Screw 80-20: Let’s Do 99-1 (A Tribute to Destroying Addictions)

Important Note: This post was written in November 2012 when I was deep in the clutches of my sugar addiction. You’ll probably pick up on the impassioned flurry of raw and frenzied thought as I rushed to get my emotions out while writing this. I don’t normally swear – mentally, verbally, or in writing – but it was required for catharsis and because I was having genuinely sh*tty feelings.

As I wrote this, I promised myself it would only be published months after shattering my sugar addiction. It’s intended as a tribute to my progress and as inspiration for other people to break their addictions.

My sugar addiction has been with me since who knows when. I previously wrote about it in my article about tipping points and, unlike breaking my video game addiction, this one was much tougher to fight and (perhaps permanently) vanquish.

As of publishing this article, I haven’t eaten any “food-like” substances containing supernormally stimulating amounts of sugar (e.g. an M&M cookie or store-bought birthday cake) since October 24, 2012. I know this because my “Sugar Cheating Log” spreadsheet has no entries since a disheartening amount of sugar was consumed that night.

Although I might intentionally eat a piece of my mom’s cheesecake or a holiday peanut butter blossom in the future, the goal is to feel in control of when that happens and how much is consumed. Let’s hope this wagon never breaks down. 

I’ll warn you again that this contains unfiltered thoughts and a number of swear words. Don’t read this if that unnerves you.

And now for the raw emotion as I started to emerge from the depths of my sugar addiction.


Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

I almost had a breakdown tonight (again).

There’s a bag full of leftover Halloween candy sitting in the car in my garage.

Melinda is at happy hour with some friends, I just laid Grant down to sleep, and I’m all alone. Nobody’s looking. This is normally when the sugar floodgates fly open.

Fifteen minutes ago, as I finished reading a bed-time story to Grant, my thoughts were obsessed with diving into that bag of Kit Kats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Even though it would mean feeding my seemingly endless sugar addiction yet again.

You know what my justification was to plow into that sugar stash fifteen minutes ago? A terrible, soul-rendering one that makes me deeply saddened just typing this.

I was going to justify it as not making a difference in my long-term health. If I ate one or ten of those pieces of candy, I would still be healthier (physically, if not mentally) than 80% (or more) of people in the world.

What a shitty attempt to rationalize something that’s completely irrational.

Instead, I’m typing this post to prove a point. A point to myself and a point to you.

Being in the top 80% compared to everyone else doesn’t mean crap. Trying to bastardize the 80-20 Rule to explain why it’s OK to have a couple of pieces of candy is seriously messed up.

Life should not be relative!

How many times do I need to remind myself and read articles that comparison is a fool’s game?! How many times do I need someone to tell me in an amazing book like It Starts With Food that this isn’t about living “good enough” for fuck sake.

Life should be about achieving optimum health.

The 80-20 Rule…I say most of the time and in most of its forms…it’s bullshit.

I want 99-1.

I want 99% of my existence, 99% of my choices, and 99% of my thoughts to be optimal. Optimal as I define it.

Who cares whether other people agree with my definition of optimal as long as my version is contributing to my health, my happiness, and the value I’m able to provide to everyone.

So I say fuck it. From now on my goal is 99-1.

Settling for 80-20 is an insult to my abilities.

Being reserved to an existence of 80-20 is a slap in the face to Melinda, Grant, my family, my friends, this community…to the whole freakin’ world. I can be so much better than this!

I can do so much better than those thoughts and impulses from fifteen minutes ago.

The truth is this post isn’t as good as it could have been. I had all these great ideas, all these perfectly worded sentences floating through my head as I snuggled Grant in the dark before placing him gently down in his crib.

But they weren’t worth letting him down prematurely so I could record them before vanishing like a wispy tendril in my brain.

It was much more important to enjoy the pure, expansive simplicity that comes with holding your own flesh and blood as they give you the warmest of hugs. And feeling those fuzzy jammies up against my soft cheek (I actually shaved for a change today) sent me on a short-lived quest to move my mind into a state of nothingness.

To steal a quote from my amazing, enlightened friend Jessie:

The only thing I don’t have enough of is nothingness.

If I can get to 99-1, I’m damn sure I can achieve nothingness more often. I experienced it in the float tank and I want to experience it on the carpet of the basement living room.

I want simple.

I want nothing. I mean, literally nothing.

And I want 99-1.

Kit Kat

So right now sugar demons: fuck you.

So right now urges to stop writing and check online forums: screw you.

So right now thoughts about staying up late to “catch up on stuff:” go to hell.

I’m in control right now.

And I’m not OK with being relatively better at something or having less of something than 80% of everyone else.

I want everyone to experience 99-1. I want the ratio to stand in absolute terms and never be used to measure my relative status in something.

And you know what? There can be beauty and fun in that 1%. Every once in a while, sub-optimal is OK. We’re not robots who can be programmed to do what needs to be done 100% of the time.

But sub-optimal has to be rare. Diving into that leftover bag of Halloween candy has got to be done intentionally. While everyone is looking. And with just one piece being removed, not ten.

Every time I succumb to that mindset of powerlessness to fight the actions I know are unhealthy, more than my emotions suffer.

The life in the oceans – where my plastic wrapper covering my coveted piece of sugar often ends up – gets poisoned (and eventually poisons me). My gut – perforated by the nastiness in what passes for “food” in mass produced toxic candy – gets inflamed and lets disgusting things leak through. I could go on and on.

Actually, I could come up with 99 reasons not to choose a sub-optimal path for every 1 reason to choose a sub-optimal path.

I hope you get more out of this post than my original terrible post about the 80-20 Rule. I keep my first blog post in a published state to remind me of how far I’ve come and how far I still can go.

This post will serve the same purpose for my sugar addiction. This post can serve the same purpose for your addictions.

You can destroy them. We can kick ass when any hints of new addictions pop up.

In summary:

Screw 80-20. Let’s do 99-1.

Photo Credit: nettsu, ulterior epicure

21 Responses to Screw 80-20: Let’s Do 99-1 (A Tribute to Destroying Addictions)

  1. Ethan says:

    Wow, I’ve never met angry Joel before. My understanding of the 80-20 rule is that 80% of the good comes from 20% of the actions. Not that life is 80% awesome and 20% sucky. So, are you saying you want 99% of your outcomes to come from 1% of your actions? That seems like.. not possible, and not even desirable. I can definitely tell that you were in a raw state when you wrote this. Reading it kind of makes me feel angry and in the mood to argue. I know this isn’t you now. I’m glad :)

    • Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to tie in the 80-20 rule with the main concept here. 99-1 isn’t about 1% of your actions driving 99% of the benefits of your overall actions. It’s about acting on your deepest values 99% of the time and then leaving the 1% to intentionally break your own rules (or for when you have no choice but to compromise yourself). So this is more about creating a life that’s 99% percent awesome and congruent with your needs and moral compass…and having 99% of your actions reflect that.

      I don’t know about you Ethan, but I’ve historically made it far too easy to rationalize my way into making a decision that’s contradictory to who I am and who I want to be. Denise’s comment built upon that and I’m declaring that self-inflicted damage is something I can’t allow anymore. I want people to join me in my pursuit of 99% awesome and living with 99% of your actions forwarding the goals of the person you are (or want to become). I realize that this wasn’t my most coherent writing and that nuance wasn’t considered much when writing it. So you’re right to be a bit confused and to feel a bit argumentative.

      It’s just that angry Joel needs to make an appearance every once in a while, regardless of length and clarity of the resulting message. Channeled fire can burn down the structures of old and allow for new growth in its place. For a previous entry in the “Angry Joel” series, see The Biggest Risk I Ever Took and Why I’m a Better Man for Being a Terrible Person.

  2. Erin says:

    I’m with Ethan re: meeting angry Joel! I like how passionate this is. It has a little of the underlying feel of your unscripted podcast.

    Also like Ethan, I’d only heard the 80/20 rule with regard to actions previously. It’s interesting to seen how you apply it here. In this case, I’d say 80/20 could be a stepping stone to 99/1, should the latter feel overwhelmingly far away!

    In this context, 80/20 for me would fall in the range of moderation. Moderation is really hard for me, especially with things like food. I have to shoot for more like 99/1 or I’ll slowly slip back to something more like 50/50 (or worse!).

    • You picked up on my lack of context and subtlety nicely. I agree with you that if you’re at 20-80 or 50-50, 80-20 looks mighty sweet and should be what you’re shooting for in the short-term. But once you get to 80-20 or even 90-10, why should that be good enough? Why should we settle for living outside the boundaries of our most cherished values and actions less than 1% of the time? I don’t want to and I’m hoping other people feel the same way.

      Your mention of the word “moderation” reminds me that I’m in conflict with the phrase “everything in moderation.” Specifically when it comes to addictive behaviors. If a moderate amount of drugs, alcohol, gambling, sugar, caffeine, sex, video games, TV, or anything else you’re addicted to doesn’t kill you or instantly crush the things you hold dear, that’s still not a good reason to engage in them. Since I suck at moderation, I’d rather go all in or all out on the important behaviors and actions that impact everyone around me. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with moderation.

  3. Denise says:

    I think you’re just an above average person, Joel. Or remarkable or whatever other word that describes someone who normally does more than what’s expected.

    When you’re that type of person you’re in the minority – most people aren’t that committed to their diets or their work or anything. Most people do just enough to live an average life.

    I think when we compare ourselves to what’s average that’s when we start rationalizing and cheating ourselves of being who we are. I’ve experienced this a lot in jobs I’ve had. I’ll notice I’m doing more than what’s required, because that’s who I am. And then my co-workers try to convince me to slack off because nobody else is working that hard. It can be confusing when we compare ourselves to others, but in our gut, we know who we are – and if who we are is 99-1 then own it – let everyone else be average.

    • Shanna Mann says:

      What Denise said: If you’re a 99:1 person, ignore the rules and standards of of the 80:20 crowd. Be you, and own your standards

      • I’ve become quite good at ignoring the rules and standards of everyone and everything around me in the past three years. It helps to be friends with other people who do the same, so thanks for your role in helping to keep me on my path of evolution. I’m owning what I started and honoring what it will take to keep the momentum going.

    • That’s a cool look on the overall message of this post, Denise. Like you, most of the people I’ve interacted with in life just wanted to be “above average.” Hell, I was one of those people for most of my life. I’d like to be remarkable some day (I’m flattered you think I may already be) and I’d like my legacy to be looked upon with tremendous gratitude, but I feel I still have a ways to go there.

      But there’s an unbelievable difference in impact and value of the people who are in the top 49% and the top 1% (of anything really). But deep down, this post isn’t really about comparing ourselves to everyone else. It’s about acknowledging that we often don’t do what we know we need to do to be happy, healthy, successful, and an asset to everyone around us. Why should we settle for living our core values only 80% of the time, right? If something’s fundamental to who we are – the way we eat, sleep, talk, treat each other, respect our environment – why would we allow ourselves to slack off on those commitments 20% of the time? Not doing what you’re aligned with 1% of the time seems more reasonable and much more rewarding.

      I’m totally with you on how we rationalize cheating ourselves out of being who we are and why we are that person. Thank you for owning the philosophy behind 99-1 with me!

      • Denise says:

        I agree more people shouldn’t settle, but they do. Some people seem to just be OK with it, like even if they read a very passionate post like this, they still wana settle.

        Why do you think that is?

        Why do you think some people seem to just be OK with it and don’t seem to get motivated or passionate about anything? I wonder if there’s something in our dna. Seriously. Or something about the way we’re raise or our schooling or something else in our conditioning.

        • I could speculate on your questions, but I don’t have anything scientific to back up my claims. So I better save a response for another day and in another medium. Otherwise, it will detract from the message of the post if I do it here, right now, and type another 3,000 words (which is probably the minimum it would take to write up a useful response). Nobody wants to see the spontaneous thinking behind that giant wall of text. :)

  4. Sarah says:

    Joel, as always, the thing I love is how you point out that we all get to define “optimal” for ourselves, and we all get to choose what our 99% looks like. I can tell you feel really strongly about this sugar thing, so congratulations on coming so far in your journey and continuing to live the values that you preach. You rock.

    • Hey Sarah,

      I feel just as strongly about my sugar addiction and my conquered video game addictions as I do about other people’s addictions. I want everyone who has an addiction or anyone who is living sub-optimally (with the addiction part being defined in clinical terms and the “sub-optimal” part being defined in subjective terms unique to each person) to realize their full potential. There is so much self-imposed damage we cause and so many ways we hold ourselves back. That’s a shame…and it doesn’t have to be that way. I know this well and other people should too. And then they should do something big about it (that’s the key part)!

      I’ll keep moving forward on my journey and hopefully take a number of people with me on a path to self-awareness and world-improvement.

  5. I deeply respect your commitment, and I know I gained a clearer understanding of your overall mission in an even stronger way than I have before. “Angry Joel” may not be as linear, but he is certainly as passionate about the objective as any other form of Joel.

    Thanks for taking the chance to share such raw emotion.

  6. Jackie says:

    Way cool Joel! Anger can be good and constructive, it is not all bad. In this case it shows fiery passion – all power to you for sharing and putting it out there! You have me thinking…..! Jackie

    • Hey Jackie! I’m glad I got you thinking. If you convert that thinking into some kind of action, come on back to the comments and let us know what you did, why you did it, and how you (or someone else you know) is a better person because of it.

  7. David Delp says:

    Hey Joel, Yesterday I heard a lovely interview with David Sheff who just wrote a book about his son’s struggle with drug addiction. The phrase that stood out for me is “progress not perfection.”

    It’s a moving interview all in all with a lot of insight and dashed myths about addiction, much of which I think applies to compulsive behavior. I highly recommend it.

  8. Doctor Matt says:

    ‘Every time I succumb to that mindset of powerlessness to fight the actions I know are unhealthy, more than my emotions suffer.’


    Thank you for the intensity. I copied the sentence above because it stood out to me. When I let my Diet Coke addiction ‘win’, I am admitting powerlessness and more than my emotions suffer…every cell in my body suffers and the actions that come from them suffer. I ‘stole’ your sentence and put it on my Inspiration Board so it will remind me every day to stay ‘powerful’. Diet Cokes are gone.

    Thank You for waking me up.

    • Well, hey there, Matt! I thought I’d let you know that Value of Simple is a “steal-free” zone. That goes for thunder, anything you see on the blog, and everything you hear on Smart and Simple Matters. I’m proud that everything here is UNcopyright and I’d love it if you took more stuff and had it end up on your Inspiration Board!

      Do you have any gems on that board that could help me or other people struggling with an addiction of some kind? We all need to be shaken awake at times.

  9. Sandra Goldstein says:

    Wow Joel…I feel your pain and struggle with having a sugar addiction. I use to smoke cigarettes for a few years, but I quit cold turkey and never went back to smoking regularly. I too have a sugar addiction and it’s the hardest addiction to overcome. There are so many sweet things that are readily available to us. I don’t eat a ton of candy, but my sugar comes from soda.

    I knew I had a problem when I looked in the garbage can and there were two empty 2 Liter bottles in the trash and I had down them in one day by myself! I am weaning myself off soda slowly but surely, but it is so hard because I just crave it so bad if I even have a sip of soda. I try not to beat myself up if I slip up and I celebrate the days that I can go without soda without thinking about it! Be sure to celebrate your small successes too!

    • Hi Sandra,

      That last note about celebrating your successes is a good reminder. I often don’t do that – and I even tell myself I don’t need to do that – but there’s a lot of power behind the ritual of celebration (for any reason).

      I’m glad you have more to celebrate these days. Sugar is just bad, bad stuff and I believe that science, society, and conventional wisdom will soon fully understand just how terrible it is. The worst part is the psychological harm it does, even more so than the physical damage it does. If you’re really struggling, you may want to try a commitment contract on something like I started one about three months ago and I’ve been 100% compliant with my self-imposed sugar restrictions (basically nothing but dark chocolate and periodic fruit). It’s made an amazing difference for me, but I do really well with black/white abstain/don’t abstain scenarios. It’s not for everyone, but it could help.

      Thanks for sharing your struggles too! I’m looking forward to your follow up and hopefully hearing about how you buried them.

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