Place & the Pareto Principle

place planning Jan 03, 2024

As we enter into 2024, many of us will look towards improving our lives in some fashion. Lose weight. Gain muscle. Save money. Reconnect with longtime friends. Find a new job. It can be a long list.

Goals are the easy part. It’s the execution that’s hard. The vast majority of people not only don’t meet their new year goals; most give up before the end of January.

One of the keys to meeting our goals and improving our lives is to turn to actions that have an outsized positive impact.


Lean into The Pareto Principle (80%/20%)

According to Wikipedia, management consultant Joseph M. Juran leveraged insights of economist Vilfredo Pareto to observe that roughly 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. This can also be framed as “the vital view and the useful many”. In mathematics, this is described as a power law distribution.

Applied to our lives, there are certain actions that have an outsized impact in our well-being. For losing weight, it may be avoiding alcohol, sweets, and salty treats. For building muscle, it may be focusing weightlifting on large muscles (more quads than biceps) and adding protein to your diet. For saving more money, it may be creating mechanisms to better track expenses and introducing systems to delay or defer discretionary purchases. For reinvigorating friendships, it may be best to make a mutual commitment to socialize with a good friend on a weekly basis. There are countless examples.

Easy access to the outdoors, such as in places like Colorado, improve the odds of being physically active (Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash)  


Place and the Pareto Principle

One key lever – one of the “vital few” as Juran would describe – is place. Where we live has a tremendous impact on many dimensions of our health and well-being.

Suppose you want to be more active. Certain areas are easier to be active and tend to attract people who live a more active lifestyle. For example, in Colorado, more than 25% of the population meets the weekly recommended levels of aerobic and muscle-strengthening, no doubt aided by a climate and terrain that are conducive to year-round physical activity. An active culture nudges people toward physical activity. We are more likely to be active if those around us are active, and those around us are more active if the environment is conducive to such activity.

Or, let’s say you desire to be more socially connected. You are more likely to do so if you live in a neighborhood where it is common for people to gather and get to know each other. Some places have houses where a front porch is standard and spontaneous gatherings are part of the culture. Indianapolis, for example, has even created a day where porch parties are encouraged across the city. According to research from the Pew Research Center, only about a quarter of people living in cities and suburbs profess to know all or most of their neighbors but some neighborhoods do it better than others. 

Where you live can make healthy lifestyle decisions easy.

Some neighborhoods have a culture of looking out for one another; others don't (Photo by Bill Nino on Unsplash)  


Place as a “Gravity” Problem

On the other hand, some places can make healthy decisions hard. There is simply too much friction in overcoming the inertia to live healthy. For example, it can be difficult to be active when those around you are not and the environment is less conducive to physical activity. Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia are among the least active states, with less than 15% of the population meeting the weekly recommended aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise levels.

Challenges can exist at the neighborhood-level, too. If public safety is a concern, residents will feel less comfortable walking in their area, thereby impacting both their physical health and social connection among neighbors.

Place can be a “gravity” problem: something that simply and inexorably prevents you from meeting your goals. It’s why Blue Zones founder, Dan Buettner, likes to say, “if you want to lose weight or live longer don’t try to change your behavior, change your environment.”


Moving Forward: Start with a Plan

As you look to make the most of 2024, take a moment to gauge whether you are in the right place or making the most out of your current place (the Right Place Assessment is a quick way to assess the fit of your current home). Many positive changes don’t require a change of address. Examples include redecorating or remodeling, re-engaging with friends in your community and finding our opportunities to engage in your community to foster greater purpose.

For major changes to place, it is best not to rush into things. A move to a new place may be the biggest lever to improve your life. However, choosing the wrong place can be a significant setback financially and more. Careful planning has an important role. For some, creating a plan to move to a new home may be the one of the “vital few” actions towards an improved life in 2024 and beyond.


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