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My mentor, Cabel McElderry (owner of multiple gyms, keynote speaker, and business and marketing consultant who trained with the Canadian bobsled team), recently sent me a book by Dan O’Sullivan called Learning to Avoid the Gap: The Skill of Building Lifetime Happiness.

There are not many books that have elicited that immediate “Aha!” moment for me. I have found that getting new ideas and inspiration from literature is something that develops over time and it’s rare that I find myself reading something and saying, “Wow that totally changed the way I [fill in verb]!” However, O’Sullivan’s The Gap actually gave me new perspective on where I am currently in life, how far I’ve come to get here, and where I want to be in the future.

In the book, O’Sullivan describes “the Gap” as the difference between your idealized achievements and your actualized achievements. The author compares your ideal to the horizon: what is it you see in the distance when you visualize what you hope to achieve? When goal-setting, we tend to be able to imagine our perfect life and whatever that entails: an ideal body, our specific impact on the world, etc. Maybe your personal ideal is to live in a 20,000 square foot mansion with a swimming pool, a six car garage, and Jay Leno as your neighbor. Maybe you want to look like Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe you want to write novels. Maybe you want to feed a million starving children.

The idea behind “the Gap” is that our ideals, or what we envision ourselves achieving and becoming, shape our goals. For example, if I want to look like Brad Pitt (ideal) I may need to shed some body fat and build some muscle. So my goal may be to go from 15% body fat to 8%. A problem people encounter is measuring themselves against their ideal when they should instead be measuring how far they have actually come. This, according to O’Sullivan, is the true measure of achievement: the distance between where you are currently and where you came from. The ideal is still present to keep you motivated and to shape your goals. It may be lofty–or even unrealistic–but it helps make your achievements much more impressive. An ambitious ideal encourages you to strive for something you thought was impossible! It’s good to have these aspiring ideals, but make sure to hold yourself to realistic standards by measuring your success against the actual progress you have made rather than your idealized version.

The following are a few of the strategies O’Sullivan identifies to help people see their goals actualized:

  1. Create lofty goals that exceed your presumed limitations. Doing so will provide you with long-term objectives that will make your successes especially celebratory.
  2. Be yourself. Be transparent and honest. We all have things we do incredibly well and things we do poorly. Pretending to be something you are not just builds frustration and isolation. Find what really moves you and focus on that. This is not to say you shouldn’t aim to acquire new skills or improve upon your weaknesses, but generally speaking, play to your personal strengths.
  3. Be reliable. Show up, be consistent, treat others with respect, and stay committed for the long haul. This is how you maintain an edge over the competition.
  4. See obstacles as opportunities. For more on this topic, please see The Obstacle Is The Way.
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