The 80% Rule Transformed My Perfectionist Mindset and Changed My Life

80% rule"
80% rule
Source: @shoptanlines
Source: @shoptanlines

As a self-proclaimed high-achiever and someone with a very strong Virgo rising, you could say that I take my goals extremely seriously. I feel lost without my consistent daily routine, habits, and countless to-do lists. Everything from work projects, dinner plans, and house cleaning find their way to a list, and if I can’t check off every item by the end of the day? Cue the downward spiral. 

I’m very aware of my perfectionist tendencies and how they hold me back. I have so many creative ideas and goals, but I don’t follow through on them because I don’t feel like I’m good enough to achieve them. The problem is I know that I’d be able to do so much more and reach my full potential if I was comfortable with imperfection. It’s something that I’ve been working to change with the help of a therapist, and my therapist recently shared something that completely blew my mind and has helped me immensely as I slowly but surely embrace my imperfections and stop letting perfectionism hold me back: The 80 Percent Rule. Read on to find out what it is and how to practice it.

What is The 80 Percent Rule?

If you’re a perfectionist like me, you probably don’t do anything halfway—it’s all or nothing. Whether it’s cleaning your closet or turning in an assignment for work, you always strive for 100 percent. With a perfectionist mindset, anything less is not good enough and, therefore, unacceptable. I know this feeling all too well. But I’ve learned (thanks to therapy) that it’s actually OK to set the bar a little lower. The 80 percent rule means aiming for 80 percent instead of 100 percent. In other words, instead of striving for whatever perfection means to you, take some pressure off yourself and aim for “good enough,” and that’s in everything you do: a workout, eating clean, a goal at work, or starting a new hobby. More often than not, the outcome will be more than acceptable, but better yet, it’s a practice of self-compassion and a reminder that you’re already good enough. 

“It’s actually OK to set the bar a little lower.”

How do you practice The 80 Percent Rule?

The beauty of the 80 percent rule is that it can apply to just about anything. From putting an outfit together to cleaning your bathroom to submitting a work project, check in with yourself and notice where you’re extra hard on yourself. Where can you ease up your expectations? Where can you practice more self-compassion and less self-judgment?

One area in my life that I’m extra hard on myself is my home. I work hard to keep it clean and organized, but things often get into disarray. You’re bound to see piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and general clutter accumulate when my schedule gets extra busy—a perfect opportunity for me to practice the 80 percent rule. Instead of looking at the entire house and feeling overwhelmed because it’s not 100 percent perfect and I need to do a major deep clean, I try my best to tidy up at least 80 percent of the way. If there’s still more to be done at the end of the day, I take a deep breath and remind myself I can get to it tomorrow. The 80 percent rule keeps me from falling into the perfectionism trap, and it’s always a good reminder that I’m always enough—no matter how much or how little I got done that day. 

“The 80 Percent Rule is a reminder that I’m always enough—no matter how much or how little I got done that day.”

How else can I embrace imperfection? 

Mindset shifts take practice. Like any pursuit, the more you practice, the better you get at it, even overcoming perfectionism. I’ll be the first to admit I’m still a work in progress (perfectly imperfect!). If you, too, struggle with perfectionism, here are other small practices you can try in addition to the 80 percent rule:

Set time limits for completing a task

Striving for 100 percent all the time can mean you spend an excessive amount of time trying to execute each task perfectly, so much so that you’ll take forever to “finish” something because you’re waiting for perfection. Instead, think about how much time you reasonably need to get something to 80 percent (i.e., can you get an 80 percent workout in 30 minutes rather than 50 minutes? Can you get the presentation to 80 percent good enough by Friday so you don’t work on it over the weekend?). Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to get something done, then commit to it. 

Set achievable goals

Maybe the problem isn’t your timeline but the goals themselves. If your goals are unattainable, this can lead to poor self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. For example, planning to have a “perfect” workout schedule where you do a 60-minute workout every day of the week when you’re swamped at work and feel tired all the time? You’re setting yourself up for failure before you begin. Set a goal that actually feels achievable for you (going on a walk daily, 30-minute workouts instead of 60 minutes, or working out five days instead of seven). Break your goals down into more digestible pieces, and then celebrate each step you take, no matter how small. 

Practice gratitude

Gratitude and The 80 Percent Rule go hand in hand. Being grateful for all of the things you do have is a great way to shift your perspective from focusing on the things you lack. Instead of focusing on where you’re lacking, you can shift your focus to how much you are doing. Maybe your home isn’t 100 percent clean, but isn’t it nice to feel grateful for the effort you put into the cleaning that you did? There’s no such thing as perfect. Life is messy, and the sooner you can embrace the mess (literally and figuratively), the happier you will be. It turns out the glass is 80 percent full.