On becoming a therapist and the 80/20 rule

So I’m about 3 months shy of finally graduating from my dual masters program and I’ve really come to appreciate everything I’ve learned, and continue to learn in my last three classes and my 20+ hour week at my internship at a behavioral outpatient hospital. I’ve actually begun to feel like a therapist. My head swirls constantly thinking about all my clients and patients who have many mental health challenges and addictions, and how I can best help them. I have become quite knowledgeable about CBT and DBT and cognitive distortions–how what we think becomes how we feel and how we feel turns into how we behave and how hard it is to really grasp that ones’ thoughts truly are the most powerful things you can control.

We therapists teach coping skills, and it’s just about my favorite subject these days. The one takeaway I’d like to leave you with dear reader is my favorite one, which is the 80/20 rule. This is the coping skill of realizing that 80% of life is bascially “shit happens”: your dog dies despite spending thousands on vet bills, your mother berates you for spoiling your children, traffic is once again a nightmare, the weather is shitty, your boss is in a bad mood AGAIN, and the line at Starbucks is 8-people deep and you’re in a hurry. You left your phone at home, forgot your umbrella, and getting on the train your purse turned inside out and everything fell out. The 80 represents that shit is always going to happen and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. The 20 represents the 20% that you can control, which are your own damn responses to the shitty things that happen in the 80%.

So, what does “owning your 20” mean?

It means you have the power to respond or react. Many times we just “react”. Knee-jerk responses are how we end up with people mad at us, or mad at others, or with high blood pressure and short fuses.

Look at all the examples above again. We get so damn upset that it rains on our birthday, that our mother can’t keep her criticisms to herself, traffic happens, we are occasionally klutzes and lots of people apparently all had the same craving for coffee the same time you did. So what? Are you wasting your precious energy getting all heated about these types of things? How many times during your day do you get all bent out of shape over shit you can’t control?

And how many of us know people who just walk around angry at everyone and everything, people are always doing them wrong, everyone’s out to get them. And guess what! Their thoughts cause the very things to happen that they are complaining about. Why would you walk into Starbucks and get pissed off that they’re busy? These are your people! They love coffee at the same time of day you do!

What you think all day long is more powerful than you realize. Whether you believe it or not, your thoughts can bring you abundance or deprivation. This is what we call cognitive reframing. Seriously friends, this can change your life.

Say you are pressed for time and walk into Starbucks and they’re super busy and you’re disappointed because you’re pretty sure you won’t have enough time to get a coffee. Oh well. Shit happens, right? That’s the 80%. What can you do about how you feel? Well, you can honor your disappointment, but it is what it is. Next time leave earlier and don’t assume it won’t be busy. And maybe you didn’t really need that coffee or to spend $7 and your day really isn’t going to be any different is it? Let it go. Oh well. In the big scheme of things it’s really unimportant. If it was that important to you, wouldn’t you have given yourself a little more time just in case it was busy when you got there? It’s not the end of the world. Wherever you’re in a hurry to get to, you will now be early. What are the benefits of being 10 minutes early? If you’ve never been 10 minutes early, you will now know what those are. Maybe there’s a sense of peace not having to rush around.

Ok Lauren, I get that, but what about my mother’s criticism? You simple say, “thanks mom”, and let it go. You don’t get defensive, you don’t argue your case. You let it go. And then decide if having her babysit for you is worth the trouble, or maybe check yourself to see if there’s a kernel of truth there you can discuss with your child’s other parent, or therapist, or pediatrician. In other words, you don’t have to DO anything in the moment. Are you getting my drift now? This is a skill you can practice and TRUST ME, it takes work but it’s so worth it.

The things that happen in the 80% are going to keep on happening, and learning how to control yourself in how you react will literally change your life from one of frustration and helplessness to one of peace and greater self-esteem.

Feel free to leave a comment on what you think about this and if you’ve been able to utilize the 80/20 rule in your life!

Author: acaligirltalks

Hi there, I will graduate with a double masters this May 2023, LPC-IT and SAC-IT from UW-Milwaukee. I'm the mom of two amazing adults who make me a better person every day. My twin flame is SpongeBob Squarepants.

3 thoughts on “On becoming a therapist and the 80/20 rule”

  1. I’d suggest rather than “…that ones’ thoughts truly are the most powerful things you can control.”, it’s more a matter of acting or not acting on those thoughts?

    Moran Cerf has done some great work in his hacking and neuroscience and it would seem your conscious thoughts are only the tiny bit of your brain’s activity that you are aware of and may choose to act / not act on. The subconscious is where everything is processing and that brain activity is based on the toolset you have picked up and honed over your life thus far.


    1. Hello there Snoopy,
      Thank you for your comment! I’ve let it swirl around my head all morning, and I stand by what I said. Our thoughts are indeed the most powerful things we can control, and depending on what those thoughts might be determine the behaviors that follow, not the other way around, although you’re absolutely correct that we do often act from our unconscious and think about it later. The truth of the matter is we have about 70,000 thoughts a day which result in about 35,000 decisions (reference: quick Google search lol). I argue that it is not our unconscious that makes many of our decisions or chooses our behavior but rather our automatic thoughts. For example, if I have a core belief that I’m unloveable, I may have a negative thought that “why bother saying hi to the cute guy/girl at work” so they just avert that person’s gaze when they walk past them. These types of thoughts, which lead to a feeling, which is acted upon as a behavior, occur so split-second people can mistake this for it being unconsciously driven. This behavior is a result of a cognitive distortion, which can be challenged and overcome.

      I do love the brain and neuroscience and if I was younger I’d certainly pursue neuroscience so I thank you for the information on Moran Cerf. I’ve never heard of him and have spent some time this morning listening to him and reading about him. He’s a very interesting character indeed! Thank you again for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Lauren,
        Thank you for considering and then taking the time to respond.
        I think we are almost saying the same thing. Your reply above indicates that you consider the subconscious as two (or more) separate “chunks” – unconscious and automatic? Perhaps there are two chunks, but either way, I believe they are still not directly accessible or controllable by our conscious, and thereby I collectively refer to them as subconscious. What you are calling a core belief, I’m calling part of your toolset. Whatever it is called, it is buried in your subconscious rather than conscious mind. I agree, with targeted training, an action / trigger – response pairing can be modified over time.
        The third point in my post may clarify my thoughts on this a little further: https://vaguaries.com/2022/12/19/caveat-emptor/


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