"The Gap and The Gain" is the big idea of a book
by executive coach Dan Sullivan and psychologist Dan Hardy about how we
measure our progress in the pursuit of big goals and the effect that
has on our happiness and overall well being.
Dan Sullivan's focus is on high achieving business people which is not surprising given that he is a very successful executive coach charging very high fees for his services.
I am writing about this is because the basic idea of the gap
and the gain has a far wider application than executive coaching and touches on something that
affects many, if not most, of us.
Goal oriented people - which is most of us - have an ideal that they are moving towards. This ideal is a moving target that is always out of reach and their measurement of progress always shows that they have fallen short. Their mindset is one of "stuck in seeking". This is the gap.
In contrast, happy contented people measure their progress against their former selves and where they have come from. This is the gain.
You can see this illustrated in the schematic above.
A forward measurement. It measures the distance between where we are now and where we think we want to be - which is always and ideal goal and by its very nature is always a moving target that remains out of reach.
An external measurement. It measures against something that is external to us and to which we have an attachment.
A mindset of avoiding now to get to there.
A mentality of lack, scarcity and "not having".
A backwards measurement. It measures your progress to date about where you have from.
An internal measurement. It is a self-referential measurement. You don't measure against your ideals nor do you compare yourself to anything that is external to you. You define your progress.
Something that you know you don't need. You don't have an unhealthy attachment to the pursuit of your goals.
A mindset of self determination. You define what success means to you.
Courtesy of Dan Sullivan and "The Strategic Coach" you can download this free illustrated ebook presentation of The Gap And The Gain.
How Your Lizard Brain Sabotages Your Happiness
The fundamental problem is that we are hardwired to the gap as our default setting.
Why? Because this is the function and purpose of our amygdala aka "The Lizard Brain" which is responsible for our instinctive drives.
As Seth Godwin pithily put it:
"The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry and horny"!
The lizard brain doesn't think reflectively it reacts automatically to what it sees in front of it. The result of these primal drives is that:
Our default setting is: "What can go wrong?" Our conscious mind and our ego get involved and "thinking mind" starts a thought stream of anxiety, insecurity and loss of control.
Our problem-solving drive kicks in. We feel compelled to do something.
We then feel compelled to measure our progress. We default to the ideal we see in front of us.
We are hardwired for immediate gratification. This stresses us because we live in a deferred gratification environment.
All of this gets
compounded as our egos get involved and we self identify with our measurements.
A Model For Maintaining An Ideal And Measuring Progress
What has become known "The Stockdale Paradox" offers us a model for maintaining an ideal and measuring progress.
It's named after the late James Stockdale, former vice presidential
candidate, naval commander and prisoner of war during the
American-Vietnam war. It is the strategy that enabled Stockdale to survive 8 years of imprisonment and torture.
The usual context of these principles is in
times of prolonged and seemingly
never-ending hardship, set-backs, suffering and distress.
But in my view this is an apt model for the gap and gain concept:
What Progress To Measure And When?
We have already established that:
The forward and external measurement of progress - the gap mindset -
doesn't help because it leads to self sabotage of happiness and peace of
The backwards and internal measurement of progress - the gain mindset - is self referential and self determined.
is a further measure of progress that deals with the lizard brain and
that give the ego something useful to do and shuts it up, and that is:
 Focus on The Process Not The Ideal
Shift your focus from the long-term ideal to a daily routine that will realise that ideal.
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