The 90/10 Rule

In the latest issue of TIME, actor Michael J Fox, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was asked “How do you keep your optimism in the face of difficult circumstances?”

His replied “I have no choice about whether or not I have Parkinson’s. I have nothing but choices about how I react to it.”

What a fantastic answer!

Some time ago, I received an email from someone about the 90/10 rule.

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%!


By your reaction.

I’ve created this scenario as an example:

You’re in school, it’s PE time and one of your classmates starts to tease you.

“Hey you loser, you can’t even kick a ball, how could you amount to anything great in the future? I know exactly what you’ll be when you leave school eventually – you’re only fit to carry dead bodies in the mortuary.”

Now you are upset.  You turn around and retort “Screw you, and what about you, you retard? You’ll end up as a pimp in Geylang selling your own mother and sister at a discount!”

Suddenly your classmate is upon you, there is a frenetic blows exchange of blows, you tear off your classmate’s shirt pocket but he gives you a shiner, the prefects intervene and haul both of you before the dreaded discipline master who comments sarcastically about how beautiful your black eye looks, gives you both a rambling, convoluted lecture before signing you and your classmate up for several detention classes.

Now you are hungry but the canteen is closed; you walk with a heavy heart to the bus stop. It takes forever for the bus to come and while waiting you start to think about the fracas that just took place and thinking about it make you seethe with anger and hatred. You also start to wonder if your classmate will show up at the bus stop too and if he will give you another trashing when he sees you. While you are deep in your thoughts, the bus arrives but you are so absorbed in your thoughts that you’re oblivious to the fact so the bus continues on its journey without you.

Long story short, by the time you get home it is 4:30pm; you are hungry, angry, and tired. Plus all the stares from strangers you’re attracting because of your black eye sure make you feel like a freak.

The moment you get into the house the phone rings. It’s your mum demanding to know why you’re so late and reminding you that exams are around the corner and that you should come straight home after school and if this happens again she’s definitely going to tell daddy when he returns from his trip.

You shout into the phone “Stop talking to me like I’m a frigging baby, you drill sergeant!” and slam it down.

An hour later the phone is ringing off the hook, you pick it up and it’s your mum again in a somewhat reconciliatory tone asking what dinner she can get for you; you sigh and say “Mum, I just ate a bowl of instant noodles and I’m not hungry and would you puhleese stop bugging and tormenting me.”

Your mum gives you another of her long speeches about the harmfulness of instant noodles with all that MSG and empty calories and what not and you respond by asking her why on earth does she buys them if they are so damaging to the family’s health.  You tell her that by eating them you’re doing her a big favor since she seems intent on poisoning the whole family anyway.  Before she could respond you hang up on her for the second time that day.

Now you know you’ve just pissed off your mum big time and you’re not looking forward to her coming home later this evening. You take the phone off the hook, lock yourself in the room, switch off the lights and go to bed.

Your entire day is completely ruined. And just as you’re about to drift to dreamland, you wish that your black eye will disappear by morning and then you suddenly remember you have loads of homework that must be handed in tomorrow. Now you are scared shitless, but by then you are in a state of semi-consciousness…

Now let’s backtrack a little.

Rewind back to when your classmate has just finished teasing you.

If you were to respond by saying “Sorry, I’m as clumsy as an ox; how about one of these days you spend some time showing me how to do this right, I promise I’ll buy you a Coke” things would have turned out quite differently.


So the next time you are confronted with a situation – whether dealing with a power failure, a bully in school or at work, or a request from a family member to help fix a laptop – how you react and respond will determine the outcome, and will provide others a glimpse into your true character.

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