When you take your first steps into personal development, you learn that if you work on yourself you can become a better person. And if you become a better person, you can have a better life.
So you start to read books, listen to podcasts, build skills and create new habits to improve your life. And the magic is that life actually does get better!
However, you soon realize that no matter how much you grow, you could always improve, you could always achieve a better version of yourself. And you can start to feel overwhelmed by it.
Personally, in the past few years I often stressed about all the books I still wanted to read, all the skills I still needed to learn, all the content I still wanted to make. And that made me feel tense, sometimes burned out.
For a long time I wondered: is it possible to strive for growth while feeling content with the progress already made?
Recently, I learned about the idea of The Gap and the Gain by coach Dan Sullivan, which helped me to reframe how I measure my progress in life in order to feel accomplished yet still ambitious.
Here is how it works.
At any point in your personal growth journey, there are three reference points. The first is the moment when your journey started, and who you were back then: that’s your Initial Self. Second, is where you are right now: your Current Self. Finally, there is the person you aspire to be: your Ideal Self.
If you are like me, you tend to measure your progress looking forward, by comparing your Current Self with your Ideal Self, and that's a problem. As Dan points out, your Ideal Self is not real, it’s not tangible. It’s just an idea, and ideas shoudn't be used to measure things.
To better understand this point, think of your Ideal Self as the horizon. The horizon is not a real thing, yet it exists as an idea in your mind. You can see the horizon. You can move towards the horizon. But you can never reach the horizon. By its nature, it will always “move” further away from you.
The same applies to your Ideal Self. No matter what you do, there will always be a better version of you further down the line. The Gap between who you are today and who you want to be can never be closed.
So how should you measure your progress instead?
Dan suggests to always look backwards, and measure your progress against your starting point. If you do that, you will always see The Gain, all that you've already done, and appreciate how far you’ve come. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what you still want to do, you will feel inspired to add on top of what you already accomplished.
So, should you forget about your Ideal Self then? Of course not. Although you should always measure your progress looking backwards, you should use your Ideal Self for inspiration, as a North Star that guides your steps moving forward. But nothing more than that.
If you apply this framework, you will start to feel more accomplished while remaining ambitious to grow further, and your journey will continue much more sustainably.
I hope you love this ideas as much as I do. I want to end the article with a simple exercise you can do to apply this framework. Here is what to do: