Grappling with the “100/0 Principle”

“When you argue with reality, you lose – but only 100% of the time.” – Byron Katie

I said I’d revisit the book The 100/0 Principle, and so I shall.  I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately.  One of the questions in the book is “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”  Honestly, I’d rather be both.  But let’s suppose it’s one or the other. Happy, sure. Obviously I’m tipped that way…

One of the points made in the book is that sometimes we get so busy defending our beliefs/opinions and what we “know” is right, that we lose the relationship for the sake of confirming our expectations.  The ACT literature takes this on too, and asks us to hold our beliefs a little more loosely, so that we are open to other perspectives and interpretations.  A lot of the time, we hold beliefs about ourselves and other people: I’m not a morning person, he’s shy, I’m a procrastinator, etc. that  paint with a broad brush and create expectations that we often fail to question. We fall into ruts and describe ourselves and others in predictable ways, and stay within the limits of what we say we (or they) are all about.  If I’m “not a morning person”, but I want a job that will require that I get up early, I have to decide how important my identity as a night owl really is.  If I begin waking up full of energy, then I’m “wrong” about who I am. It’s outside my comfort zone.  Yes, we can all change, but as I said before, often we don’t care for changing, even if it’s in the service of something good.

The quote for today is true – when you argue with what is, you’re always wrong.  However, I also want us to challenge our assumptions about what is.  Sometimes our belief about reality is not actually reality. Sometimes we think we can’ t possibly do a thing to change something because it’s just a fact, and we resign ourselves to it, or actively work to accept it.  This might be helpful, or it might not.

So how does this relate to 100/0?  Well, the basic idea of the book, as I read it,  is that success in life is largely dependent upon your relationships with other people. And that if you want good relationships, it’s up to you to make them that way.  So, if you and your boss don’t see eye to eye, or  your marriage is on the rocks, or you constantly squabble with family members, you have to decide if you want the relationship to succeed. And if you do, it’s up to you to put 100% effort into it, and expect 0% from the other person.

That’s right. Nothing! Nada. Zip, zilch, big fat goose egg. The other person can make absolutely no effort to change or improve or treat you nicely, and guess what?  You give them 100% anyway. You treat them with respect and kindness and you hold up your end of the relationship with steadfast determination.


When I first read this, I thought this man was a bit touched. I’m typically of the mindset that relationships are two-way streets, with both partners giving some. It’s going to vary, sure. Sometimes it’s 50%/50%, sometimes it’s 80%/20%, you get the idea. But the idea of a consistent “I give all, and expect nothing” mentality sort of grated on me. Shouldn’t I demand respect? Shouldn’t the other person meet me at least partway? Isn’t it “enabling” bad behavior to expect nothing of someone close to you? I am not interested in being a doormat!

To tie in my little picture for today, this 100/0 notion was way outside my comfort zone.  I’ve read the book a few times now (it’s a very quick read).  It is about more than just “giving all” – it describes learning to listen and seeing the perspective of another person, and gives helpful notions for building better relationships.   I came to understand that, even though in the short-term, you are giving 100% and expecting nothing, in the long term, what typically happens is that the relationship improves because your perspective has improved.  You’re happier because your happiness is no longer tied to the other person meeting your expectations. This leads to the other person’s attitude and behavior changing, and they start to give more to make the relationship function better.

What if they don’t change?  According to the book, even then, interesting things happen. You take control of your happiness about the relationship out of the hands of the other person, and into your own. You take full responsibility for doing all you can to make the relationship work, and you don’t allow their behavior (or lack thereof) to affect you negatively.  They don’t make you happy or unhappy; you are in control.  So paradoxically, by expecting nothing, you lose the pain of unmet expectations. All the other person can do is meet your expectation (by giving 0%) or exceed it (by giving anything more than 0%).  I know this sounds a little  bit like a pessimistic viewpoint – I’m not expecting anything good to come of this – but really that’s not the tone of the book at all.  It’s more of an optimistic, take-charge by taking responsibility feel.

I’ll admit, I’m still grappling with this one.  But I’m intrigued, and I’ve tried it out here and there. There are, of course, caveats in the book about types of behavior that are not acceptable and should not be tolerated (criminal behavior, abuse, etc.). Short of those types of problems, though, the premise is that even a pretty crappy relationship has a good chance of being turned around.  It’s sort of like the way you unconditionally love your kids; no matter what they do, you’ll always love them, and do all you can to have a good relationship with them.

What do you think? Ready to give 100% to fix a bad relationship, or improve an okay one? Let me know if some magic happens…

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