Measuring Progress

12 steps healing progress Mar 03, 2021

Dan Sullivan, a renowned business coach, teaches a concept he calls the gap and the gain. The gap is the distance between where we are and where we want to be. No matter how successful we are, there is always going to be a gap between where we are and where we want to be, especially if we compare ourselves with others. This can lead to discouragement and a never-ending chase for something more. It is a future-focus that can rob us of seeing the important things in our lives right now. On the other hand, the gain is measuring and celebrating the progress we have made (and are making) along the way.

This is especially pertinent for those of us in recovery. If we measure the gap between where we are and where we want to be, we can easily become disheartened and get a “what’s the use” attitude. Recovery can be slow and painful, especially when we are dealing with the consequences of our behavior and the fallout of disclosure. We can feel like we are at the foothills, facing a huge mountain to climb.

That is why the 12-step programs emphasize a one-day-at-time approach. A common saying is “do the next right thing.” Just having steps indicates that there is an incremental process to sobriety and recovery. The coins given for monthly and yearly sobriety milestones give us a way to measure and celebrate the gains we are making, however small they may seem.

It is important to go beyond the symbolic milestones that are used to measure gain. I realized this when I had a slip early in my recovery. After 11 months of sobriety, it was frustrating to have to reset my sobriety date back to day one. I felt like I had lost everything I had gained.

But then I understood that my recovery had not reset to day one. I was still a different person than I was when I started 11 months previous. There was a huge gain that had taken place over those months of recovery and there were aspects that were not erased because I had lost my sobriety.

I am not questioning the wisdom in keeping track of the length of sobriety in a 12-step program. But we have to be careful not to fall into the “gap” mentality where all feels lost when we are not where we want to be. It is healthier, and more conducive to healing, to look at the gain we have made and to celebrate the wins, no matter how small they seem.

There are three things that are helping me to maintain my focus on the gain instead of the gap:

1. Be present. Instead of lamenting the past and worrying about the future, I am trying to stay in the moment. This means focusing on the task at hand and trying to do it with excellence. It means giving my undivided attention to whoever I am with. It means putting down my phone and making eye-contact. It means keeping contact with important people in my life.

2. Be thankful. Instead of blaming and complaining, I count my blessings. I have so much to be thankful for, including my family, my health, and my friends. When I see the grace and mercy of God in my life I can’t help but see how much I have gained through His work in my life.

3. Be diligent in recovery, growth, and healing. Time is short and there is no gain without movement. I can’t help everyone (the gap), but I can help the ones that God puts in my path (the gain).

I love how one of my 12-step home group members ends his litany at every meeting: “I am not yet where I should be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.” That is emphasizing the gain instead of the gap.

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