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Applying Stephen Coveys 90/10 principle in our daily lives

2 Dec 2007 | Wisdom |  8 comments

Ever heard of this “90/10 Principle” before? Yes? Then click here to check out what I have to share about applying this ubar 1337 principle in our daily lives. If not, do check out the following article:

The Original Article


Author: Stephen Covey

Discover the 90/10 Principle: It will change your life. The 90/10 principle is incredible! Very few know and apply this principle. The Result? Millions of people are suffering undeserved stress, trials, problems, and heartache. They never seem to be a success in life. Bad days follow bad days. Terrible things seem to be constantly happening. Theirs is constant stress, lack of joy, and broken relationships. Worry consumes time, anger ruins friendships and life seems dreary and is not enjoyed to the fullest. Friends are lost. Life is a bore and often seems cruel. Does this describe you? If so, do not be discouraged. You can be different! Understand and apply the 90/10 principle. It will change your life!

What is this principle? 10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react. What does this mean? We really have no control over 10% of what happens to us. We cannot stop the car from breaking down. The plane may be late arriving, which throws our whole schedule off. A driver may cut us off in traffic. We have no control over this 10%. The other 90% is different. You determine the other 90%! How? By your reaction. You cannot control a red light, but you can control your reaction. Don’t let people fool you; You can control how you react!

Let’s use an example. You’re eating breakfast with your family. Your daughter knocks over a cup of coffee onto your business shirt. You have no control over what just happened. What happens next will be determined by how you react. You curse. You harshly scold your daughter for knocking the coffee cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your spouse and criticize them for placing the cup too close to the edge of the table. A short verbal battle follows. You storm upstairs and change your shirt. Back downstairs you find your daughter has been too busy crying to finish breakfast and get ready for school. She misses the bus. Your spouse must leave immediately for work. You rush to the car and drive your daughter to school. Because you are late, you drive 40 miles an hour in a 30 mph speed zone.

After a 15-minute delay and throwing $60 (traffic fine) away, you arrive at school. Your daughter runs to the building without saying good-bye. After arriving at the office 20 minutes late, you find you forgot your briefcase. Your day has started terrible. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to going home. When you arrive home, you find a small wedge in your relationship with your spouse and daughter. Why? Because of how you reacted in the morning.

Why did you have a bad day?

A) Did the coffee cause it?

B) Did your daughter cause it?

C) Did the Policeman cause it?

D) Did you cause it?

The answer is D. You had no control over what happened with the coffee. How you reacted in those 5 seconds is what caused your bad day.

Here is what could have and should have happened. Coffee splashes over you. Your daughter is about to cry. You gently say, “It’s OK honey, you just need to be more careful next time.” Grabbing a towel you rush upstairs. After grabbing a new shirt and your briefcase. You come back down in time to look through the window and see your child getting on the bus. She turns and waves. You and your spouse kiss before you both go to work. You arrive 5 minutes early and cheerfully greet the staff. Your boss comments on how good of a day you are having. Notice the difference. Two different scenarios. Both started the same. Both ended different. Why? Because of how you Reacted. You really do not have any control over 10% of what happens. The other 90% is determined by your reaction.

Here are some ways to apply the 90/10 principle. If someone says something negative about you, do not be a sponge. Let the attack roll off like water on glass. You do not have to let the negative comment affect you! React properly and it will not ruin your day. A wrong reaction could result in losing a friend, being fired, getting stressed out, etc.

How do you react if someone cuts you off in traffic? Do you lose your temper? Pound the steering wheel? (A friend of mine had the steering wheel fall off!) Do you curse? Does your blood pressure skyrocket? Do you try and bump them? Who Cares if you arrive ten seconds later at work? Why let the cars ruin your drive. Remember the 90-10 principle, and do not worry about it!

You are told you lost your job. Why lose sleep or get irritated? It will work out. Use your “worrying” time and energy into finding another job.

The plane is late. It is going to mangle your schedule for the day. Why take out your frustration on the flight attendant? She has no control over what is going on. Use your time to study, get to know the other passenger, etc. Why get stressed out? It will just make things worse.

Now you know the 90-10 principle. Apply it and you will be amazed at the results.

Deimos discusses the 90/10 Principle
The way I see it, this principle is very similar to what is discussed in the First of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (A book written by Stephen Covey) – Habit No. 1 Be Proactive. The opposite of Proactive would be Reactive, which this principle heavily stresses that we should be Proactive and definitely not Reactive.

So what is Proactive and Reactive?

– Bottle of Water
– Shake it violently
– Bubbles come, bubbles go, no bubbles
– Water does not burst forth after many times of shaking
– No bubbles

– Bottle of Coke
– Shake it a bit
– Bubbles come, bubbles stay
– Shake it violently
– Much Bubbles come, much bubbles stay
– Bottle of Coke explodes and coke comes bursting forth

Now imagine that bubbles = anger, so from the above example we can say that a Proactive person is a more level headed dude while a Reactive person is probably one hot headed mofo.

Actually, the example of imagining bubbles as anger and comparing a bottle of water against a bottle of coke is not exactly very good, since shaking a bottle of water will still produce bubbles, just that the bubbles subside almost immediately and would never cause the bottle of water to burst.

The best scenario would be to “not give birth to anger” at all, as if like no bubbles appear would ever appear in the bottle of water no matter how hard we shake it.

Oh and by the way, the “bubbles” in the above example can be substituted with any other negative emotions and not only limited to anger alone.

How Deimos practices the 90/10 Principle
One trick that I am using to prevent anger from being generated is to aways remember this quote: “Anger is punishing oneself for the mistakes of others” but my Darling always fails to remember this, hence self ownage.

A song that helps me not to worry when situation looks bad is: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bob Marley.

Should I start to feel tensed, this lyric would assist in softening me up “Relax, take it eaaaaaaaasy” by Mika. (At first I thought Mika is a girl)

Here’s a classic one: “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” however I am still trying hard to achieve this one, apparent it still hurts when Darling call me names.

Darling helped me practice this principle
For myself, I am blessed with the opportunity to practice this awesome 1337 90/10 Principle almost everyday as my Darling has a very short fuse.

We have been together for more than 3 years and frankly speaking, we went through a lot of rough times in the past. Most of it due to the fact that I have a short fuse and very bad temper myself, so Short Fuse Guy vs Short Fuse Gal = Couple in total Chaos.

Deimos the Destroyer
In the past, I have wreaked many non-organic thingies and I deeply regret it. Those thingies certainly did not offend me at all and are of course innocent thingies, but in the end they end up in pieces due to my volatile nature back then.

Wanton List of Destruction:
– Fixed Line Phone by Telekom x2
– National Green Colored Standing Fan x1
– Wooden Cloths Hanger x1
(Smashed this up right in front of her, she was sobbing, I feel so bad now that I think of it. We somewhat patched it up with some duct tape later. Would update with screenies later.)
– Millennium Court’s Steel Locker x1
(I head butted the thingie a few times and the whole locker door came off. Luckily for us she met a nice Indian technician dude who replaced it for her without any extra charge.)
– A piece of glass panel from a cupboard
(Elbow-ed this into pieces while having a phone conversation with Darling. Miraculously, there was not a single scratch on my elbow)
– Many more poor innocent thingies. May they rest in pieces?

Deimos – Evolved
Now, I am much less of a short fuse compared to last time. I am very glad I have changed for the better, as our relationship certainly would not hold out much longer had I continued with my destructive behavior and volatile nature.

Old Habits Die Hard
Unfortunately, old habits die hard, thus on rare occasions I still lose partial control and out burst a bit, kinda like blurting out various offensive and unfriendly words. Good thing is that I am able to realize my error almost immediately, hence cutting off the flow of verbal attacks.

However, minimal damage is still done and of course Darling is definitely pissed. So I just keep quiet and reply her only when asked, while she takes her turn to verbally assault me.

Applying the 90/10 Principle
In our everyday lives there would always be opportunities for us to practice this 90/10 Principle, let’s take a look at few examples:

Work place
Classic Rule (Classic Joke)to remember:
Rule No. 1. Boss is always right
Rule No. 2. If Boss is wrong, refer to Rule No. 1
(Replace Boss with Client if dealing with clients)

The place where we spent one (1) third of a day is a good place to encounter many situations to practice the 90/10 Principle, since they always say that working life is very stressful, tension etc. Remember the 90/10 Principle and don’t make any bubbles!

Read about how a lady finally reacted when a fellow colleague continued to pronounce her name in a not so pleasant manner:

This gentleman appeared to have produced some bubbles, but apparently things seems to be under control and the bubbles eventually subsided:

On the road
In Malaysia where public transportation is still kinda suxx0r, most folks end up driving their own vehicles to work. In my opinion, that there are many Malaysia drivers out there who behave like rear-end-holes when they are driving on the road. In fact I just came across such a long distance bus driver recently, read about the details in the following linkie:

People are more likely to be total rear-end-holes when interacting with one another while in the cyberspace, hence more opportunity to us to practice the 90/10 Principle. Just ignore the mofos, totally not worth it to product any bubbles due to them.

A recent example in the Malaysian Blogsphere would be “The attack of Josh Lim Clone” on Wayne Liew’s blog at www.wayneliew.com

Check out the following linkies for more detail information:

Personally, I felt that Wayne Liew handled the situation in a very rational way.
Thumbs up, mate!

Another one worth mentioning is this one:

Even though Peter Ramirez may be right as Kitkat’s article is indeed a bit misleading as pointed out by uncle sha, Peter Ramirez was still being rude in the first place nonetheless. I believe that Kitkat reacted quite rationally to this situation, so keep it up, mate! The 90/10 principle ftw!

One fact worth mentioning is that forum trolls are plentiful in poorly moderated online forum communities, it is simply a waste of our precious time and energy to respond to what the various forum trolls wrote.

There is a saying “Don’t feed the trolls” which is quite effective since the trolls are expecting a reply from you, so they can pounce on your delicate post and rip it into a gazillion pieces. Ignore those mofos.

Significant Other
Our spouse, girl friend, boy friend, etc. The following are the step-by-step rules that I made up for myself to practice:
1. Daring happy = I happy
2. Darling not happy = I am wrong
3. I am not wrong = Darling misunderstood me
4. Do not further provoke Darling
5. I am wrong = Let Darling finishes her ammo
6. Darling finished her ammo = Darling happy
7. Darling happy = I happy
Of course, remember not to produce and accumulate any bubbles!

A fellow Malaysian Blogger who goes by the name – banji also shared his views about living a happy life with your significant other, as highlighted in his post in the following linkie:

Fellow blogger mr jp’s story is a bit different, I don’t think his case should be classified under “Significant Other” since he did mention that he is in an open relationship thingie. Do check out his story in the following linkie:

Mum vs Significant Other
This is a definitely tough one for me, and there are times when this issue nearly drove me to the edge of insanity. They say it is easy to interact with one another, but hard to live together. Both Darling and Mum live under the same roof, and Mum tends to piss off Darling unintentionally with her actions.

Hence Darling tends to hurl verbal assaults at me to vent her anger, in the past I would often counter attack but now I grew weary of these senseless fights so I opt to be quiet instead. Remember not to generate and accumulate any bubbles!

Visit the following linkie for an interesting story related to this topic:

Theory vs Practical
The saying “Easier said than done” is very true for this 90/10 Principle, especially for non optimistic people. However, it is not entirely impossible since a once hot headed dude like me was able to evolve into a somewhat level headed person.

I believe it is quite hard to be a successful user of this 90/10 Principle, but it is certainly not impossible. Never give up! Say no to bubbles! Water 0\/\/|\|z! Coke $\/x0r!

So what about you? Are you one hot headed dude? Or are you more of a level headed person? What kind of anger management methods are you using?



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  1. 2nd December 2007 
    11:31 am         

    said the following:

    Nice article, mate.

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  3. 5th December 2007 
    1:48 pm         

    Deimos Tel`Arin
    said the following:

    Aye, thanks for the compliment, mate. 🙂
    This 90/10 Principle is really easier said than done. 😕

    In my everyday life when dealing with my Darling, I am faced with choices either to be successful in applying this 90/10 Principle or to just down right botch it. ❓

    Fortunately for me, I am able to realize my errors much faster now compared to last time. 🙂

    They say, “Practice makes Perfect”, so I guess I just gotta keep on practicing this 90/10 Principle, aye. 😎

    Cheers! :mrgreen:

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  5. 8th March 2008 
    9:32 pm         

    said the following:

    You’re rite bro it’s easier said than done 😛 I also sometimes burst my anger, cause I always tend to hold inside. It’s hard for me to get angry but, you don’t like me when I’m angry ➡ 👿 😥 😡 By the way there sure a lot of casualties when your anger burst 😆 even a standing fan, what did you do? did you ‘karate’ it? 😆

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  7. 8th March 2008 
    9:39 pm         

    said the following:

    While I’ve never heard this principle written out exactly like this, I find that in practice, that’s pretty much how I deal with life.

    I HAVE heard of the 80/20 principle, but that applies to a whole other subject http://ahkong.net/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_confused.gif


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  9. 9th March 2008 
    3:18 am         

    said the following:

    Great article and it is cool to see how you apply the principal to your life. I am pretty calm by nature, however if I get upset I talk it out because I don’t think it is good to hold things in. Except for traffic…then my anger is not rational and I curse anyway.

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  11. 6th April 2010 
    10:44 am         

    said the following:

    so realislic idea!As a student in China,I cannot enven make a choice willingly, that the feelings are always inside of me. The worse Attitude changes, the worse results i have to be faced. This principle will change my rest of life.I really apreciated it!

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  13. 29th April 2010 
    10:41 pm         

    Ahanaf Abid & Shahriar
    said the following:

    yo this is a great advice for all real peoples lives.

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  15. 24th May 2010 
    12:44 pm         

    Jordan Edwards
    said the following:

    my best friend has been in an Anger Management class for 2 months now, he improved a lot when dealing with anger.~.;