The 70% Rule: Full Effort Without Strain
Welcome to Self-Mastery — a place for exploring timeless ideas to be the architect of your mind, create yourself, and do less, better.
“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.”
— Bruce Lee
The more relaxed you are, the more you can learn, the better the results.
When we begin something new, we show plenty of enthusiasm and excitement to begin. New goals are exciting. We see a world of possibilities and positive change at our doorstep.
In these moments of excitement, we often push things too hard.
Have you ever found yourself deflated soon after starting something new? For instance, when beginning a new career change or fitness goal or language. If so, here’s a solution.
The 70 Percent Rule, a tenet rooted in the history of Tai Chi and Qigong. It is a long-standing counter to the modern standard of harshly pursuing what we want. It’s a timeless foundation for living well that people have used for years for good health and longevity. If you want to achieve more without the needless strain and rushing around trying to get what you want, this philosophy is for you.
First, it asks that you spend less time trying to do everything with maximum effort, not more.
That means spending less time rushing around, trying to achieve everything quickly, and thereby work yourself into the ground. It means less trying to solve your problems straight away or read that book before your friends or get the perfect summer figure when you know the work will be a detriment to your health.
“Practise towards life”. It means that by living and working at just 70 percent of your capacity; instead, you can:
Absorb knowledge and wisdom more easily.
Reduce your internal resistance and maintain an effort for longer.
Store energy for a time when you really need it.
Increase your capacity as you practise without stress.
Give your body more time to heal.
Living and learning in moderation is an alien concept to many—particularly people who opt for the go-for-the-burn and always-on and always-busy lifestyle of today’s world.
Straining yourself can be a result of breaking the 70 Percent Rule. Living in a way where you’re constantly running around, trying to do everything and show everyone what you can do, creates a psychological condition that involves overworking, excessive movement or too much tension in the body.
We spend too much time straining ourselves, thinking it’ll get more done. This is why strain gets confused with effort. For instance, just because the workouts hurt and someone is working intensively every day on their figure doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Work is important, but nothing can grow without rest.
When you do work at 100 percent, you stimulate too much tension through your nervous system. 70 percent, rather, is a level that helps you work for longer while relaxed and avoiding injury or fatigue. This principle serves you in most areas of your life.
Self-mastery requires meaningful practice over time. You cannot do one thing exceptionally each day if you push everything to the limit all day.
Self-mastery is not a sprint; it’s a long-distance run. In Qigong, you learn that it’s healthy to practice at only 70 percent of your capacity. You should regularly include a combination of gentle movements, deep breathing and positive intention in everything you do. This will teach you to slow down and understand the important things well.
The rule is also is known as “Effort over time”. When practising Qigong, or anything for that matter, there should always be this sense of being able to do controlled, powerful work over a long period of time—like when you stretch, read, clean, teach or sleep. You should be relaxed, but powerful and extensive. “Full effort without strain”. Think about this the next time you’re washing the dishes, writing, talking to a friend or going for a run.
When we think of effort, there’s usually some sense of wanting to work at or beyond our full capacity. We desire getting things over with, and so we think more is better. But this concept of effort creates negative tension, increases stress and heightens the likelihood of burnout—and, if maintained over time, all diseases associated with high levels of stress.
You leave yourself with no margin of error. It’s all-or-nothing. There is no safety zone. You set yourself up for strain and injury—often afflicting whatever is your weakest link.
Obviously, this is not the right way to build health.
After ascertaining your true 100 percent capacity in anything, stay at 70 percent. It’s easier to put everything into 70 percent—and sustain it—than it is at your maximum. For instance, I know I can write plenty more articles each week, but if I do, I risk burnout. As your 70 percent ability increases, your 100 percent capacity also increases, so I focused on consistently writing a minimum each week and gradually increasing the work as my capacity goes up. If I feel good one week, I’ll use that extra 30 percent of energy and write more.
This is also a common principle in cycling; to increase your “Aerobic ceiling”, you have to spend most of your training time far below your capacity. You only work at your ceiling for a very slim portion of your time—and the ceiling still increases.
This concept is similar to the 85 Percent Rule I wrote about. However, the 70 Percent Rule is more general as it gives you more freedom to avoid strain in many different aspects of your life than only high-stress circumstances.
I didn’t realise how much better living at 70 percent was until recently. I didn’t know it at the time, but living completely at 70 percent helped me achieve more, develop a long-term focused mindset and get out of my burnout last year.
I tried to push for 100 percent in everything I did, every day of every week. It flattened my motivation and happiness. When I brought the effort down and focused on sustainability, I did more in terms of work over the long-term and did less to become more efficient.
With anything, there’s never a need to over-stretch and push yourself all the time. Keep your range of motion and effort below 70 percent. You’ll be more astute when directing your energy towards important work and develop your ability to sustain frequent practice.
Indeed, this rule assumes you are in normal health. If you’re experiencing stress or discomfort at a physical, emotional or mental level, adjust the percentage to suit your condition. Check with a qualified medical practitioner before pushing yourself. And adjust the amount of effort to work on your goals according to how you feel. Try to circumvent the stresses that could affect your body, and be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
Here are some benefits I’ve found with living by the 70 Percent Rule:
Clarity. It gives you a more relaxed view of your inner and outer worlds. At 70 percent, you have more clarity in your choices and feel less pressured to give immediate answers or responses.
Focus. Working at 70 percent likens your focus towards creative solutions rather than problems. When you try to tackle problems at 100 percent, you’re more likely to make mistakes, panic, and overthink things.
Less stress. When you gauge yourself and slow down, you more often recognise that you have time and control to choose what you’d like to do. You can reprioritise according to what’s best for you. You can give yourself the chance to know what you want.
Presence. On the flip side, you also learn to lean into the present without force more often. You are more aware that of the moment you’re in and find it comfortable to be there.
Rested. At 70 percent effort, you spare more energy for rest because you’re not constantly wearing yourself out. Your mind and body strengthen. You don’t feel you need to cram everything in during any given day. You can choose to go to bed earlier, sleep well and rise ready to continue working on a new day.
Better social life. I struggled with saying “no” to people or things that didn’t excite me or make me feel great, normally to avoid upsetting others. But this rule taught me it’s important to have the confidence to do it, so you spend less time and energy on things that don’t matter. You put yourself first as saying “no” to others is often saying “yes” to yourself.
Space and stillness. If 70 percent of your day is dedicated to working and social activities, the remaining 30 percent doesn’t have to be filled with anything. You don’t have to be busy. Give yourself time for stillness. What if you took 30 percent of your day and put it into what you love, like reading, connecting with a close friend, learning a skill, meditating, sleeping or connecting with nature? Give it a try. Don’t let anyone’s poor judgement make you feel bad for it.
More energy. Now you’re not running yourself down trying to do everything at 100 percent, you have more energy to flow back into your engine and the positive things around you. That’s is a permanent gift to yourself.
Constant practice of present awareness and relaxation in everything you do tells you what 70 percent feels like. And I assure you, it’ll bring you a lifelong smile, both on the inside and the outside.
What’s on My Mind
PSA: As of Friday, my book on core training passed 100 sales. 0 to 100 in two weeks. I’m blown away. It means a lot to me, and I thank everyone who has bought it or ever read my work. I appreciate it all.
Here’s an Excerpt from Naval:
“Happiness is more like poetry than algorithms.
I might say, “The way to be happy is X,” and people will respond, “Well, didn’t you just say happiness is a cause of misery?” This is not mathematics. You can’t link algorithms together.
This is more like poetry. If you read 50 poems by the same poet and try to map them out analytically and map words from one poem to another and see if it makes sense, you’ll miss the point. Don’t fixate on the words. Don’t even fixate on the sentences. Ponder the overall thought process and message.”
"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple."
— Jack Kerouac
Article of the Week
This week’s article is whether you should train your core every day. The core I one of my favourite topics. Not just our physical core but our mental and spiritual core as well. Have a read if you like.
Interesting Thing of the Week
Beeple, a 41-year-old illustrator from Wisconsin, created a collage of 5,000 images that he made over as many days. He placed it on auction as an NFT (Non-Fungible Token), and within 2 weeks, it sold for $69.3 million. Insane. It’s now the third most expensive work from a living artist ever sold. I’d recommend reading up about it and learning more about NFT’s if you’re into selling art.
Question of the Week
What are you most proud of over the past week?
Thanks again for everything.