Mind the Gap: The Distance Between What You Want and What You’re Doing to Get It

mind the gap sign, maggie mcreynolds blogIf you’ve ever taken the Tube in London, you’ve seen the signs posted all over that say, jauntily, “Mind the Gap.” They refer to the distance between the station platform and the train itself.

But these days, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of gap: the one between what we tell ourselves we want, and what we’re actually doing—or, more pointedly, not doing—to make it happen.

Maybe you want to get in shape. Maybe you want a better job. Maybe you want a big-screen TV, or to learn HTML, or to find a significant other who knows all the lyrics to obscure mid-century jazz tunes.

How many of the things you say you want have been on your wish list for months? More sobering question: how many of them have been there for years? If we know what we want, seems like it ought to be easy-peasy to just, well, go out there and get it, right? But there’s that gap thing, the yawning chasm between us and the life we say we want.

Often, what’s lurking in the gap is fear. Fear in its familiar guises—shyness, social anxiety, panic attacks, emotional paralysis—or fear in the form of self-condemnation: I have no self control. I’ll never lose all this weight. I don’t have the skills to get a better job, especially in this economy. That guy would never be interested in someone like me.

Is fear real? Yep, absolutely. And most of us are really good at creating big, howling heaps of it. But does that make our fears factually true? Fears are just thoughts with the gloves off. Fear is how we keep ourselves stuck. Fear is how our left-brained, socially anxious self keeps our right-brained, essential core self in line.

Fortunately, fears are rather cowardly monsters themselves, and even the most persistent tend to back off when challenged. Is that really true? you can demand of the fear. Uh, it’s likely to respond, shifting its eyes from one side to another, it feels true. Yes, but do you have any factual basis for this belief? you persist. Well, um…no…the fear says, scuffling a toe in the dirt. Pat the fear on its pointed little head. Thank it for caring about you. Tell it to go play over there, in the corner, while you carry on with the business of going after what you really want.

Other times, what keeps us from bridging the gap is overwhelm. Overwhelmed by lack of information. Or, conversely, overwhelmed by information overload.

Example: say you want to move to France and open a boulangerie. But you have no idea how to get there from here. You don’t know how to apply for a work visa, or whether or not you’d qualify. You don’t know diddly squat about running a business, let alone running one in a foreign country. You’d have to learn the language! You’d have to learn to bake! You’d have to, at the very least, learn how to pronounce boulangerie.

The answer here? Turtle steps. Make a list of all the things you don’t know. Make a list of all the steps you’d have to take to learn what you need to do, or how to find the people who have the information you need. And then, every day, pick a step, the tiniest one possible, and take it. The day after that, take another one. And so on, and so on, and so on. If creating lighter-than-air croissants on the Left Bank is your destiny, one day, no matter how big the gap, you’ll find yourself there.

So how big is your gap? How long have you hesitated on just this side of it? And how much of what stands between you and getting what you want is, well, you?

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