Rebuilding Your Strength after a Setback: The 95% Rule

We sometimes find ourselves having to recover from a depleted condition due to depression, disease, serious injury, or some other life challenge that temporarily sidelines us.  While we want to get back to a state of full recovery and function as soon as possible so we can get on with our lives, we may first have to get through a period of emotional and/or physical fatigue, low stamina or diminished strength.  The dilemma is how to rebuild back to normal in the least time possible, without pushing too hard in our haste and creating a setback.  

This dilemma is what inspired the development of the “95% Rule.”  Once any medically recommended rest period has been completed, this rule seems to optimize progress when it’s time to start actively rebuilding toward normal ability, strength, and health.  First, the fundamental concepts on which it is based:

  1. Each day, you have a given amount of emotional and physical ability at your command.  This may be very little in the early days of your recovery, to the point where you feel barely functional.
  2. As you recover, your average daily level of ability will improve, though the pace will not always be even and predictable.  It’s a good idea to have your recovery monitored by a healthcare professional so that you’ll have quick intervention if that becomes necessary, but will otherwise be reassured that what you’re experiencing is within expected ranges.                                                   

So, now you know you have a certain amount of ability to work with each day, that you hope for that ability to generally improve as you recover, but also that it may vary from one day to the next.  This is where the 95% Rule shines.  The idea is that on any given day, your goal is to use up 95% of what is available to you, whatever that is. 

If you’re having a tough day with little available ability, you use 95% of that little bit. That may mean just taking a shower, managing to read a bit, perhaps calling a friend, or getting out for a brief, easy walk if you’re able.  The goals must be commensurate with the ability you have that day, but they must use most of what you have to work with, both emotional and physical.

On a better day with more energy, you again aim to use 95%.  Since you have more to work with, the goals will be more involved.  Maybe this is a day when, in addition to the basic tasks of self-care, you add something lightly productive.

As your ability improves, you always aim for that 95% mark.  This will benefit you in two distinct ways.  First, in order to maximize the processes of growth and healing in your recovery, you need to challenge your system at a level that is a bit taxing; a goal of 95% assures that you will do that.  In addition, it naturally generates goals and accomplishments that are gradually closer to your normal way of living, at a rate that supports reliable progress.   

It's very important to try not to exceed 95% when you are building your way back from a depleted state, however.  If you misjudge and go over 100%, that can set you back for days due to the frustrating and demoralizing consequences to trying to use what you don’t have.  That five percent that you try to never use is the safety margin that protects you from an accidental overshot. 

When you've hit the 95% mark about right on a given day, the feeling will be one of having managed a level of challenge that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment but not painful exhaustion.  The “good tired,” if you will.  

Your confirmation that you're hitting the 95% mark with relative consistency over time is that you continue to improve, with no plunging setbacks due to overexertion. Remember, your recovery is likely to have natural ups and downs; the 95% Rule assures that you work within the natural limits of each day. It doesn't matter how you did last week or even yesterday.  Just go for 95% of whatever you have today whether or not it's what you expected, and you’ll get back to your normal self in the shortest reasonable time.

The 95% Rule is best activated at different times depending on your issue.  When in doubt, consult with your healthcare professional to determine how you might use this to best advantage alongside whatever treatment and therapeutic support has been recommended for you.  The 95% Rule refers only to your personal self-management during your recovery, and is not meant to replace or over-ride any recommendations made by your treatment team.  With that in mind, the guidelines below will give you a good starting place for several common reasons that a recovery period may become necessary.   


Copyright © 2014, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.


Some other articles you may find useful:


Essential Truths about Your Body 

 Self-Help for Intense Anxiety

Grief: What You Need to Know

Depression Myths and Facts

Depression: Who Gets It and Why

Depression: Coping and Treatment Options

Finding Time Where There is None


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