In the day to day of life it is sometimes hard to find the why. Why do bad things happen to me? How can I endure pain and suffering? Why do I have to work so hard? Why do some people seem to glide though life?
I posted here about Clayton Christensen’s 3 questions to ask ourselves. I posted here about ignoring materialism to find meaning and contentment in our lives, but how? How can we manage the daily ups and downs where we feel discouraged and only see what is going wrong in our lives?
The Gap and The Gain
If the goal is contentment how can we actually develop it? We can use two incredible ideas in The Gap and The Gain: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness, Confidence and Success by Benjamin Harding and Dan Sullivan.
The first thing is the author’s premise that we often look at the ideal–the Gap– and don’t appreciate what we have already accomplished–the Gain. We could take an ordinary morning where a young mother looks at Instagram–and immediately starts feeling discouraged about her own situation–messy house, unmotivated to do anything and her children are being whiny. To make matters worse, because she is on Instagram she can see the ideal of others posting about their interesting lives, beautiful environments, while looking their best. She is feeling her worst and she is looking at the best people are showcasing. She is feeling the Gap.
Secondly, if we take that same morning scene we could “measure backwards” as the authors urge us to do. This means looking back at our lives at what we have accomplished or what has gone well. Maybe that messy house is the first purchase of this couple, a hard won effort. The mother could say to herself, “This house is messy right now but we worked so hard to buy this house. I can’t believe we were able to actually get into a house!” and “ I haven’t managed to exercise today but I am usually motivated to do so and I will go outside in my backyard and get some sun on my face.” And “ I was able to graduate from college, I have this great part-time gig and my children are healthy.” And “ We were able to have children. We have food to eat, and a loving family”. All these are positive outcomes that have taken a lot of effort and work. When we rethink our situation like this, all of this positive emotion can flood into us instead of discouragement. By looking at what we have already gained, instead of the horizon of our ideals, which can keep moving, we feel better. This is how to develop contentment.
The authors confess that even knowing, writing and teaching about this principle, they still have to fight “Gap” thinking everyday. This was helpful encouragement, for me, just like developing a Peace Practice or living in “The Now”. This is another inner tool that is a lifetime practice that takes many shifts during an ordinary day. This is interior excavation that takes intentionality and patience with ourselves. I have started to reframe my experiences with Gain thinking. It is an incredible way to get rid of victimhood.
I recently had an emergency root canal, and I will tell you my thought process using “Gain” thinking which changed a grueling physical odeal into thought-provoking gratitude.
When the throbbing started I was able to get in right away to the younger dentist in my older dentist’s practice. He couldn’t find anything but gave me an antibiotic to fight the infection, which he guessed happened after a terrible cold I had recently had. He showed me on the x-ray how close my sinus passages were to the inflamed area, and said there were no bumps of infection or swelling. After an uncomfortable week where things got worse, he was able to not only see me to check the tooth but then work on the root canal itself, in two separate appointments on a busy Friday.
I thought, “Wow! I am lucky I can get worked in!”–Gain– instead of “Why does this always happen to me?”–Gap. Dr. Wilson mentioned I had an extra long incisor and it was taking more time to drill out the old pulp and put in the new filler, and I thought, “I am so glad I am not the first person he has ever done a root canal on.”–Gain. He took many x-rays to make sure he was being thorough, and I thought, “I am so glad he is making use of all the new technology that can help this go better.”–Gain. As he was drilling away, with that plastic tent clamped on my other teeth, I thought of the many decades of dental research I was benefitting from. All the pain and experimentation done on many people, helped me have a more pain-free and successful experience–Gain.
Finally when the two hour ordeal was over, I walked away so happy that the pain wasn’t worse and that a week of throbbing pain was over–Gain. Using “Gain” thinking helped me get through a painful ordeal in a much different way than I normally would have. Reframed in this way my suffering had meaning. I felt grateful for the minimal pain I had felt and the excellent dental innovation and expertise I had received.