The Ultimate Principle for Maximum Results with Minimal Effort

,,Your job is just to remind yourself to lower your expectations after the initial rapid progress. If you understand and accept this concept, you can't really be disappointed by the rather slow progress that comes afterwards. "

5/6/20233 min read

person working on laptop
person working on laptop

From Enthusiasm to Desperation: The Rollercoaster Ride of Skill Acquisition

It is safe to say that the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, is one of the most important rules for acquiring any skill. Understanding this rule thoroughly can shed light on why people initially show great enthusiasm when learning a new skill, but often lose interest after experiencing initial success. In this article, we will explore how you can overcome these early setbacks

Cracking the code: How 20% Effort Unleashes 80% Results

The 80/20 principle is a rule that says roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. It was discovered by an economist named Vilfredo Pareto a long time ago. He noticed that about 80% of the money in a society was owned by only 20% of the people. Later, people realized this idea can apply to other things too, like work and time management. It means that by focusing on the most important things, you can get most of the results with less effort. So instead of trying to do everything, you can concentrate on the few things that really matter and still achieve great success.

The wardrobe magic and the two most important caveat you have to take into consideration

1.The opportunity cost: I start with my favourite and most relatable example to explain the opportunity cost of the 80/20 principle:
Take a look at all the clothes you own and divide them into two categories: the 20% that you wear most frequently and the remaining 80% that you rarely or never wear. If you apply the Pareto principle, it means you sell 80% of your clothes. When you sell them, you'll get back a bit less than 80% of the money you spent on them. You'll also have 80% more space in your wardrobe or need 80% less space overall. This saves you 80% on maintenance costs like washing and repairing.

And now comes the criteria you should consider : In about 20% of the time, you might not have the perfect outfit for a specific occasion. So, while you'll benefit most of the time, there will be moments when you might feel like you don't have the exact right thing to wear. And that's it. If you can accept this fact, your reward are the aforementioned 80%'s.

What does it mean for us, language learners? Actually for us is even more beneficial than 80/20. If we applied the Pareto principle to language learning, it would mean that we need to learn 20% of the words to understand 80% of a random text.

The truth is even more appealing:

1000 words allow you to understand about 80% of the language which surrounds you, as long as it is not too specialized (Hwang, 1989; Hirsh and Nation, 1992; Sutarsyah, Nation and Kennedy, 1994) 3000 words allow you to understand about 95% of most ordinary texts (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996).

For me it says there is almost no pay-off (5% understanding for the other 170 K) for learning the rest of the vocabulary. To be more precise, afterwards you only need to learn the specific words you need for your personal or professional life. Sounds great, right? However, it is important to note that everyone has their own frequency list. Men talk less about their make-up kit (you can guess why) , while woman don’t use the term of penalty kick on a daily basis. (or I don’t know, at least not in public 😁 ) Okay, Monday is Monday for everyone, we all use the toilet, we all have friends or relatives. It is about 2000 words, I highly recommend though to specialise your frequency list as soon as possible. Of course if you learn your target language through comprehensible input you have literally no chance of avoiding the most frequent words. I go further, buckle up buddy! If you reach A1-A2 level - or in my humble opinion if you are hard-core language learner you start with this- you switch to content you are genuinely interested in like cars, soccer, fashion or your favourite tv show where you are already familiar with the story, whatever you are concerned about. There is no way to bypass your customised frequency list.

From Good to Great: Embracing the Challenge of the Final 20%

2. 80% is still just mediocre: The level is practically above 80%, which is no longer avarage.
For the sake of simplicity, let's say, it takes 10 000 hours to learn a language to 100% of second language level. (not native) . It means you will reach 80% in 2000 hours because you will learn the most frequent vocabulary, morphology and syntax. Saying that your deal is to invest another 8,000 hours for 20% of development if you wanna see pessimistic. My point of view is to invest another 8000 hours to be exceptional. Even passively, people will constantly criticize you for your progress because they are not aware of this totally strange nature of skill development.

Your job is just to remind yourself to lower your expectations of yourself after the initial rapid progress. If you understand and accept this concept, you can't really be disappointed by the rather slow progress that comes afterwards.