Do you ever feel like things in your business aren’t going quite as well as you’d like? Or that the success you desire is just out of reach? Entrepreneurs are known for having big ambitions, and that drive is part of what makes for a successful one. But it can also be debilitating. When our business doesn’t meet our expectations, it’s easy to focus on everything that went wrong and every goal we didn’t meet.
Dan Sullivan, an entrepreneurial coach, has helped thousands of entrepreneurs navigate this problem. He’s boiled it all down to one simple concept called The Gap and The Gain, and will soon be releasing a book of the same name co-authored by Dr. Benjamin Hardy, an organizational psychologist turned entrepreneur. Hardy is also an Inc.com columnist.
This one concept has changed how I look at my life and business, and I think it can help nearly every entrepreneur live a more enjoyable, fulfilling life. And like many of Sullivan’s concepts, this isn’t some “trick” or “hack” for your business. It all comes down to shifting your thinking.
High-level entrepreneurs tend to measure their progress in a way that makes them perpetually unhappy. They measure themselves against a perfect future ideal. This is what Sullivan calls being in “the gap.”
When you’re in the gap, you’re constantly comparing yourself to a future ideal in your mind. You measure your progress by measuring forward, looking at how far away you are from that future ideal–whether that’s your long-term business goals or some vague level of success.
But the problem is that these ideals are hard to define and they change over time. In many cases, you might have already hit the ideal you had in your mind a few years ago–but you never realized it because it changed before you arrived there. You’re back to measuring how far away you are from your goals without even celebrating the fact that you’ve already achieved many of them.
Instead of living in the gap, Sullivan and Hardy encourage entrepreneurs to live in what they call “the gain.” This is a way of measuring progress by looking backward. Instead of measuring how far you have to go, do the opposite–look back to see how far you’ve come. How much progress have you made over the past year? Month? Week?
Measuring progress by looking backward gives you a more realistic view of what you’ve accomplished and where you’re at. Instead of being frustrated that you haven’t achieved your ideal goal, you can look back and recognize all the success you’ve had up to this point–the big wins, the small wins, the lessons, and the progress. You may even realize you’ve reached the ideal that was in your head a few years ago.
Putting it into action
When I first discovered this concept, I had a sudden realization that I’ve lived my entire life in “the gain.” I’m always looking forward and pushing for the next big thing in my business. Rarely do I take the time to look back and celebrate the many wins my team and I have had. So I tried to shift my thinking, looking backward instead of forward in my life and business.
What I found is that living entirely in the gap or entirely in the gain isn’t the answer. At least for me, there’s a happy medium between both worlds–and I think Sullivan and Hardy would agree.
Sure, I should have looked back at my accomplishments more often as I built my business. I know it would’ve helped me appreciate what I have and I’m sure my team wishes I had taken more time to pause and reflect on our biggest wins.
But then again, almost everything I have in my life and business can be attributed to my drive to push forward. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today if I was just measuring backward. I’ve always had big, aspirational goals–and I still do. That’s never going to change.
What I have learned to change, however, is the way I measure. I still measure my progress toward those big goals (I think my mind is just programmed that way). But I don’t live or die by it, and I’ve learned to take a look in the rear view mirror every now and then. My team and I have accomplished a lot over the years, and we should be proud of that. I’ve also seen the value in looking backward to analyze our past successes and failures.
My advice? Find a balance that works for you and don’t get tunnel vision. Remind yourself to look in the rear view mirror every once in a while, but never forget about your big dreams and aspirations–after all, that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.