Do you focus on the gains or the gaps?
When is enough, enough?
Turns out, if you’re a talented, high-performing and ambitious individual, enough is never enough.
In his book, The Gap and the Gain: Building your progress and happiness entirely on how your brain works for you, Dan Sullivan talks about a condition which he refers to as “The Gap”. The Gap is the distance between where we currently are and our goal or ideal.
Gaps are a natural part of life and there’s always going to be a gap when you are working towards something you don’t currently have. The reason we find ourselves in “The Gap”, unhappy and left feeling like no matter how far we go it’s never “enough” and that we’re not “good enough”, isn’t that there’s a gap – it’s because we’re measuring our success by the gap itself.
We use The Gap as our measure of success and ultimately our own self-worth. We define our success by measuring where we are – the goal we’ve already achieved – against the ideal we’ve set for ourselves, something is always moving further in the distance. Even when we’re operating on a level that everyone thinks is impressive or superior, we will still feel like we’ve fallen short of our standard because our ideal is somewhere over “there” and we’re somewhere over “here”.
Will the Real Overachiever’s Please Stand Up?
As someone who is a recovering perfectionist and a highly driven individual, this concept hit home for me. I know what I want and where I want to go in various areas of my life. I have my “ideals”. And I constantly measure my progress, success, and self-worth based on my relativity to those things.
I was having a conversation with a friend recently who couldn’t wrap their head around why I was feeling so beat down: “You’ve got packed classes. You’re the most popular and loved instructor. You’re doing what you love and you’re really good at it. You’re succeeding on every level…what’s the problem?”
The problem was, I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wasn’t doing the things I wanted to do. I wasn’t running trainings, developing content, creating fitness formats. I wasn’t at any of the ideals I had set for myself.
There was a point last year where things were lining up that I’d be running trainings and doing the things I had set out to do. And some things fell through for the current time. Other things I was told were not happening. And still other things were pushed off for who knows how long. My ideals that were edging closer, now seemed worlds away and the gap that I thought I was closing became this infinite space that I might never reach.
I was living in The Gap.
Do you focus on the gains or the gap?
The only progress you achieve is the progress that you measure.
Question is, how are you measuring your progress?
Are you measuring your progress against where you want to go – your ideal – or, are you measuring your progress against what you’ve already accomplished and what has brought you to this point?
Using The Gap and The Gain model, Dan Sullivan says that there are two ways that we can measure ourselves: The Gap and The Gain
Your future growth and progress are now based in your understanding about the difference between the two ways in which you can measure yourself: against the ideal, which puts you in what I call “The Gap,” and against your starting point, which puts you in “The Gain,” appreciating all that you’ve accomplished.
When you’re in The Gap, you feel as though you haven’t accomplished anything at all. This is because even though you’ve moved forward, the ideal remains distant from you. The ideal is a moving target. It might even get bigger, leaving you worse off than where you started if you measure against it.
You’ve also used up time and energy getting to where you are, so if you don’t measure the progress, you’ll feel like you’ve wasted that time and energy and have fallen even further behind.
But if you turn around and measure your progress against where you started, then you’re in The Gain, and you’ll experience a sense of having moved forward, of having achieved something, and you’ll be motivated to continue on to your next stage of growth.
Can you think back to the person you were last year or two years ago? What were you doing? What were your relationships like? What was your job like?
Chances are, even if life isn’t exactly where you want it to be, life is very different now.
When I look back to even just a year ago, my life was very different. I was a highly successful fitness instructor. Literally the top of her game by all standards and ranked #11 in my company. I was on a path to be leading Yoga Teacher Training and set out to lead my first solo intenSati training in Philly. On all accounts, I was living success. Despite that, at the time it still felt not enough because I hadn’t actually achieved my ideals.
And a year ago, literally almost exactly a year ago, I lost it all. Within 24 hours I left the club I was at, I left my ranking and packed classes, I left people that had become family to me and was told I’d be starting over.
A year ago, I was everything success looked like and it wasn’t enough.
A year ago, I had also lost everything I thought defined success, which left me not feeling good enough.
A year ago, I was broken and uncertain and painfully hurt by the events that transpired, unsure of my path forward.
A year later, life is very different.
I’ve rebuilt classes from the ground up and have made connections with my new community. In a lot of ways, I’m again living out success…but it still never feels enough.
Measurement creates progress, but only the right kind of measurement allows us to move forward.
Only Measure Backward
From a young age we’ve been trained to see ourselves and the world in three simple forms: past, present and future. And we’re conditioned to fixate on the future from the standpoint of where we are. From “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “What’s next on your bucket list?” we’re constantly looking ahead with blinders on, never back. Or in the rare chance that we do self-reflect and take a glance in the rearview mirror, it’s at pivotal life moments or part of the New Years resolutions should-do’s.
The thing about the future is, the future isn’t a reality – it’s a projection. And because it’s not reality, it can’t be part of any real measurement of your progress.
Look back at it….
Make a Reverse Bucket List
While the traditional bucket list can inspire you to take initiative, it can also make you feel overwhelmed – the shame-y reminder of all the things you haven’t yet done and should be doing. And it’s a quick recipe to landing yourself in “The Gap”.
A reverse bucket list does the opposite. Rather than looking forward, it asks you to hit rewind and to list the things you’ve already done, accomplished and overcome and reflect on what those experiences taught you. It’s an exercise that allows you to tap into nostalgia and gratitude and one that gives a sense of purpose to your progress.
My Reverse Bucket List:
- I was ranked #11 in my company as a fitness performer
- I’ve taught a rooftop yoga class for a Be Well Philly Underground event
- I’ve rebuilt my classes from the ground up five times over the last six years
- I’ve co-led intenSati trainings and am an intenSati Master Trainer
- I create and film monthly content for intenSati leaders
- I’ve had my poetry and writings published
- I’ve had the strength to walk away from a couple of toxic relationships in my life
- I’ve overcome an eating disorder
While I may not be exactly where I think I need to be in my career, health or relationships, making my reverse bucket list reminds me of just how much I have already accomplished and done.
Celebrate Three Wins Daily
Celebrating wins daily is what gives you more fuel for more wins. And research shows that writing down three wins daily with a quick explanation of why they went well, raises self-esteem and improves performance. It’s a win-win.
At the end of each day, identify three wins. What’s a win? Really anything that you’re proud of – from getting up when the alarm went off, to doing your daily meditation, to making it onto your yoga mat for practice, to not reacting when something set you off.
When we learn to acknowledge the small wins, when we celebrate the actuals rather than the ideals, we combat The Gap and live in The Gain.
One of the common misconceptions of life is that we have to seek out happiness or that once we “get” something, then we’ll “be” happy. But really, happiness is the by-product of being where you are, of starting with happiness.
One of the most powerful practices to pull you out of a lack mindset or from the throes of The Gap is gratitude. I won’t go into all the research behind gratitude (there’s quite a bit!), but cultivating a sense gratitude daily increases happiness. In one study, participants who made gratitude lists for 30 days straight were 25% happier than those who didn’t.
So, what are you grateful for today?
Change and growth take time and it’s useful for ourselves – and our mental health – to look at how far we’ve come and to celebrate The Gains, rather than look at The Gap and lament how far we still need to go.
This week, get reacquainted with your rearview mirror and celebrate everything you’ve done that’s brought you to this point.
You’ve come a long way from where you are – and that’s nothing short of amazing.
What’s one thing you’ve accomplished that makes you proud? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.