Wednesday, January 19

Dianna's 80/20 Rule

I first learned about the 80/20 rule in business school.

Originally developed by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, it's also called Pareto's Principle. Vilfredo used it to describe the distribution of wealth in Italy. Specifically, he observed that 20% of the population owned 80% of the wealth. It's actually probably closer to 1% own 80% of the wealth, but that's a discussion for another time.

I'm borrowing the name, 80/20 Rule, for my own purposes because it's familiar and most importantly, it's catchy. I'm all about catchy phrases.

My version of the 80/20 rule has nothing to do with Italy, economics, wealth distribution, or even math. Well, actually there's a little math involved but nothing sophisticated. Pareto, in fact, would probably berate me for completely misrepresenting his theorem. But he's dead, so here I go.

Dianna's 80/20 Rule for Healthy Living:

Make good choices 80% of the time.

That's it. No splashy spreadsheets or statistics required. Just do the right thing, most of the time.

My rule is born out of the knowledge that no one's perfect. And it goes back to an element of the SMART goal methodology that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The "A" in SMART stands for "attainable." As we move forward with our New Year's resolutions, part of maintaining them is making sure they're attainable, or realistic. Part of being realistic is knowing you can't be perfect. So don't try to be. Do the right thing 80% of the time and allow yourself 20% of slack.

Okay, here's where the math comes in.

Applying my 80/20 rule to the days of the week means that I need to make good choices 5.6 days out of 7 (80% of 7 is 5.6). For simplicity let's round that figure up to six. Thus, six days a week I need to do the right thing--eat right, get to the gym, meditate etc. and one day a week I get a free pass.

If you feel like you need a little more structure, you can apply the rule to your total daily calories. For example, if you're following a 2,000-calorie a day plan, make 80% of those calories, or 1,600, smart choices and splurge on the remaining 400. You'll still be maintaining your calorie requirements for the day while also being able to enjoy a little of what you love. 
(I'm not alone in thinking that little splurges along the way are okay. Weight Watchers' new Points Plus system encourages treating yourself with weekly extras.)

My 80/20 rule is really more of a philosophy than a set of rigid guidelines. It inspires me to live healthy most of the time, but it also gives me some wiggle room for weddings, date night, and the monthly chocolate cravings brought on by PMS.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn't about constant deprivation. It's about balance.

That Pareto guy was really on to something and given that he was Italian, I bet he'd agree with my interpretation of his famous principle. Provided of course that we discuss it over a glass of chianti.

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