A few months ago, my wife, Luba, and I were visiting the UK.
After arriving in Manchester, we checked into our hotel. But unbeknownst to me when I booked it, the hotel had a self-service check-in.
No reception; just a few employees on hand to help if needed.
I approached the check-in, typed in my booking number and… nothing.
I tried once more, carefully checking the number, character by character, but it made no difference.
“No reservation found. Please wait for assistance.”
Worn out after a long day of travel, I tried once more, only this time, typed my number in lowercase.
(Hey, got to try everything, right?)
At this point, I could feel my patience slipping and several expectations slowly creeping in…
- “There ought to be a reception like other hotels.”
- “An employee could have helped me by now.”
- “Checking in should be easier.”
After a few minutes, a hotel employee noticed my challenge and approached to help.
“Are you alright there, sir?”
And that’s when it hit me…
It’s What You Do in the Gap
In life, there’s a space between stimulus and response, a moment of stark awareness where you have a chance to decide how you will behave in a given situation.
I call it the “Gap.”
(If you’ve read The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People, you will recognize the above image as “The Proactive Model.” The Gap is otherwise known as our “Freedom to Choose.”)
The Gap isn’t always easy to recognize. I’ll grant that. But when it is… it carries with it a seed of opportunity, a chance to grow, to become more than you think you’re capable of.
I believe, in life, it’s what you do in the Gap that determines who you become and where you go.
The duration of the Gap varies from one situation to another. It might last mere milliseconds the moment following an altercation with a driver cutting you off. By contrast, it might linger for hours, even days, after receiving a snarky email from a work colleague.
While tempting to believe otherwise, the Gap’s duration isn’t always an advantage. After all, the longer you have to deliberate how to behave, the easier it is to handicap yourself due to the possibility of analysis paralysis.
In reality, the Gaps that offer the greatest opportunity to learn, are the ones where you don’t have time to deliberate, when you don’t have any willpower to rely on, when you’re NOT your best, when you feel justified to behave a way the situation often dictates, when it’s actually expected of you.
With Each Gap Comes an Unexpected Outcome
In my Gap, I could have expressed annoyance. I might have even been justified to behave as such. But knowing the above, I chose to compose myself.
As brief as my Gap was, I reminded myself of one of my favorite Epictetus quotes:
“Always conduct yourself as though you are at a formal dinner.”
I reminded myself where I was and the company I was in and replied:
“I’m having trouble checking in,” I confessed, embarrassingly. “It’s been a long day. Can you help me?”
“Of course,” she smiled.
The employee tried herself and again, surprisingly, couldn’t check-in either.
I breathed a sigh of relief knowing it wasn’t just me.
“Leave it with me,” she said, before walking off.
I watched her walk off into another room, before filling Luba in on what was happening and why we hadn’t checked-in yet.
A few moments later, the employee returned, bearing good news…
“Okay, I’ve taken care of that for you. You’re all checked-in now. I’ve also upgraded you to one of our Executive Suite. Oh, and you can take anything you want from the minibar—free of charge. Apologies again for the inconvenience.”
I thanked her for her hospitality. As Luba and I rode the elevator to the top floor, I couldn’t help but smile knowingly.
It’s what you do in the Gap.
Now I want to turn it over to you:
How many Gaps do you encounter each day in your life and work? Furthermore, how many have the potential to move you closer toward your desired outcome if only you chose an appropriate response? Leave a comment below.