This is a guest post by Jeff Perry, MBA
Goal setting, resolutions, making progress, and reflection are things many people do at the turn of a new year. Yet many people set goals only to not reach them, and get demoralized and stop trying.
So how do we actually find happiness in our lives and careers?
The answer: Lack of happiness, frustration, burnout, and dissatisfaction are driven mostly by focusing on The Gap — the difference between where we are now vs. the ideal that we want to be true. This focus gets us spending so much time feeling that sense of lack — “I’m not good enough, I don’t have enough, things will never be how I want them to be…” And on and on.
So how do we turn it around?
Focus on The Gain — the progress we’ve made, how we have improved, feeling gratitude, and more.
What Are The Gap and The Gain?
“The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.”
~ Dan Sullivan
The basic idea is this: When you are in The Gap, you are measuring your current state against the ideal, always seeing there to be a gap no matter how successful you are at this point. When you are in The Gap, you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything at all because the ideal is a moving target. This gets you feeling like you have failed, wasted time, or continuing to fall further behind.
Alternatively, when you are in The Gain, you are measuring the progress you have made from where you used to be. The wins, the people you’ve met, the things you have learned, the growth of relationships, financial progress, and more. This focus allows you to have a sense of having achieved something and will motivate you to go achieve even more!
Getting Away from the Ideal
This focus on the ideal is what keeps you in The Gap. The ideal can be looked at in a few different ways:
- Your conception of what is perfect
- An idea that exists only in the imagination — it’s desirable, but not very likely
- An ever-moving target of success that you are always shooting for but never reaching
Instead of focusing on the ideal, you can instead make more progress by having appropriate goals:
- The object of ambition or effort
- A desired result
- A specific, measurable, and time-bound outcome that you seek
Yet it’s more than just whether you accomplish your goal or not. You need to measure, track, and report your progress along the way compared to where you were when you decided on your goal.
For example, in 2021 I set a goal that I wanted to increase my vertical jump and dunk a basketball by August 2021. I’m 6’3″ and feel like I’m tall enough to be able to do this, but my entire life I have never had the hops to make it happen. So I set the goal, bought a jump training program, and started doing the exercises.
Yet along the way I had some injuries that kept me from staying consistent and reaching the eventual goal. I didn’t do it.
Was everything lost? I felt that way for a while and was quite disappointed. I was in The Gap. But looking back, I learned a lot about the process, technique, and the approach to exercising. I learned things that will help me avoid injuries in the future. And I built some new habits that have made me healthier in other ways.
I still made progress, and I can keep reaching for the eventual goal. Seeing that progress keeps me motivated, and it keeps me in The Gain.
I still can make the eventual goal of dunking a reality (working on it)!
Are You Already ‘Living the Dream?’
Think about this for a moment: Did you ever have goals in your life to be doing what you are doing right now? To have a great job, to have completed your degree, to get accepted into an educational program, to own a home, to have a car, or something else?
Could it be possible that you are already “living the dream”?
That’s the amazing thing about looking back — we can see what we used to have as important to us, and sometimes we have met or exceeded those expectations.
More progress will come in time as well!
I had to take stock of this recently. Early in my process of starting my company, More Than Engineering, I stated I wanted to “get paid to help people.” I loved helping people move through mindset shifts and reaching big goals, but this was just an idea and I wasn’t sure how to make it a reality.
But a while back, as I reflected on where I am at now, I had to kind of pinch myself. I am doing it! I get to work with amazing people, teach ideas that transform lives, and in essence, get paid to help people.
I am living the dream!
Sure, there are a lot of ways I can continue to improve, grow, and impact even more people, and I’m setting goals for those things. But I can enjoy how far I’ve come and how far my clients have come as well!
Take Action to Get to The Gain
Ever since I learned about The Gap and The Gain, I have been doing a journaling exercise on a quarterly basis to bring it to the forefront of my mind, and I invite you to do the same.
Take 15-30 minutes and complete the following activity, using 5-10 minutes for each item.
- What wins or gains have I had in the last 30 days? Who have I met? What have I learned? How have I made progress? How have I changed?
- Do the same for the last 90 days.
- Do the same for the past year.
Just make a bulleted list. Once you’ve written these things down, look over the lists and experience a sense of gratitude for how far you’ve come.
I promise if you do this, you’ll come out of it in a more positive mindset and motivated to tackle more challenges and opportunities!
More Resources to Accelerate Your Career
If you want to see a quick video of me talking about The Gap and The Gain, check out the video link below:
Additionally, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book and read it — see how it transforms you! Here is the link to get your copy: The Gap and The Gain: The High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success
About Jeff Perry, MBA
Jeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/ or visit his website, https://morethan-engineering.com. Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at https://engineeringcareeraccelerator.com.
New To Technical Leadership?
The transition from individual contributor to technical leader is a difficult one. Jeff put together a FREE, 90-day guide for those moving through this transition to help them be as successful as possible. You can get it here: https://morethan-engineering.com/career-clarity
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on what you think about The Gap and The Gain approach.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success