A Real Solution for Real People
By Ed Delph
August 15, 2022
I recently discovered a principle of life that I knew was working but didn’t understand very well. I have spoken for years now on this principle. Stephen Covey wrote the 90/10 Principle, and I have quoted him in this article with some minor editing.
What is the 90/10 Principle?
“10% of life is made up of what happens to you. The other 90% of life is decided by how you react. What does this mean? We have no control over 10% of what happens to us. The other 90% is different. You determine the other 90%. How? By your reactions. You cannot control a red light. However, you can manage your response to the red light. Do not let people fool you. You can control how you react.
Here’s an example of how this works. You are having breakfast with your family. Your daughter knocks over a cup of coffee onto your business shirt. You have no control over what has just happened. What happens next will be determined by how you react.
You curse. You harshly scold your daughter for knocking the cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your wife and criticize her 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 her breakfast and getting ready to go to 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 per hour in a 30-mph speed limit zone. After a 15-minute delay and throwing a $60.00 traffic fine away, you arrive at school. Your daughter runs into the building without saying goodbye. After arriving at the office 20 minutes late, you realize you forgot your briefcase.
Your day has started terribly. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to coming home. But, when you arrive home, you find a small wedge in your relationship with your wife and daughter. Why? It’s because of how you reacted in the morning. (Remember, when the queen and princess are happy, there is peace in the kingdom).
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 okay, honey, you just need to be more careful next time.’ Grabbing a towel, you go upstairs and change your shirt. You grab your briefcase and come back down in time to look through the window. Your child gets on the bus, and she turns and waves. You arrive 5 minutes early a cheerfully greet the staff.
Notice the difference? Two different scenarios started the same. Both ended differently. Why? Because of how you reacted. You have no control over 10% of what happens in your life. Your reaction determines the other 90%.”
Author James Clear adds to this idea. "There are many situations in life you do not control, but you often contribute (positively or negatively) to them. I cannot control the rain, but I can control my clothing. I cannot control your feelings, but I can control my kindness. I cannot control my opponent, but I can control my response to my opponent. You cannot control most outcomes in life, but you can usually influence them. Releasing your attachment to the results does not mean releasing your responsibility to the situation."
Our takeaway: When problems come, don't go with them. What you believe and how you respond to what happens to you determines whether you retreat or advance. It's our responsibility to respond to God's ability. We can touch heaven to change earth if we respond to God's power and the ability God gave us.
Recently, I found a chart on the differences between successful and unsuccessful people. Notice their completely different perspectives about life. Of course, the differences are not true in every case, but certainly true in most cases. Whitney Houston said, “Success doesn’t change you. Fame does.” I’m not sure I like the terms successful and unsuccessful in this application, so I’ll use the words advancing and retreating people.
Advancing people read every day or grow in some way every day. Retreating people spend all their time watching television every day. Retreating people don’t lead their lives; they accept what someone else says about their lives. Advancing people compliment and build up people. Unsuccessful people criticize and tear down people. Robbie Sherrah says, “Do you know what I like about confident people? I rarely hear them saying a bad word about anyone.”
Here’s some sage advice for both groups that I recently heard. “If you are willing to look at another person's behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over time, cease to react adversely at all.” We humans tend to see things the way we are, not the way they really are.
Advancing people forgive others. Retreating people hold a grudge. Remember, forgiveness makes the future possible. Advancing people talk about ideas. Retreating people talk about other people. Advancing people continuously learn. Retreating people think they know it all. They shut others out by shutting them up. Advancing people accept responsibility for their failures. Retreating people blame others and circumstances for their mistakes or failures. It was the coffee’s fault!
Advancing people have a sense of gratitude. Retreating people have a sense of entitlement. Advancing people set goals and have life plans. They determine their future in the present. Retreating people never or seldom set goals. Their perspective is live for today, which unfortunately determines their future in the present too.
Now that you know the 90/10 Principle, apply it. Of course, taking responsibility for your life is more difficult than accepting your life, but remember, difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com