This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Gap and The Gain" by Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What’s Gain-thinking? How can it improve the quality of your life? What harm can come from Gap-thinking?
When you compare who you are now to who you want to be, you’re resigning yourself to a life of unhappiness. Your ideal self is constantly changing, making your goals impossible to reach. Instead, you must compare who you are now to who you used to be so that you can see how far you’ve come. This simple shift in thinking makes all the difference in living a happier life.
Read more to learn how to have a happy life through Gain-thinking.
Living a Happy Life
Hardy and Sullivan state that both Gap- and Gain-thinking have cumulative effects, meaning these effects accumulate and amplify themselves over time. Let’s explore how these effects manifest in your daily life and, ultimately, how to have a happy life.
Because your mind is focused on your personal growth, Gain-thinking is an inherently optimistic outlook. The authors reference research that suggests that optimism can prolong and improve the quality of your life, so they conclude that Gain-thinking has therapeutic benefits for your body and mind.
|Is Optimism Always Better?|
While there is much research supporting the link between optimism and increased well-being, optimism can actually be counterproductive in some situations. For example, if someone lacks the skills necessary to perform a certain task, it isn’t helpful to be optimistic and say to them, “you can do it!” Doing so will only cause them to waste time on something at which they can’t succeed. In addition, extreme optimism is associated with financial impulsivity and other types of poor decision-making.
On the flip side, extreme pessimism is also counterproductive. Fatalistic pessimism assumes that negative events are bound to happen regardless of what you do; in other words, you have no control over these situations. Having this external locus of control—just like when thinking about your success—can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Psychologists suggest that it’s best to find a middle ground between these two extremes by being as realistic as possible. Prepare yourself for unexpected, negative outcomes, but don’t assume they’re inevitable.
(Shortform note: Hardy and Sullivan recommend avoiding Gap-thinking entirely to prevent stress from becoming toxic. Other experts suggest managing stress more proactively by channeling your anxiety into productive behaviors that work against your fears coming true. For example, you may be anxious about the decline of your health as you age. You can channel this anxiety into making healthier choices in the present, such as eating healthy foods and exercising.)
Trauma is the most extreme form of Gap-thinking. According to the authors, trauma occurs when you have a maladaptive belief about a past event that creates dysfunction in your present day-to-day life. For example, imagine that you walked home from a friend’s house late one night, and a group of hockey players beat you up and stole your wallet. You may be so frightened by the event that you avoid every subsequent hockey player you meet. Your dysfunctional belief about the past—that all hockey players are dangerous—affects how you act in your current and future life.
Traumatic memories are incredibly painful, so you tend to avoid thinking about them. This causes your thoughts and feelings regarding the event to be unorganized and confused in your mind. Unorganized memories prohibit growth because you can’t learn from an experience you don’t understand. So rather than focusing on the gains, you focus on your resentment of the fact that it happened at all—you’re stuck in the Gap mentality.
|Trauma Goes Beyond Misconception|
Even in the field of psychology, trauma doesn’t have a clear-cut, uniform definition. It’s an umbrella term that covers a wide range of symptoms. Psychologists agree that trauma involves having misconceptions about past experiences, as the authors state here. But to understand the weight of trauma—how debilitating it can be—it’s more accurate to think of trauma in terms of the effect it has on your brain and body. The unifying characteristic of all people who experience trauma is their physical and neurological reactions to the traumatic event. These reactions can include nightmares about the event, hypervigilance, insomnia, and flashbacks.
The mental and physical effects of trauma also impact your memories of the event. Traumatic memories are unorganized not only because you avoid thinking about them, but also because your brain doesn’t process them as sequential events with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, these memories come back to you in bits and pieces of sensory information (such as smells or sounds) that trigger a physical response in your body.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Gap and The Gain summary :
- Why you must compare who you are now to who you used to be
- Why you should focus on your past rather than your future
- How Gain-Thinking can improve your happiness, self-esteem, and physical health