Spiritual Exercise: Applying the 80/20 Principle to Your Recovery

Spiritual Exercise: Applying the 80/20 Principle to Your Recovery


Successful recovery is essentially what works for you. This might be different for different people. The 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) is all about doing what works for you. Here is the idea:
The 80/20 principle is the idea or phenomenon that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of the results. People have noticed this phenomenon in all sorts of different areas. For example, 20 percent of all drivers are responsible for 80 percent of traffic accidents. Another example is that roughly 20 percent of the people control 80 percent of the world’s wealth.

80/20 rule

But the 80/20 rule can be applied to just about anything in your everyday life. 20 percent of the salespeople generate 80 percent of all sales. And for most of us, during an eight hour work day, 20 percent of our time produces 80 percent of our results for that day. The principle seems to apply to just about everything. So how can this help us in our recovery?

The idea behind putting the 80/20 principle to work for you is through the concept of leverage. If 20 percent of our activities account for 80 percent of the benefits we receive, doesn’t it make sense to concentrate on that 20 percent that is giving us such a large payoff? The idea is to cut out our time spent on less rewarding activities and focus on what is truly productive for us. Let’s look at an example.

Say that you have a number of activities that make up your recovery program, and spend a certain amount of time each week doing the following things:

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-Going to AA meetings
-Reading recovery literature
-Working directly with other recovering addicts/alcoholics
-Meditation and Prayer

You might just take a look at your activities and determine what is really beneficial to you. For most people in recovery, the time spent at a daily meeting (or even every other day) packs a huge return on the time invested. AA meetings are very focused and packed with recovery. They are a huge therapeutic opportunity in which you can reach out and ask for help, as well as to offer help to others. Either activity will make a huge impact on your bottom line in recovery, and is usually well worth the hour invested. On the other hand, consider someone who reads recovery literature each and every day, or spends a great deal of time in studying recovery texts. This is where the 80/20 rule can help guide us in our recovery efforts: some activities are more productive than others. Studying literature for over an hour each day is probably not the best use of your time in terms of long term sobriety. Some of us have done all of those things listed above on a daily basis and achieved meaningful, long term recovery.

Looking back, I can see what was really important in maintaining my sobriety: connections with others in recovery. This includes sponsorship, having friends in recovery, connecting with others in AA meetings, and working in a treatment center. I can also do other things for my recovery, such as daily journaling, reading the Big Book, and so on. But it’s the connections with others that make up the critical 20 percent. That 20 percent is what really makes my recovery tick. In light of that information, meeting attendance and working with others becomes a priority over other recovery activities.

What about balance?

In spite of the 80/20 rule, there is still a need for balance in our lives. I’m not saying that reading recovery literature is worthless to me, or that I shouldn’t pray and meditate any more because that doesn’t fall into my 80/20 rule. Of course there is a need for balance. I still pray and meditate every day, and occasionally read recovery literature. But thinking about the 80/20 rule and seeing how it applies to your specific recovery program is still a useful exercise. It can help us to identify what is really important, and what it is that really helps us stay clean and sober. Take a look at your program and identify the 20 percent that is keeping you clean today.

What is the 20 percent that is most important in you recovery?



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