How you measure your progress in life will determine how happy or unhappy you are. If you measure your progress against your ideal self, you will suffer. Your ideal self is like the concept of the horizon: it doesn’t really exist, it’s only a reference point of where to go. If you try to reach the horizon, it will move further from you. That Gap can never be closed.
To measure your progress properly, is to measure it backwards. You can only measure your progress against your starting point. If you do that, you will always see the Gain and be happy with yourself.
We perceive things as being either good or bad depending on whether the specifics that are necessary for success have been defined and achieved. I’ve noticed that people who measure their accomplishments in terms of specifics tend to be happier and a lot more energized than people who speak and think in generalities.
You might have made progress toward your goals, but you’re not going to feel good about it unless you measure how far you’ve come. You won’t even know you’ve made progress at all unless you measure your progress properly.
The purpose of measurement is to have right thinking around the results you’ve achieved. For this reason, all of my measurements are based on things to do with me personally or with my company, where I’ve had a major influence in bringing about an improvement, or where we can learn something specific from why we didn’t hit certain goals. In addition, measuring your own personal progress keeps you out of comparison with others. We all know the phrase, “Mind your own business.” Well, my new motto is, “Measure your own business.” When you make sure all of your measurements are against yourself, you’ll move toward your goal of increased progress, learning, and growth.
The concept of the horizon, the line separating the Earth from the sky, is a useful tool for navigation and orienting oneself in space. But it’s not a specific destination anyone can reach. Our ideals are a lot like the horizon in this way. They’re useful to us to figure out a direction and to plan a destination, but you can’t reach your ideal any more than you can arrive at the horizon. No matter how far you’ve traveled, the horizon will always be far off from where you currently stand. The destinations you aim toward are always somewhere between you and the horizon. The only way to measure the distance you’ve traveled is by measuring from where you are back to the point where you started, not from where you are toward the horizon. The horizon can’t be part of a real measurement of progress.
Now that you know that achieving an ideal is impossible, you can avoid the inevitable disappointment of trying to reach it. Every time you have a vision of a bigger future, it’s important to determine and recognize whether it’s an ideal or a measurable goal so you know what to do with it.
Your future growth and progress are now based in your understanding about the difference between the two ways in which you can measure yourself: against the ideal, which puts you in what I call “The Gap,” and against your starting point, which puts you in “The Gain,” appreciating all that you’ve accomplished. When you’re in The Gap, you feel as though you haven’t accomplished anything at all. This is because even though you’ve moved forward, the ideal remains distant from you. The ideal is a moving target. It might even get bigger, leav-ing you worse off than where you started if you measure against it. You’ve also used up time and energy getting to where you are, so if you don’t measure the progress, you’ll feel like you’ve wasted that time and energy and have fallen even further behind. But if you turn around and measure your progress against where you started, then you’re in The Gain, and you’ll experience a sense of having moved forward, of having achieved something, and you’ll be motivated to continue on to your next stage of growth.
People say to me, “Dan, you must never go in The Gap anymore,” and I always respond, “No. No more than four or five times a day. But the difference is, I no longer stay in The Gap for very long.” When I find myself feeling tense or stressed while thinking about something, I stop and consider what I’m doing. Every single time, I’ll realize that I’ve been engaging in Gap thinking, measuring against the ideal. Then I just flip the switch and measure from where I am back to my starting point, and I’m grounded in reality and happy again.
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