Q. I recently attended one of your seminars and heard you talk about the 20:80 Rule. That’s a good theory, but do you really think people actually apply what you share?

A. Yes, some people do, and it can make huge and positive differences in their lives. As a brain-function educator, I find that very rewarding, even exciting! It so happens that I just received an e-mail from a woman who did apply practically what she had learned and this is what she shared:

You recently did a series of presentations at an Elderhostel event at the St. Helena Center for Health that I attended and enjoyed very much. On my journey back to Alaska I had an opportunity to practice some of the techniques that you introduced to the group.

On Thursday I arrived at the Oakland airport around 1:00 p.m. for a 2:30 p.m. flight and discovered that my flight had been cancelled. My reservations now indicated that I was to leave Oakland at 9:00 p.m. with no connections in Seattle. That clearly was not going to work for me. After some searching, the reservation agent found a flight leaving San Jose at 2:15 p.m. with a connecting flight in Seattle.

The shuttle van picked me up and I asked the driver if he could get me to San Jose in time for a 2:15 flight. He said that he would try. So I thought of what I had learned from your presentations: I put on my seatbelt, took a deep breath, got out my Sudoku puzzles and started to work on them. The driver looked at me and in an astonished voice asked, “Why I are you so calm? Most of my passengers would be highly agitated and/or yelling at this point in their travels!”

I explained to him about the 20:80 rule, outlined some of the stress management techniques I had learned, described how cortisol has a deleterious effect on one's brain and body and thanked him for doing the best he could to get me to the San Jose airport on time. I could not ask for more.

We actually had a very interesting conversation all the way to the airport, and I learned a lot about business enterprises that were previously unknown to me. And I made my flight in San Jose with time to spare. Thank you for your insights and for sharing such applicable information.

By way of explanation, the underlying theory of the 20:80 Rule supposedly this came from Epictetus, a 2nd Century Greek Philosopher. Interestingly enough, so far as is known, Epictetus never wrote anything down. His pupil, Arrian, on the other hand, said he wrote down everything he heard his mentor say. One of Epictetus’ oft repeated philosophies was this:

We are disturbed not by events, but by the views we take of them; not by what happens, but by what we think it means.

Modern philosophers have rephrased these words into what is sometimes called the 20:80 Rule. I’ve found several different versions. Here are a couple of them:

  • It’s not so much what happens to you that has the greatest impact, rather what you think about what happened to you.
  • Only 20% of the effect to your mind and body is due to the stressor itself; 80% is due to the weight and importance you place upon it.

Brian Tracy, best-selling author and speaker, put it this way, “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you; and, in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. Circumstances may be out of your control—your response isn't!”