Shift Your Focus to Shift Your Relationship with Goal Setting

This is a guest post by Jeff Perry, MBA

“You are your own worst critic.” We hear this a lot, but does it have to be true? Do we always have to be so hard on ourselves as we try to make progress and reach new goals?

Goal setting, resolutions, making progress, and reflection are things many people do at the turn of a new year (we’re getting close right now). Yet many people set goals only to not reach them and get demoralized and stop trying.

So how do we find happiness in our lives and careers?

The answer: Lack of happiness, frustration, burnout, and dissatisfaction are driven mostly by focusing on The Gap — the difference between where we are now vs. the ideal that we want to be true. This focus gets us spending so much time feeling that sense of lack — “I’m not good enough, I don’t have enough, things will never be how I want them to be …” And on and on.

So how do we turn it around?

Focus on The Gain — the progress we’ve made, how we have improved, feeling gratitude, and more.

What Are The Gap and The Gain?

“The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.” ~ Dan Sullivan

The idea for The Gap and The Gain first came from Dan Sullivan, founder of the Strategic Coach, who in 2021 partnered with Benjamin Hardy to create a full book about the concept.

The basic idea is this: When you are in The Gap, you are measuring your current state against the ideal, always seeing there to be a gap no matter how successful you are at this point. When you are in The Gap, you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything at all because the ideal is a moving target. This gets you feeling like you have failed and wasted time, and continue to fall further behind.

Alternatively, when you are in The Gain, you are measuring the progress you have made from where you used to be — the wins, the people you’ve met, the things you have learned, the growth of relationships, financial progress, and more. This focus allows you to have a sense of having achieved something and will motivate you to achieve even more!

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Getting Away From the Ideal

This focus on the ideal is what keeps you in The Gap. The ideal can be looked at in a few different ways:

  • Your conception of what is perfect
  • An idea that exists only in the imagination — it’s desirable, but not very likely
  • An ever-moving target of success that you are always shooting for but never reaching

Instead of focusing on the ideal, you can instead make more progress by having appropriate goals (a timely concept coming into a New Year, right?):

  • The object of ambition or effort
  • A desired result
  • A specific, measurable, and time-bound outcome that you seek

Yet it’s more than just whether you accomplish your goal or not. You need to measure, track, and report your progress along the way compared to where you were when you decided on your goal.

For example, earlier this year I signed up for a triathlon and began training. I spent time biking, running, and swimming.

But the week of the race, I was out for a training run and something tweaked my foot. I started experiencing big pain in my Achilles tendon. I limped the rest of the week, and was not able to run the race.

Was everything lost? I felt that way for a while and was quite disappointed. I was in The Gap. But looking back, I learned a lot about the process, technique, and the approach to training. I put in time that helped me get healthier that I otherwise wouldn’t have done if I wasn’t training for the race.

I still made progress, and I can find other events to train for and ways to improve, and I’m also searching for better ways to prevent injuries like this in the future.

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That feels like a win to me!

Are You Already ‘Living the Dream?’

Think about this for a moment. Did you ever have goals in your life to be doing what you are doing right now? To have a great job, to have completed your degree, to get accepted into an educational program, to own a home, to have a car, or something else?

Could it be possible that you are already “living the dream”?

That’s the amazing thing about looking back — we can see what we used to have as important to us, and sometimes we have met or exceeded those expectations.

More progress will come in time as well!

Here’s a personal example. Early in my process of coaching and training full-time, I stated I wanted to “get paid to help people.” I loved helping people move through mindset shifts and reaching big goals, but this was just an idea and I wasn’t sure how to make it a reality.

But recently, as I reflected on where I am now, I had to kind of pinch myself. I am doing it! I get to work with amazing people, teach ideas that transform lives, and in essence, get paid to help people.

I am living the dream!

Sure, there are a lot of ways I can continue to improve, grow, and impact even more people — I’m setting goals for those things. But I can enjoy how far I’ve come and how far my clients have come as well!

Journal on The Gain

Ever since I learned about The Gap and The Gain, I have been doing a journaling exercise on a quarterly basis to bring it to the forefront of my mind. As we approach a new year, I invite you to do the same.

Take 15-30 minutes and complete the following activity, using 5-10 minutes for each item.

  • What wins or gains have I had in the last 30 days? Who have I met? What have I learned? How have I made progress? How have I changed?
  • Do the same for the last 90 days
  • Do the same for the last year
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Just make a bulleted list. Once you’ve written these things down, look over the lists and experience a sense of gratitude for how far you’ve come.

I promise if you do this, you’ll come out of it in a more positive mindset and motivated to tackle more challenges and opportunities!

Want to Go Deeper?

If you want to go deeper on how you can improve your vision for your life and be more intentional and purpose-driven, I invite you to pick up and read a copy of my new book, “The Intentional Engineer.” I share practical principles and action-oriented exercises to get you making progress right away, and find joy in the journey.

Go grab your copy today!

About Jeff Perry, MBA

The Gap and The GainJeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.

You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at or visit his website, Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at

Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on shifting your focus to shift your relationship with goal setting.

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To your success,

Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success

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