The idea of the Gap is one of the most valuable concepts I teach in my classes. Like most other profound ideas, it is common sense but not common practice. Throughout your life you will face difficult situations, upsetting information, and uncomfortable confrontations. Some people react emotionally and aggressively when these things happen to them. They lose control, yell, and become angry. Others respond oppositely, remaining calm, cool, collected, and focused. The difference between the two types of reactions is understanding and applying the Gap.
Here is the truth:
No one makes you angry. You anger yourself.
No one makes you frustrated. You frustrate yourself.
No one makes you lose your temper. You allow your temper to take control.
No one controls or creates your behavior, ONLY you do.
No matter what happens to you in your life, there is a gap between when it happens and how you choose to react to it. The gap may be just a few milliseconds or a few hours. Still, there is always a span of time where you can take 100 percent accountability for the decisions you make about how you will react as a result of the situation. Regardless of what happens to you in life, you can always choose your response. In that gap between the negative stimulus and how you choose to respond to it is where all the power is because this is where you can choose to act like the “Ideal You.” Not the way you have acted in the past. Not what you can get away with. Not how your emotions are driving you. But the way you would respond if you could handle the situation elegantly. In a fashion that made you proud of your ability to handle even the most difficult challenges calmly and with grace.
However, this means you must have a truly clear idea of precisely what the Ideal You looks like long before getting into a trying or stressful situation.
An Ideal You Exercise
Write down a few keywords or bullet points that describe the Ideal You. Imagine that you’re in a highly stressful situation; some terribly negative things have happened, and everyone is looking to see how you will react. What would you say and do if you could handle the situation beautifully? How would you interact with those around you? What sort of demeanor would you have? How does the Ideal You behave under even extreme pressure? What kind of example would you set if you handled even the worst situations with ease? Keep your description concise, just a few keywords or phrases to describe the Ideal You.
What you have just created is an anchor. You can use a set of words or phrases to anchor your mind and focus even during the most challenging situations. Acting poorly, getting angry, and losing your temper are merely bad habits that you have gotten into. The formula for changing habits is to replace the old negative ones with new positive ones. So when something difficult happens, keep repeating your Ideal You anchor over and over again to remind yourself exactly how you should respond. At first, it will be challenging to focus on your Ideal You anchor and control your behavior. But with practice and patience, you will realize that you are acting in a new and more positive way more often than not. You will eventually become your Ideal you if you remember that no one can make you do anything. You always have 100 percent control over how you choose to react in every situation.
Now rate yourself on a scale of one to ten.
A ten being, “I’m like this all the time. I am a living example of my Ideal You behavior. I am the Buddha.”
One is: “This looks nice on paper, but it is not how I act or behave.”
What is your honest score for how well you truly act as the Ideal you right now?
Here’s why I asked that question. No matter what score you gave yourself today, it can be a 9 or 10 in the future. This is a learned behavior, regardless of how you currently act or behave. You can learn to use the gap to control your anger, emotions, and outbursts.
It is also essential to understand that the ability to control your emotions and reactions no matter what is happening around you is critical for long-term career success. Have you ever worked for somebody who did not understand this idea and lost their temper in a meeting, yelled, and screamed at coworkers, or threw a fit when something upset him? How did you feel about that person when he was acting that way? How did that sort of behavior affect your impression of him? Would you want to work for a manager or leader who could not control their emotions or temper? Of course not. You don’t respect someone who cannot stay calm, focused, and centered in times of chaos and stress. To be a genuinely great interpersonal communicator and an effective leader, you must learn to take 100 percent control of the gap.