The 20% Rule

I am notorious for making mountains out of molehills.  If one tiny thing goes wrong, I immediately expect everything else to crumble.  For instance, if one of my kids is acting up and I can’t figure out why, I leap to the conclusion they are headed down a bad path and can’t be saved.  My habitual expectation of perfection is exhausting and creeps into all facets of my life.  Recently, I have come up with a new way to cope with the inevitable bumps in the road of life.  I call it “The 20% Rule”.

You will have to forgive my imperfect math skills (oh no, I’m headed down a life of calculator overuse and heavy reliance on my children to crunch numbers!), but I have started to assess that about 20%, give or take, of everything will not go as expected.  If I keep this general knowledge in my back pocket, I’m able to rein in my overactive imagination and access my rational side (who knew that existed?) more easily.

Yesterday, my boys started off the day well, but it quickly went south.  What began as an innocent and common wrestling match with some teasing insults, soon turned into a full-on brawl with some hurtful words exchanged.  Instead of imagining all the ways that they will never be friends, how they will end up not speaking to each other for a lifetime, I just shrugged and thought, “Oh, that’s the 20% of them not getting along.”  This helps me to stay present in the moment, helps me recall that there actually are times they do get along and relieves me of worrying about what their future relationship will look like.

You can use this rule with anything that is challenging.  Another example is my oldest son and my husband not seeing eye to eye when it comes to my son’s effort and attitude on the soccer field.  All summer long I have been dreading when soccer season would start and the conflict it would cause between the two of them.  If I think about their relationship as a whole, they actually get along very well, share similar interests and have similar outlooks on life.  Overall, it’s a good father-son dynamic.  Their dynamic discussing my son’s sports’ performance, especially in the past, has not been good.  Fortunately, this is only about 20% of the time, give or take.  I’m going to focus on the fact that a majority of the time they get along.  I’m going to let that other 20% go.

I have also found this rule helpful when setting boundaries in my life.  Truthful boundary setting is extremely challenging and sometimes what is important to me, does not sit well with others.  Most of the time, if people truly know me and care about me, they hear what I have to say and we can communicate to compromise that works well for both of us.  Sometimes, it’s just a fail and moving forward it’s awkward and uncomfortable.  I find the uncomfortable situations easier to manage if I remind myself they are part of the 20% that didn’t work.   I would rather spend my time and energy looking at the whole of my life and all the people who do care about me, than obsessing about the 20% that don’t.

Ironically, 20% of the time this rule is a bust for me.  I just can’t let some things go, I put my two cents in when no one asks or I get involved in a conflict that isn’t about me.  That’s okay because most of the time I mind my own business.  As for the rest of it, I’ll allow myself to react in the moment and then use it as a learning opportunity.  Either way, I’m still learning and growing.  That’s a good thing 100% of the time.

Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent