Stephen Covey’s 90/10 Principle & The Power of Choice

A photo of a cup of coffee.
Image via Wikipedia

A few days ago my father sent me an email about Stephen Covey’s 90/10 Principle. My dad almost never forwards mass emails, so I knew it had to be good. The 90/10 Principle states: 10% of life is made up of what happens to you…. 90% of life is decided by how you react.

As I read it the entire article by Covey, I was struck by thinking about how powerful our choices can be, and about how often we don’t realize the power that we have in our own control.

Most of the time, we are moving so quickly that we fail to see the choices in front of us.  We have information coming at us from all directions, so we hurry to keep up so that we can get everything done. When we get “triggered”, we react – sometimes destructively – without pausing to breathe, think, or feel before taking action ourselves. I felt compelled to share Covey’s wise words as a reminder to us to WAKE UP in order to be present in these moments.

What positive outcomes might be possible if you made a different decision before reacting to your triggers?

Here is the text of Covey’s article:

Discover The 90/10 Principle.

It will change your life (at least the way you react to situations).

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 will 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 are 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 cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your spouse 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 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 limit.

After a 15-minute delay and throwing $60 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 find you forgot your briefcase. Your day has started terrible. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to coming home.

When you arrive home, you find 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, “Its 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 arrive 5 minutes early and cheerfully greet the staff. Your boss comments on how good the day you are having.

Notice the difference?

Two different scenarios. Both started the same. Both ended different.


Because of how you REACTED.

You really do not have any control over 10% of what happens. The other 90% was determined by your reaction.

Here are some ways to apply the 90/10 principle. If someone says something negative about you, don’t be a sponge. Let the attack roll off like water on glass. You don’t 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 on 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 and get irritated? It will work out. Use your worrying energy and time into finding another job.

The plane is late; it is going to mangle your schedule for the day. Why take outpour 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. 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.

You will lose nothing if you try it. The 90-10 principle is incredible. Very few know and apply this principle.

The result?

Millions of people are suffering from undeserved stress, trials, problems and heartache. We all must understand and apply the 90/10 principle.

It CAN change your life!!!

Visionary leadership of Steve Jobs

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

These are quotes from a Commencement address by Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005. For the full text, click here. For the YouTube video, click here:

RIP Steve Jobs.

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Passenger oxygen mask deployment
Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever really thought of why flight attendants tell us to put our own oxygen masks on first before helping others – including the ones we love? It can seem counter-intuitive, right? Wouldn’t your first instinct be to immediately aid your child or other loved one? Now imagine trying to help your child or other loved one while you are literally gasping for air. You won’t be much help for long…

In your daily life, at work and/or at home, do you find yourself sometimes “gasping for air?” Do you rush to the aid of others without taking the time to care for yourself first? Do you find yourself answering other’s needs at the sacrifice of your own? If you are a leader, do you have those expectations of the people that you lead?  

I see this dilemma EVERYWHERE with all kinds of people – men, women, mothers, fathers, both single & married people, working mothers & stay-at-home mothers. The term “work/life balance” is thrown around to describe those in the workplace that feel they don’t have enough time to do it all. I suggest that this problem of work/life balance is not about time management; rather it is about energy management.

Self-care gives you the FUEL (i.e. energy) you need to not only cope with life, but to actually enjoy your life. As a result, you can be more effective in both your work and personal life, fueled with more energy to tackle the constant challenges that life presents.

Tony Schwartz is an author, frequent writer and blogger for the Harvard Business Journal, and is President/CEO of the Energy Project. His Energy Project promotes the key idea that companies expect their employees to operate like computers – at continuous high speeds, over time, processing multiple things at once. But, as humans, we can’t sustain ourselves this way – the demand surpasses our capacity, and we fall into survival mode (i.e. gasping for air).  It states that as humans, we have optimal performance when we move between expending our energy and renewing our four “forgotten” energy needs: sustainability (physical), security (emotional); self-expression (mental) and significance (spiritual).

So, I then ask you – how can you move from survival mode (gasping for air) to self-care (energy renewal)? As a leader, how you can cultivate a culture that allows for energy renewal and optimal performance?

Here are some questions to ponder that may help:

How can you increase your awareness about your own energy management?

What “forgotten energy” needs are you neglecting?

What are some simple, achievable goals you can set for one or more of your four energy needs: physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual?

What is your “story” about self-care and selfishness? How is that story preventing you from practicing self-care?

How can you become more intentional with how you expend your energy?