The Pareto Principle

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The Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80/20 rule, is an observation that there is an unequal distribution between inputs and outputs. For example, 80% of car accidents are caused by 20% of drivers or 80% of sales come from 20% of customers. The truth behind the Pareto Principle is not in the exact distributions (not everything is distributed exactly 80/20) but instead lies in the realization that not everything has equal effect or distribution.

How does this apply to health and fitness?

More often than not, we tend to expect an equal distribution of results from our efforts. We expect that if we went to the gym 3 days this week and lost one pound then next week when we go to the gym another 3 days we’ll lose another pound. We also tend to focus our attention on actions that we think will have major impacts over actions that will have consistent minor impacts. We tend to always be “trying something new”. A new diet, a new workout plan, a new supplement. We are very attracted to the idea of a magic bullet solution even though we do not have any historical basis to believe it will actually work.

Where is the 80/20?

Recognizing that there is an unequal distribution of efforts and results, what can we do to ensure success? First, we must focus on the 20% efforts that will cause 80% of the results. We all know these to be eating right, exercising regularly, and doing so consistently for extended periods of time. It is better to find a proper method of doing so than it is to try every new thing that comes out in pursuit of the perfect method. Second, we must recognize there is an unequal distribution of results across efforts and across time. This means in order to see the results we are after, we must spread those efforts out consistently across a large period of time. Consistency trumps everything else.

The 80/20 rule doesn’t mean that only 20% of people will get results. It means that those who do get results will focus their attention on the 20% that makes the biggest difference.