“The most surprising development about the expanding world of abundance in the 21st century is that it most richly rewards those individuals who are increasingly grateful for every aspect of the extraordinary world that is being created around them. To the degree that you are grateful for what you have, you will get more of what you want.”
– Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach®
Mind the Gap!
If you have ever been to London, this phrase is probably familiar to you. Riders on London’s underground subway system called the “Tube” are constantly reminded by a recorded voice to “Mind the Gap”. The recording is intended to warn riders of the physical dangers they face if they misstep into the gap between the train and the platform. However, there is also a dangerous mental and emotional “Gap” which is important to avoid if we hope to live a happy life. Dan Sullivan, author and creator of The Strategic Coach® Program, describes a dangerous mental trap he calls “The Gap™”, which is a metaphor for a negative zone of emotion and thinking that can be very hazardous to your mental health and happiness.
Most of us are capable of developing a comfortable understanding of the concept of the horizon. Although you can see the horizon off in the distance, it’s probably acceptable to you that you will never in fact reach it, no matter how long you walk. Although you may see the horizon from where you stand now, as you begin walking towards it, it also continues to move away from you at the same pace you are walking. There is a permanent “Gap” between where you stand at any given moment, and the horizon – and you can’t close that gap no matter how fast you are.Unfortunately, most people don’t have this same kind of understanding about their achievements in life. For all humans, happiness requires continual achievement, but many people suffer from unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their progress because they measure their progress by their ideals. They visualize an “Ideal” future, and continually measure their progress forward against their ideals. Unfortunately, just as one can never reach the horizon, it is equally impossible to reach the Ideal.Just like the horizon, your ideal situation is always changing, and always growing as you progress through life. Just as the horizon continues to move away from you as you walk toward it, your ideal situation is always growing and moving away from you. Just as there is a permanent “Gap” between you and the horizon, there is also a permanent “Gap” between you and your ideal, because your ideal is a moving target. It is an unpleasant situation to live life in this “Gap”, because this mental state prevents you from ever feeling the satisfaction of accomplishment.
“Staying out of the Gap” is a mental strategy and habit that makes it possible for you to derive increasing positive energy and rewards– by measuring your progress backward against your “starting point”, instead of forward against your “ideal”. Those who measure progress and achievement backward against their “Start” point always have a growing sense of success. In this mental framework, it is still important to visualize an ideal future that you hope to achieve, but it is also important to identify your goals as stationary mile markers on the path to the ideal. As you are making progress forward to achieve your goals, although your ideal may be continuing to change and move forward, you can recognize the accomplishment of having achieved a goal on the way to the ideal. Although you have not reached your “ideal”, and never will, you have at least made forward progress from where you started, which is worth celebrating and enjoying!
The most effective way to stay out of “The Gap™”, and to fill your life with a great sense of enjoyment and gratitude, is to make a habit of consciously recognizing the positive progress you have made. Dan Sullivan calls this Positive Focus®, which simply means a mental habit to continue to focus on what is working in our lives, and to gratefully celebrate the progress we are actually making, instead of fixating on that which we want but do not have. In so doing, we accomplish two very important mental objectives:
- We give ourselves a rare opportunity to celebrate our wins, and to reflect with gratitude on the actual progress we have made. We can allow ourselves the happiness and fulfillment that comes from recognizing that, although we have not yet reached our ideal, we have indeed made forward progress.
- We also release a great sense of confidence, as we realize our own capabilities to make progress. It is very difficult to feel confident when we continue to measure ourselves and our self worth against our future ideals, because we can never make real progress against our ideal. Instead we feel powerless and useless, because the ideal is too big for us. When we recognize our actual accomplishments against where we started, we may come to the conclusion that we are indeed capable of making progress, and that we can continue to use those capabilities to achieve more in our future.
There are many ways to institute a Positive Focus in your life, and to release a great abundance of gratitude and confidence in your world. The simplest way to do this is to take a moment each day to reflect on your accomplishments over the last 24 hours, and to write down what went well for you in the last day. Strategic Coach calls this the “3 Wins™” exercise – the daily habit of identifying at least 3 accomplishments, and writing them down in a Positive Focus Journal. This habit is an excellent way to take a short time each day to celebrate your accomplishments or positive life events, as you realize how you won today. It is also a gratifying exercise to review your Positive Focus journal at the end of a month, or quarter, to reflect on the multitude of wins you actually experienced over a period of time. It is almost impossible to look back on your wins and accomplishments in this way, and not to feel a great sense of gratitude and excitement about what has actually gone well in your life.
This practice has been impactful in my personal experience, as I have made a practice of keeping track of 3 wins every day. At the end of each quarter, I review my list of “wins” for the quarter. No matter how I might be feeling at that moment about my progress and achievement, this practice always gives me a huge boost as I realize that I actually made a lot of progress in the last 3 months. It also has a big impact on my motivation and productivity – as I review all of the accomplishments that happened over the last quarter, I am invariably reminded that a lot can happen in 3 months. I begin to remind myself that, although my goals may seem out of reach and require superhuman effort to achieve, all I really have to do is the same thing I did last quarter and a lot of positive developments will come into my life. I usually leave this process excited, energized, and motivated to see what great “wins” will be on my list next quarter.
It’s not easy to “Stay out of the Gap”, as life has a way of making us feel like we are “stuck in the mud”, and forward progress is hard to come by. Whenever you are feeling that way, take a moment to measure your progress “Backward”, and focus on your wins, and you will unlock a rush of gratitude, excitement and energy.