The only language I’m fluent in is English, although I know a handful of words and phrases – like hello, goodbye, good morning, good night, please, and thank you – in half a dozen or so other languages. And, thanks to watching Sesame Street with my kids when they were small, I can sing the numbers one to ten in Spanish.

There are limited times and places I have the opportunity to use this knowledge, but I just learned a new phrase in Japanese that I plan to start using every day. It’s “Hara hachi bu.”

The basic translation is “Eat until you’re 80% full.” I’ve just learned that people in Okinawa say it before each meal as a reminder not to overeat.

I discovered the phrase in the book, The Blue Zones Challenge—A 4-Week Plan for a Longer, Better Life. “Blue Zones” refers to five places in the world where people live the longest and have the healthiest lives. The author has spent decades researching, studying, and writing about these places. The Blue Zones Challenge is his latest book on the subject, and shares lifestyles and habits of the healthiest, longest-living people in the world. Including hara hachi bu.

It could be argued that you can’t know when you’re 80% full until you know when you’re 100% full. I could also point out that my first step needs to be learning to stop eating when I’m 100% full – even if there’s still food on my plate, or a delicious dessert waiting in the wings. I’m working on that. But telling myself “Hara hachi bu” at the beginning of each meal may remind me to take less food in the first place.

It occurs to me that the principle of hara hachi bu is something I can use in other areas of my life, too. Anytime I feel overwhelmed by the size or scope of something I need to do, or when I get in an “All or nothing” mentality – which often results in either burnout or paralysis – I can remind myself to aim for completing 80% of the job. That should be enough to get me started, and I’ll bet that in most cases, by the time I get to 80%, it will be easy to continue on and complete the task. Or at least to feel a sense of accomplishment for as far as I’ve gotten, rather than frustrated that I didn’t get everything done in one fell swoop.

In case you’re curious about the book or the Blue Zones, the author is Dan Buettner. The original Blue Zones he discovered and studied are Sardinia, Italy; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and Ikaria, Greece.

If you decide to make “Hara hachi bu” a part of your life in any way, please let me know how it turns out. I’d love to hear your results!

Arigato. Gracias. And thank you.

January 15, 2022
©Betty Liedtke, 2022

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