Do you ever tell yourself, “I have to do this, I have to do that”? Do you feel like your days are packed with too many tasks which cause you lots of stress? Then this article is for you.


This is something that affects so many people and can be really damaging to happiness and the amount of meaningful work we do.

What you’re doing is related to the psychological phenomenon known as ‘learned helplessness’.

Learned helplessness, first observed by Martin Seligman, is the passive acceptance of aversive events or stimuli because of an inability to avoid them previously.

Let’s break that down a little bit. Because previously you have been made to do certain things that you don’t want to, or have had certain things happen to you, without the ability to avoid them, you now won’t choose to avoid them even when you can. Maybe you were told to do some work by a teacher or a boss, and now tell yourself you have to keep doing it.

Learned helplessness was first observed in dogs by Seligman, during his research on depression. The dogs were split into groups and administered shocks. The dogs in one group could end the shocks by pressing a lever, but dogs in the other group did not have a lever. Both groups of dogs were then placed in chambers, where one side gave shocks, and the other did not. The two sides had a barrier between them that the dogs could jump over to avoid shocks. What Seligman found was that the dogs who could previously press the lever jumped the barrier, but the dogs who could not didn’t.

This shows that the dogs who were not able to prevent the shocks the first time, passively accepted their fate the second time.

What Seligman found in dogs in 1975 has a very real connection to human lives today.


The modern life is packed with jobs that we believe we have to do. We have surrendered our own choice.


But the Essentialist has a solution.

Essentialism is about doing only the essential things. Contrary to many time-management strategies, essentialism does not focus on doing more in a shorter period of time, it focuses on cutting out all the activities that are not important. We should cut out all the activities that are not important or that other people used to make us do.

Saying no is a massive part of essentialism.

Once we do this, we generate so much extra time in our day-to-day lives for doing the things that matter – spending time with family and friends, doing activities we enjoy, etc. Essentialism takes the strain off modern life that is crippling to so many individuals and our society as a whole.

But saying no or cutting things out of our live is not something that comes easily to humans. It’s much easier to say yes than no. So, Greg McKeown, author of ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’, gives us an extremely useful tip that can help you cut out the unimportant.

McKeown advises us to follow the 90% rule.

The 90% rule tells us that for every task, we should assign a value between 0 and 100 to only the most important criterion, with 100 being the highest and 0 being the lowest score possible. For example, scrolling through social media might score a 20 and finishing your assignment might score 95 on the criterion of ‘getting a good grade in college or university’.

Once you have done this, you should class everything that scored below 90 as unimportant and disregard it completely. This sounds severe and will be difficult to do, but well worth it.

The method allows you to be harsh on your prioritisation and relieves a lot of pressure by giving you more time to complete your important tasks.


Once you are relieved of the pressures of modern life, you are much more likely to complete your remaining tasks to a higher standard, to feel less stressed and make more appropriate decisions.


As I mentioned, the modern life is packed with jobs that we believe we have to do. Instead of surrendering your own choice, take control of your life by de-cluttering and throwing away the unimportant.


Let us know your thoughts in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.

Please feel free to share with your friends!

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