Best Advice: 95% of Your Pain Is Caused By Your Own Stupidity

March 10, 2015


Do you ever get caught in a downward spiral? Situations at work (or at home) where someone or something causes problems that impact you?

Then you need the 95% Rule, the best advice I got from a friend and mentor, Carl Wright, CPA.

Carl Wright was (and is) one of those bigger-than-life personalities not often found in the CPA Profession. He was the founder and CEO of a leading recruiting firm in Maryland at the time. I met Carl by volunteering for a committee at the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA) when I first passed the CPA exam years ago. He was a recruiter and at that time one of the volunteer leaders of the MACPA. He was a mentor to me, as were many other leaders in the Association that I was fortunate to meet.

We were talking about an issue happening in a committee — you know, the types of conflicts that arise when different personalities have different opinions, and tempers start to flare. As I was recounting this, he stopped me and said, “Tommy, remember the 95% Rule.”

I immediately asked him, “What’s the 95% Rule?”

He said, “It is a simple rule that says 95% of your pain and troubles are caused by your own stupidity.” It made me pause and think. He said once you figure out that you are the cause of your own “pain,” it frees you up to creatively solve whatever the issues are.

It was somewhat of an epiphany, an “aha” moment, that said: Keep calm and think about what is happening rather than reacting or overreacting and making things worse.

I soon came to the conclusion that the situation was mostly caused, or at least escalated, by me. Once I realized that, I calmed down and was able to think creatively and address the issues in a positive way. By calming down, it de-escalated the situation, and we were able to work through the issues.

Turns out that there is brain science behind Carl’s simple 95% rule. Apparently when you are confronted or challenged, your brain clicks on its primitive response system (fight or flight) and blood flow leaves the brain and moves to large muscle groups, directed by adrenaline. Your field of vision narrows to focus on the perceived threats and your breathing gets faster all in an attempt to protect you.

That means you are now in the least likely position to develop creative solutions and even your eyes cannot see the “bigger picture” that may be in front of you. Not to mention that your increased emotional state will also be felt by anyone around you, possibly escalating their emotions. Once you kick in the 95% rule and acknowledge your contribution to the situation, you can regain control and reset yourself to be able to deal with the issues in a much better way.

I use this rule often. Every time I face a situation that may provoke anxiety or even anger, I can almost always find how something I did, or did not do, contributed to the situation. Once I acknowledge it, I instantly calm down and shift into problem-solving mode. Instead of blaming others, I invite them to help solve the problem or leverage the newfound opportunity, and the situation almost always improves.

I bet Carl has no idea how profound that day he first told me his rule has had on my growth. So next time things are going in the wrong direction, remember the 95% rule.

And thanks Carl for this great piece of advice!

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