I recently read the book The GAP and the GAIN by Dan Sullivan and Dr Benjamin Hardy, as I was intrigued by a review I saw about it.
In this post I will share the main takeaways and how I personally relate to the topics the authors discuss.
You are in the GAP when you measure yourself or your situation against an ideal. You are in the GAP when you think that “happiness” and “success” are something you “pursue” and will have in your future. The problem is that due do the hedonic adaptation process (discussed in the next paragraph) nothing ever will be enough, probably.
It’s human nature to be in the GAP. The GAIN is the antidote.
You are in the GAIN when you see the positives of a situation, when you learn from negative experiences and you measure yourself against your own past self and identify progress, instead of comparing yourself to others or an ideal.
This is a term generally used in psychology to describe the fact that people tend to get used where they are at, what they have, etc. For example, if you want a promotion to buy yourself a new car, the new car will seem amazing at first but, soon, you will consider it your new “normal” and you will want something more. This cycle can easily become never ending, since there will always be something you don’t have if you compare yourself with others or an ideal.
You should, instead, measure your own progress and be proud of what you have overcome, what you have achieved and the steps you have taken already.
Transform an experience into a GAIN
Whenever you transform an experience into a GAIN— by creating new lessons, insights, or standards for yourself— you become better and your future becomes bigger
An experience gains value when you learn or reflect on it and you use these thoughts in the future. Of course an enjoyable experience has value in itself, but even then acknowledging this might encourage you to repeat this experience in the future. For unpleasant experiences, it’s easy to want to avoid thinking about them, but I have always found something to learn, when I have made the effort to reflect on them. I have a journal I write in, as I have found putting pen to paper helps me process feelings and thoughts calmly and I always come up with next steps and things to do to improve.
Progress not perfection [ok]
“When you’re in the GAIN, your progress becomes increasingly measurable to yourself and everyone around you. Yet, the more you’re in the GAIN, the less you compare, compete, or even care what other people think about you.
You’re seeing new progress every day. You’re defining what your own experiences mean.”
Psychology has shown that confidence does not create success, but rather, prior success creates confidence.
You should aim at having goals and working towards them with commitment, without becoming so attached to the destination that you don’t appreciate the journey. By having confidence and making progress, you will learn and improve and move forward, while being in no rush.
This is why, in some cases, I will set my goals so that they are output based rather than objective based. Instead of saying “I will do this by this day” I focus on how I plan to reach that deadline and focus on building a habit or routine that is measurable and that I track. And building and sticking to that habit becomes the goal itself.
Define your own success
The authors suggest spending 20 to 30 minutes reflectjng and writing about what success means to you and to figure out your personal success criteria. They suggest starting with the prompt “I know I’m being successful when…”. The idea behind this is to detatch yourself from the usual definition of success that society has taught us and to think about your own personal experience and values instead. This will allow you to feel successful without external validation and comparison. Another thing they highlight is that this definition might evolve overtime, as you gain new experience and knowledge.
Personally, I will reflect on this and on my values – I am curious to see if they are aligned and if they are in alignment with my day to day life. I suspect that I will find small things to change that will make me happier.
Plan for the real world
There is no point in being unrealistic and hoping everything will go smoothly. Things don’t always go as planned. What the authors suggest is to use a technique called implementation intention to guide you in these moments.
The idea is you come up with a plan for negative/not ideal situations you might find yourself in. This way, you will not have to think of the best action on the spot, but you will simply follow the steps you have planned. This might then lead you to creating a habit. In an example, they share how a sports coach would allow the players to be upset for 5 minutes after a lost match, and then they would have 10 minutes to think of the positives and improvement ideas.
I used to do something similar when an exam didn’t go well. I would be sad and upset and sometimes angry at myself for a short about of time, and then I would naturally start thinking about what went wrong and why. This made me learn from my mistakes and always led to actions to take to improve.
How to get out of the GAP?
The previous example shows how to get out of the GAP. It is a given that you will find yourself there at times, the goal is to get yourself out as soon as you can.
As they write in the book: “Here are five examples: After I compare myself with another person, I will say to myself, “Are you in the GAP or the GAIN?” After I feel discouraged, I will list 3 specific GAINS from the last 30 days. After someone tells me about a setback, I will say, “What did you GAIN from this experience?” After I start my weekly team meeting, I will ask, “What was your biggest GAIN yesterday?” After I open my journal, I will immediately write about one GAIN in my life.”
This section made me think of the weekly review I regularly do and how reflecting back on recent events always makes you see them in a more positive light and gives you the possibility to learn, especially if you use curiosity instead of judgment.
Track progress – always be learning
This section of the book is about tracking progress- it’s extremely important to be regularly reminded of past GAINS, so that you can look back and see how far you’ve come and the progress you have made.
In a way similarly to the hedonic treadmill, it’s easy to forget that you were previously struggling with something that might have become easy for you. Or you take for granted how far you’ve come and effectively ignore your progress.
The authors suggest thinking about recent wins and desired wins for the future. Reflecting on what you were focused on one year ago, how your life has changed since then and what you have learned in this last year ensures you are in the GAIN and you are growing as a person. An interesting prompt is about how your beliefs and definition of success have changed.
I usually do this at the end of the year or at the half year mark, and it is always interesting to look back on.
Throughout and especially towards the end of the book, the authors share practical tips on how to implement the ideas in the book. One of the topics is the daily routine around bedtime. They suggest putting phone on airplane mode 30 to 60 minutes before bed. This time should be used to wind down and reflect about the day, as well as plan for the next day.
The first thing recommend is writing down three things you’re grateful for each and specific “wins” you had that day (they recommend 3) as it boosts your gratitude and your confidence.
Writing down three wins daily is one of the most effective ways to stay out of the GAP. You feel like you’re always winning and making progress. It keeps you in a state of momentum and confidence
Then you should write down the three wins you’d like to accomplish the next day. It’s important to not overdo it, but to be realistic, so writing more than three is discouraged. Of course you can do more than three things in a day, but it’s good to focus on the top three things in terms of impact when it comes to measuring success.
In the 5 Minute Journal, the last daily prompt is related to what could have made your day better. It’s phrased so that you reflect on how you could have improved things personally. I think this is a great way to learn from the past and improve
As you can see from the extensive post, there are many interesting points made in the book and it touches upon several topics. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in having a more positive outlook and wants to understand the importance of measuring progress rather than comparing yourself or your situation and is looking for ways to do that.