The 85% Rule: Thriving Under Stress
Welcome to Self-Mastery — a place for exploring timeless ideas to become the architect of your mind, create yourself and do less, better.
One of the things I’ve learnt over the years about a world-class athletes’ mindset is their thought processes are easily transferrable to how we can tackle our own everyday challenges. How top performers think and then perform are quite replicable in that we can learn from what they do to achieve our goals and work effectively in a more succinct way.
A mental model I discovered recently from them is the 85% Rule.
I heard about this rule through Hugh Jackman—someone who’s been a high-level performer for decades. What I admire about Hugh Jackman's story is how he went from singing in theatres to rejection to becoming Wolverine and, more recently, retracing to a role as The Greatest Showman.
He wasn’t lucky, or at all gifted in singing or acting; rather, he cultivated a phenomenal work ethic, routine, ritual, and mindset that got him to think better, live better, perform well under stress, and transform his physical appearance astoundingly.
He worked hard to get where he is, like many of the world’s best athletes. It’s not easy to oscillate between eccentric performances in theatres and movies to become introverted but brute Wolverine. But he did it, and he did it with excellence.
The industry he lived in—like the world of professional sports—is harsh on everyone. It takes a towering mountain of self-belief and confidence to get to the top—without being too critical of yourself or others. Hugh Jackman is one of the few to do it. So, what is this 85% Rule he uses? How do he and many athletes perform better as the pressure goes up?
Aside from his tremendous knowledge and routines in meditation, well-being, and physical performance, he follows a mantra of centring around relaxation, form, and optimising your mind and body in the right way.
He references that the best runners, Usain Bolt, for example, stay calm at the beginning of a sprint, then slowly build their effort up to a wildly intense, but controlled pace, and finally soar past their competitors like an eagle zooming through a valley.
This is because they train themselves to think they’re running at 85% capacity, not 100%.
“If you tell most A-type athletes to run at 85% capacity, they will run faster than if you tell them to run at 100%, because it’s more about relaxation, and form, and optimising the muscles in the right way.”
When you train yourself to work at 85% of your capacity, you naturally perceive this to be far easier than going full gas. It’s because you start to feel less pressure and worry less about whether you’ll succeed. Your focus turns to high-output centred around consistency.
Jackman noted that many athletes excel at focusing on this rule either before, during or after a performance. And he says they are so calm because mastering the art of control and separating emotions from objective form and technique is a crucial part of their exhausting regime.
The very best at anything make it look easy because they’ve mastered the 85% rule. Writers, engineers, singers, chefs, racing drivers, managers, mum’s and dad’s; anyone can embody this rule and make it work for them.
How to start using The 85% Rule
To make what you do look easy takes a hell of an effort over a long time; you still need to output exceptional levels of effort to refine how efficiently you work. However, it doesn’t take long to apply the 85% rule and start seeing results almost immediately.
For this, you need to remind yourself that intensity, force, and stress should never override your form, technique, systems and mechanisms that help you achieve your goals. Train yourself to work hard—but still think you’ve got plenty in the tank. Consistent composure is key.
And when you learn to control the powerful energy you bear inside yourself, channel it towards achieving sublime form and graceful technique. When you can make things look easy, you become great. When you then add your emotion, flair and panache, you become a master.
Apply it to sitting down and writing, cleaning the house, or anything where being too tense is not your friend.
“Your results are not always going to be better because you’re expending 100% of your energy on them.”
Keep your form and relax. Master your mind and muscles. Smile and breathe. And remind yourself you’re only at 85%. Whether it’s during your next run, writing session, singing lesson or online competitive game. Create the perception in your head that you’re in control and singing when things get rough. Your perception of your effort dictates tiredness and plays a big role in your mental fatigue than what you’re actually doing.
Strive for steady and continuous. Always give yourself a tiny bit of room to breathe and drop the shoulders. Don’t wander as though a maximum effort is always needed.
You’ll journey much further—and faster than most—when you tell yourself that 85% is enough.
What’s on My Mind
This week I was hit with a cold truth.
I realised that all this time, I’ve been lying to myself.
I used to write with an aim to express myself in your eyes a way that was overly simple and minimalistic. Like Ernest Hemingway. But the truth was: it’s not entirely me.
It’s true when they say you should write how you speak—not how others speak. But I hadn’t found my voice just yet. So I tried to find it through other writers.
But this week, I submitted an article to one of my favourite publications. They said I lacked a personal touch; I was distant from my true self. I realised that. And it dawned on me that how I wrote felt a bit like some of the meals I cook: bland.
Funnily enough, I was studying how to improve the style of my prose at the time, and with the feedback from the editors of the publication helped, I added new touches of flavour and zest to my writing. And the article was one of the most well-recieved pieces I’ve had just after publishing.
I took note of what readers had labelled my writing: zest, fresh, eloquent, yet actionable and direct—and I realised that this is me. Now, I’m working on embodying this feedback and creating a balancing act between composing pieces in my favoured minimalistic writing style, but with added silk and freshness.
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
— Beverly Sills
Article of the week
This week’s article addresses a key problem with sustaining motivation. One of the biggest questions I’ve found in life is “How can I stay motivated?”. So, I wrote a small piece to go over that.
Question of the week
Where do you want to invest your energy in your life?
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