Renaissance Ranch

Applying Clayton Christensen’s 100/98 Rule to Addiction Recovery

Jun 22, 2015

Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and leading innovative thinker who also happens to be LDS, is world-renowned for his theory of disruptive innovation. In fact, Forbes in 2011 named him “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years.” In 2012 he published a book titled How Will You Measure Your Life?, which was originally a speech given at Harvard University and in 2010 was published as an article in the Harvard Business Review. The book shares inspiration and wisdom for living a fulfilling life, offering powerful advice that will help students, seasoned professionals, and parents alike. One of the most memorable lessons taught in the book is best summed up in his statement that “it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”

Clayton M. Christensen shares that he learned this powerful lesson while playing basketball for his university’s basketball team in England. The team had spent an entire season training hard and played so well that they eventually made it to the championship game. There was only one problem: the championship game was on a Sunday. Christensen had made a firm commitment at age 16 not to play basketball on the Sabbath, and this would be no exception. After much deliberation over the decision of whether or not to break this commitment “just one time,” Christensen prayed about the decision and received a very clear feeling that he needed to keep his commitment to the Sabbath. So he told his coach that he couldn’t play in the championship game.

The basketball team won the championship game anyway. This is what Clayton Christensen has to say when looking back on his experience:

“I realize that resisting the temptation of ‘in this one extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay’ has proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? Because life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over and over in the years that followed.”

This profound advice applies well to those who are undergoing recovery from addiction to alcohol or other addictive substances. Many go into treatment and the early stages of recovery with the mindset that eventually the addiction will be cured completely, and that there will be no risks associated with casual substance use in the future. The problem with this mindset, however, is that using just once during recovery has the potential to re-activate an addiction. And once you have justified using one time, there’s nothing stopping you from making those same justifications again and again.

So when it comes to navigating the early stages of recovery and considering how much easier it would be to give in to temptation, remember Clayton Christensen’s 100/98 rule. Christensen puts it this way: “Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules ‘just this once.’ In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.”

Lee Williams, LCSW, SUDC is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Substance Use Disorder Counselor. He graduated from the University of Utah with a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with Certification in Criminology and Corrections. He is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. His professional experience in the field of addiction has been centered on mental health and forensic social work. Lee has actively worked in a 12-step approach to the treatment of substance use disorder for over a decade. In addition to his love for working in the field of addiction, Lee’s greatest joys are in his experiences as a husband and father.
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