In the summer of 2017, I hit a wall. I had already reached all my goals for the year, but they didn’t do anything for my spirit. I was unhappy.
The reason why didn’t occur to me until a meeting I had with other business owners in November. During this time, I was deep in counseling, so my emotions were raw and illumination was readily available. I told these other owners I wanted to scale my business much more… and then it hit me.
The reason I was unhappy was because my goal kept shifting into the future. This goal was far different than the business growth goal I achieved earlier in the summer. And now, I had quickly moved on to another goal without any celebration or recognition of how far I’ve come.
I was living in what Dan Sullivan calls, the Gap.
And chances are, if you are disappointed with where you are in life, you too are living in the Gap.
Are you living in the Gap?
Imagine your ideal life. Maybe you have more money, have children, have a bigger house, or have the respect you so long for. This idea life is way out into the future, and you want it.
Problem is, every time you look at where you are in comparison to that future ideal life, it seems so far away. This makes you sad, depressed, and maybe want to give up hope.
The Gap, a concept popularized by coach Dan Sullivan, is the distance between where you are now and your future ideal. For many of us, this distance is a large chasm we can’t hope to cross. And this is okay.
The problem with measuring yourself against the ideal is that the ideal is always shifting. Our concept of the ideal life will keep on changing and stretching out farther into the future.
If we keep basing our happiness on the distance from our ideal life, we’ll always be disappointed. And this disappointment is detrimental to our future happiness.
- It stops us from trying before we begin.
- It keeps us in a state of hopelessness and despair.
- It hinders us from accessing the happiness we have now.
In my business, I was always disappointed because I wanted to be further along. Many of you might be disappointed right now because you want to reach that ideal life now, but all you see is the distance between where you are and where you want to be, and it seems hopeless.
Fortunately, there is a better way to view your position in life, one that will give you happiness now. It’s what Dan Sullivan calls, the Gain.
How the Gain will make you happy
The Gain is the distance between where you are and where you started. When you measure the Gain, you turn around and look at all the progress you’ve made. You learn to appreciate this progress, and use it as fuel to push you forward.
Instead of living in constant disappointment, you can live in constant gratitude.
In his book, The Gap and the Gain, Dan Sullivan argues that our disappointment, cynicism, and hopelessness for a better future is because:
- We weren’t setting a goal.
- We were measuring wrong.
An ideal, a vague and general future, is often confused with a goal, something specific and measurable. When people don’t reach ideals, which happens because the ideal is always changing, they become cynical. This is why you see your News Feed littered with people saying how they hate goals at the beginning of the year. They had ideals, not goals.
Goals are specific and measurable. While you can’t accurately measure “be more healthy” (an ideal), you can measure “exercise twice a week” (a goal).
Reading this might lead you to believe that ideals are all bad and only deal with fantasy. This is false. Ideals are good.
The purpose of ideals is to illuminate what our goals should be. Our goals then become specific and measurable steps we can take in the direction of our ideal life. Goals are how we become the people we want to be. And they’re achievable.
We measure wrong when we look at the Gap, the distance between where we are and our ideal. This will only leave us disappointed, cynical, and hopeless.
We measure right when we look at the Gain, the distance between where we are and where we started. By looking at how far we’ve come, we can change our perspective, and use this to fuel more progress toward our goal.
Here are a few reasons why you should live in the Gain to stay in a state of joy:
1. The Gain helps foster confidence.
We are our own worst enemies. When you set out on a new path, the voice in your head is often the meanest. It tells you you’re not doing enough or you’re not doing good. This voice destroys our confidence.
But once we turn around and start acknowledging how far we’ve travelled from our starting point, this voice becomes kind. You turn from your own worst enemy to your biggest fan.
Confidence is the key to keep us moving forward. When we don’t believe in ourselves, our ability and competence, we don’t reach for a goal.
Looking at the Gain helps us acknowledge that we have made progressed. Celebrating this win gives us the momentum to move forward.
In a recent study, people were prompted to spend a few minutes a day writing about things that went well. Three weeks later, their stress levels dropped and their health improved. Celebrating small wins helps us stay healthy, stay positive, and stay in motion.
2. The Gain inspires you about the future.
When we measure ourselves against the ideal, the future becomes something disappointing that shuts us down.
Our ideals are not meant for this. Our ideals are meant to inspire us and promote forward motion.
The bright side about the ideal always changing is that it keeps our goals growing bigger and bigger. Our goals become more ambitious the more inspired we are about our future. And ambitious goals, as proven by a recent study, make us more satisfied.
We need to keep hope for our future. It’s the only thing that’ll keep us growing and happy. Living in the Gain allows for this to happen.
3. The Gain gives you happiness now and in the future.
Oftentimes when we try to reach an ideal, we make our happiness contingent upon that ideal. Happiness is something you have to strive for.
Dan Sullivan argues that we don’t set and achieve goals because we want to be happy. We set and achieve goals because we are happy and we want to expand on that happiness.
If happiness is something you have to go and hustle for, you’ll never reach it, and you won’t continue with goals. But if happiness is something you have now, you’ll set positive goals to expand upon your happiness.
The way to achieve this happiness is to look at your progress and start with positive emotions. This encourages you to set more goals for more happiness.
4. The Gain makes you more likely to achieve progress.
As you experience these positive emotions, you broaden your mindset, which then allows you to build the skills necessary to make more forward progress. This is in accordance with the “Broaden-and-Build” theory.
We don’t just need positive emotions to have greater wellbeing. Positive emotions actually make us more successful.
When you measure the Gain, you’ll experience positive emotion that helps you build the skills required for even more success.
5. The Gain increases gratitude and celebration.
When reaching for ambitious goals, the temptation is to not rest until the goal is achieved. You’ll celebrate when you get there.
But studies show that celebration actually helps you get there. As proven by this study cited before, celebration of what went right reduced stress for workers. Celebrating small wins also keeps people motivated and productive.
When you’re grateful and celebrate, you increase your likelihood of reaching your goals.
How to live in the Gain
It can be difficult to acknowledge the Gain when society all around you likes to shove the ideal in your face. But the good news is, when you set goals in the direction of your ideals, you will make progress. In fact, you already have made progress. There is forward motion you’ve made in life, even if you can’t see it.
To increase the visibility of your progress, start a journaling habit. Celebrate your small wins and see how far you’ve come.
Also, set specific and measurable goals you can actually attain. Don’t confuse your ideals for goals. But instead, set goals that are ambitious yet achievable.
When you set these goals and start reaching for them, something strange will happen: you will make progress. And with a journaling habit, you can look back and celebrate that progress to inspire even more progress.
This is what it looks like to live in the Gain. The Gap will only result in disappointment, cynicism, and hopeless. But the Gain will give you joy right now.
Live in the Gain, not the Gap.
**This concept was learned from Dan Sullivan. If you want to explore it more, I suggest you read his book, The Gap and the Gain.