How I Use This 114-Year-Old Principle to Avoid Social Overwhelm

For all the exhausted introverts. Extroverts are welcome too.

Louie Cruz
Dec 16, 2019 · 14 min read

You’re all peopled out so you’ve closed yourself off from other humans.

If you could only do this forever…

But you know for a fact that socializing is inevitable.

We can trace this back from the beginning of mankind. Humans started with little to no group, reproduced but soon die off.

They later found out that to survive, they need to stay in groups. They learned how to leverage different skill sets of people so they can thrive. They eventually learned language and communication.

Throughout history, humans learned the benefits of socializing and connection. It’s the core of what we are and what we have now.

The advancement of the internet made it even possible and easier to connect with others even from miles away through social media, online forums and online communities.

Socializing is a necessity and you know that. We’re social animals after all.

But let me ask you:

How do you thrive when socializing overwhelms the heck out of you?

Or should I say…

How do you survive when social interaction is killing you?

This is what we’re going to discuss in this post.

The answer lies in this century-old principle that I’m about to show you. You’ll discover how to get more of socializing while socializing less.

Sounds good? You don’t want to miss this next part…

The Energy-Reward System

Before we dive in, let’s briefly discuss the root cause of this problem first: Our seemingly too little social energies compared to others.

The truth is, only until you know how energy works can you make social interaction fun and less draining.

I’m sure you’re with me on this one…

If you’re an introvert like me, chances are we share some common social struggles such as:

  1. Too much exposure to social interaction is extremely draining.
  2. Not having enough alone time screws your day.
  3. You’re too fed up with people’s judgments about you wanting to be alone (calling you things like a killjoy or a party-pooper) resulting in guilt.
  4. You’re too afraid you might do something wrong and embarrassing in front of a crowd.
  5. You overthink about what others might think of you when you’re out there in the public.

So you must be wondering… Why are we like this?

It has something to do with our brains. Don’t worry though, I’m not here to bore you with Science and stuff so I’ll just explain this casually.

Simply put, the more excited we are in a reward, the more energized we become. This is because of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brain.

Now, extroverts have a more active dopamine reward system than introverts. That means extroverts are more excited and responsive to rewards than the introverts.

This explains why introverts are dispirited on doing things that extroverts may find appealing just because introverts are indifferent to the rewards.

That would also explain why extroverts prefer noise and activities while introverts pursue more laid-back and quiet activities.

The activities that energize the extroverts, drain the introvert — and vice versa.

Once drained, known as social hangover, social limits, social drain, or social exhaustion, an introvert will then seek solitude and go somewhere quiet.

Image Source: My favorite Introvert Doodles!

That’s why we introverts want more “me” time than “socializing with others” time. Rewards to socializing are inadequate to compensate for the energy we’re going to lose by doing so.

Then it finally dawned on me…

When I’ve discovered how energy works as an introvert, I began learning some methods to help me cope with introversion.

Like I said before, social interaction is a must for every human. We need to somehow work with others, hear their noises and interact with them.

I then stumbled upon this principle that’s perfect to use when socializing. Heck, it’s also applicable to other areas of life!

Using this principle, you can:

  • Avoid trying to like everybody but only focus on key people.
  • Avoid social overwhelm (no more social hangover).
  • Achieve more socially by socializing less.
  • Use the same principle in other areas of your life (it’s that powerful!).

So what is this principle? Here’s the big secret…

The Vital Few and the Trivial (Useful) Many

In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

Later in 1941, Joseph M. Juran stumbled upon the work of Pareto and saw that it can be applied to business as well.

For example, he argued that:

  • 20% of our efforts produce 80% of our results.
  • 80% of the project’s result comes from 20% of the members.
  • 20% of the customers generate 80% of businesses’ income.

Juran called this phenomenon, “Vital few and the trivial many” though in later years, he preferred to call it “Vital few and the useful many” because at the end of the day the other 80% serves some purpose and shouldn’t be ignored.

Today, this principle is popularly known as the Pareto Principle or the 80–20 Rule. This phenomenon applies across any other area of our life.

Image Source

For example:

  • 20% of your relationships lead to 80% of your overall happiness.
  • 80% of your good health comes from 20% of your health regimens.
  • 20% of your time management skills lead to 80% of your productivity.
  • 20% of your habits lead to 80% of your life’s improvement.

I love the 80/20 rule…

And here’s why you should love this too:

  • Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs use it. We’re talking about the guys like Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.

“No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time. There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day. Warren has a keen sense of this. He doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings.”

Bill Gates learning from Buffett

  • It helps you prioritize. Focusing on the vital 20% is the best way to spend less time while achieving vast results.

“The way to create something great is to create something simple.”

Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less

  • It can be applied to any other key areas of our life. This mental model is so powerful yet stupidly straightforward to use.
Image from Dean Yeong’s article about the Pareto Principle.

And the very reason why you should love this principle?

It’s PERFECT for introverts!

Think about it… If we can just pinpoint the 20% that produces the vital portion of our results, then we can just focus our time and efforts on that and we technically achieve more by doing less.

Since we introverts have limited social energy, we should at least learn to spend it on connections and relationships that matter.

  • Devote your social batteries on the vital few persons who can help you the most.
  • Attend the vital few events that give you the most opportunity and exposure.
  • Asking only the vital few questions so you won’t be overwhelmed by typical shallow small talk.

This is how you get more of socializing by socializing less.

Isn’t this cool? Now let’s take a look at how to apply this mental model in your social life.

The Principle in Action

Knowing about this principle is just half part of the solution. The other half is to apply it in our life. In this case, whenever we socialize.

It will be hard and weird at first but with constant practice, you’ll be able to apply this principle on autopilot (without even thinking about it).

I’ll show you how to exactly do that…

For now, let’s take a look at how I use this principle in my social life and how can you apply the same as well.

Let me break this principle down for you…

  1. Know your goal.
  2. Identify the optimization variable (what you’re trying to find the 80/20 for).
  3. Ask yourself: What’s the 20% of [optimization variable] that causes 80% of the [goal]?

Now, let’s do this together step by step…

Step #1: Know your Goal. Since the primary purpose of this article is to improve our social life, we’ll focus on this.

Goal: Avoid social overwhelm.

Step #2: Identify the optimization variable. To identify this, ask yourself: What are all the ways that the 80/20 Rule is relevant to my social overwhelm?

I’ve identified some optimization variables in the past. I’m going to share some of it with you here. This varies from person to person so I encourage you to make your comprehensive list.

Mine are:

Optimization Variable: Person, Conversations, Meeting Place, Events and Transactions.

Step #3: Time to answer this: What’s the 20% of [optimization variable] that causes 80% of the [goal]?

To help us answer this, let’s put everything into perspective. I suggest making a table that looks something like this in your word processor (or writing one in a piece of paper).

Time to populate the third column.

I’ll give you some tips on how I determine the 80/20 of the optimization variables we’ve identified here.

The optimization variables:

1. Person

I network and give most of my time to the persons who I know will give me the most impact on life. It may be in my career, personal development or overall happiness in life.

Examine what kind of relationship or friendship are you looking for and find others who share the same social conditions.

Your action steps:

  1. Answer this question: Who are the 20% of people in your life that helps you avoid 80% of your social overwhelm?
  2. List them down in the third column.
  3. Spend more time on people that are less likely to drain your social batteries or those who are worth it. Usually, these are the people who make a considerable impact in your life, devote most of your time to them— family, close friends, etc. — this way, you’re only spending energy on the ones who matter the most.

Our table will look like this:

Additional tip: The best way I’ve found to identify the 20% of people that make the 80% impact in your life is by doing the Gratitude Visit. Learn more about it here.

2. Conversations

For introverts, small talk is pointless and draining. On the other hand, we find meaningful and deep conversations exciting and energizing.

Meaningful conversations are your vital 20% whenever you find you find yourself in a 1 on 1 or group setting.

So how do you make a conversation more meaningful and interesting? Some tips that work for me are:

  • Asking open-ended questions. These are the questions NOT answerable by Yes or No. These questions give the person a chance to tell their story and have a more thoughtful reply which can be leveraged throughout the conversation.
  • Expressing genuine curiosity. Listen well to what the other person is telling you and ask curiosity-filled questions. Don’t just jump through topics like you don’t even value the conversation.
  • Talking about “interest overlap”. Chances are you have some passions that the other person is also passionate about. Discuss them. Discuss things that both of you are already interested in. This creates a mood that both of you find relatable. This establishes a genuine connection.
  • Asking for their life’s update. This only works if you’ve met the other person before (at least once) AND you’ve remembered some of the things they’ve shared in the past — like the projects they’re working on or the hobbies they’re currently into. When you meet the person again, ask for an update.
  • Equip yourself with killer conversation starters. Don’t underestimate the power of conversation starters. They can make any normal conversations awesome. Check out these 57 amazing conversation starters that help spark interesting, deep and memorable conversations with anyone.
  • Be specific enough and see what sticks. This one is powerful. Try to share some specific and small details about yourself and see how the other person responds. Did he show some interest by asking more about it? Leverage on that. Did he simply nod and said “Oh cool!” and seemed like disinterested? Move on to sharing some other small details until you find something that sticks. Learn more about this here and here.

Your action steps:

  1. Answer this question: What are the 20% of the conversations that help you avoid 80% of your social overwhelm?
  2. List them down in the third column.
  3. Avoid small talk. Engage in meaningful conversations starting by using the tips I gave above.

3. Meeting place

Most of us loathe going out not because we hate socializing but because we hate socializing in a particular place.

Crowded and noisy places can easily overwhelm us.

Serene places like the coffee shop are your best friend. A place like this is your vital 20%. Whenever you have to meet someone, try to control and be the one to suggest the meeting place.

Your action steps:

  1. Answer this question: What are the 20% of the meeting places that help you avoid 80% of your social overwhelm?
  2. List them down in the third column.
  3. Avoid going to the places you’re most likely to be overwhelmed. If possible, suggest a meeting place you’re more comfortable with.

4. Events

Not all events are introvert-friendly. Parties disinterest us.

But we can find joy with events like tree-planting and volunteering for a cause. Meaningful events are your vital 20%.

Your action steps:

  1. Answer this question: What are the 20% of events that help you avoid 80% of your social overwhelm?
  2. List them down in the third column.
  3. Whenever you’re invited to one of the events you’ve listed down, know that it’s worth participating because you’ll likely have a good time.
  4. Reject or minimize participating in the events out of your list.

5. Transactions

Personal interactions are generally overwhelming. You need to get into transactions without feeling socially depleted.

The answer? Doing it online. This is 20%.

  • Need to buy something? Try online shopping and ordering.
  • Want to know something? Join and ask relevant online communities.
  • Need to respond? Just reply with an email if possible.
  • Checking in on your friend’s whereabouts? Just do it through social media perhaps?

Of course, nothing beats personal conversations and interactions. If you have the extra energy, go out then.

If you have only limited people-energy to spare, just doing it online will give you the most returns.

Your action steps:

  1. Answer this question: What are the 20% of transactions that help you avoid 80% of your social overwhelm?
  2. List them down in the third column.
  3. Save your energy! Just do them online, at the most convenient time and place in the comforts of your home.

6. Activities

Not all activities are created equal. Some of them drain your energy but some of them energize you — identify them.

Your action steps:

  1. Answer this question: What are the 20% of activities that help you avoid 80% of your social overwhelm?
  2. List them down in the third column.
  3. Engage in the activities you find relaxing. Avoid or spend less time on those which you find energy-draining.

As if that’s not enough…

Additional Tips for You:

#1. Turn the goal negatively or positively if it makes identifying your 80/20 easier.

In our example, our goal is to: To avoid social overwhelm. This goal is in negative form.

Sometimes, flipping it around and making a positive statement is easier. So your goal could be: To identify what drains my energy the most.

Looking back at my previous example, instead of identifying the activities that help you avoid social overwhelm, just identify those activities that drain your energy. It just involves some small tweaking to the question you’ll be asking yourself.

So ask yourself this instead: “What are the 20% of activities that drains the most of my energy?”

Sometimes it’s much easier to just identify what you need to ignore instead of what you need to do or acknowledge. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. So just see what works for you!

#2. You can further determine the 80/20 or your 80/20.

Going back to our example, if you’ve come up with 20 activities that drain your social energy, you can further identify the 20% of those activities that create (or avoid) 80% of your goal.

To do this, just ask yourself: “In my current list, what are the activities that drain the most of my energy?”

#3. Use this principle to other areas in your life.

Don’t just stop right here. Use this principle to every area of your life.

The key here is to:

  • Exactly pinpoint what to ignore so you free up new time and save more of your precious energy.
  • Exactly pinpoint what to pursue and acknowledge to prioritize your time on things that make a massive impact in your professional and personal life.

Just create each table for other areas of your life — health, career, financial, spiritual, etc. and determine your 80/20 using the method I showed you here.

#4. Practice and consistency are key.

Using this principle can be second nature to you. The secret lies in doing this consistently. With enough practice, you’ll be making optimized social (or life) decisions. The principle can become a part of your daily life decisions.

So my challenge to you is: As you’re facing social obligations throughout your day, just constantly ask yourself: “How can I apply the 80/20 model to this?”

And let me clarify these…

  1. It’s not an exact 80/20. It can be 90/10 or 70/30. The exact value is impossible to gauge. The essence of this principle is that only a few vital things are responsible for the majority of our results.
  2. Be as diverse as possible. Say, your 80/20 people only consist of those who you know from business, then you’ll be limiting your relationship building. Be diverse. Widen your scope. Consider different personalities, a wide range of activities, etc.
  3. Make sure your 80/20 is the best fit for you. If it goes against your ethics, morals, or abilities then consider changing your decisions. Make sure you love what you do.

Your Turn to Escape Social Exhaustion

So you want to avoid a future social hangover by just crossing out socializing in your to-do list.

You may feel you’re capable of living your life without the need for other people. Staying at home alone is enjoyable. It’s better that way, isn’t it? Less drama and more energy on doing things we love to do alone.

While this can be true to some extent, a greater need for alone time shouldn’t be an excuse to disassociate, disconnect and loosen your bonds with others.

Socializing is the core of being human. It’s unavoidable— though we can break free from social overwhelm by choosing and prioritizing our social obligations.

It all boils down to this:

Do less of the ones that drain you and do more of those that energize you. Start now by using the 80–20 rule.

When we exactly know how, who or when to socialize and accept the fact that the people are out there not to pull us down but to help us grow, we would no longer experience extreme energy drain but instead get to enjoy it.

Check out my other article/s:

A special thanks to Michael Simmons. I had been a member of his Mental Model Club where I learned how to take advantage of different mental models in our daily life like the one I featured here, the Pareto Principle.

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Louie Cruz

Written by

Accountant at day, blogger at night! I’m serving my fellow introverts by writing stuff they’ll love; while helping extroverts understand the introverts better.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

Louie Cruz

Written by

Accountant at day, blogger at night! I’m serving my fellow introverts by writing stuff they’ll love; while helping extroverts understand the introverts better.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

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