. When you know better you do better, and focusing on how to reduce the negative 20% in your life that is contributing 0% of positivity, but 80% of pain…you may begin to breathe freely again. We shall experience stress, family problems, and grief, but it doesn’t have to be a prevalent part of our lives. Put your mental and emotional health first! Determine the 20% of the three categories that are weighing on you, determine how you can release, to allow you to walk a little lighter and have an ability to focus your attention on three categories as needed, rather than all the time.

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Dr. Chemika Burkhalter, LCSW, MCLC

Dr. B is a licensed clinical therapist and a master certified life coach with a client-centered emphasis and a love for helping people navigate their way to the “aha” moment.