from plateau to progress
You know what it feels like to be performing at your peak and crushing your goals, and chances are you know what it feels like to on the other end of the spectrum, experiencing big mistakes and painful failures that make you wish you never got out of bed that morning (we’ve all been there).
But what we often ignore is the middle: the liminal, in-between area, also known as the plateau.
If you’ve been stuck in a plateau, you know the feeling. Whether it’s with your fitness, work, or love life, there’s an underlying feeling of “going through the motions.” You’re putting in the time day in, day out, but there’s no sense of progress or achievement.
The reality is, we probably spend a lot more time in this zone than in the peaks and valleys. And more importantly, how we show up when we find ourselves here can have a massive impact on our long-term performance.
As a coach for thoughtful and ambitious men, I’ve studied how plateaus show up in people’s lives. What I’ve learned is that a plateau isn’t necessarily a negative thing…initially. If you find yourself in a plateau, it often means that you’ve learned and integrated something that you didn’t know how to do before. That’s to be celebrated!
But inevitably, a plateau will drain your motivation and leave you feeling stuck like you’ve lost the drive and hunger that got you to where you are today.
You may lose the feeling that you’re growing and contributing to something outside of yourself. Your world can start to feel predictable and small when deep down you know that you’re meant for more.
That’s why for high-performers, it’s critical to develop the skill of recognizing the beginning stages of a plateau so you can quickly get yourself unstuck before you begin to suffer the consequences.
Being able to move quickly through plateaus is important because life is ever-evolving, and if we become stagnant, we lose our edge.
What often gets in the way is our hardware – the parts of our brains and nervous systems that have been around for tens of thousands of years, and are hard-wired to try to keep things stable and keep you safe (regardless of how it might make you feel). This tug of war between growth and safety can show up as a values conflict in your life if you don’t strategically train your mind to overcome it.
Maybe you’ve grown comfortable with your current salary, or you like the stability of your current gig. But deep down you crave the adventure of work that’s more challenging or more mission-driven.
When you are facing the push and pull of a values conflict, it’s easy to point to external circumstances or relationships – your boss, your partner, the commute, and so on – and say that they’re to blame for keeping you stuck. But blaming others will only keep you on the level of the plateau.
The way to rise above it is to take ownership of creating the change you want. Only then can you actually do something about it!
The cure for a plateau is strategic growth. The “strategic” part here is important because growth without a direction is aimless.
When the desire for more comes from an insecure place of wanting to prove something to someone else, your efforts become misguided, and sooner or later, you’ll end up overreaching, overcommitted, and burnt out.
True fulfillment and freedom comes from making a commitment to yourself, and seeing it all the way to the finish line.
If you’ve found yourself in a plateau and want to make meaningful changes in your life, here are some steps you can take to increase your confidence and make strategic gains in your life.
Inventory your life (or the particular area where you’ve plateaued)
Taking an inventory is a crucial step – and one that most people skip over. Start by putting everything that’s swimming in your head onto paper (or a document) so that you can get a clearer view of what’s really going on. From there you can create more strategic goals because you can tackle your challenges with focus and clarity.
Get out a piece of paper and write down the current status in this area of your life. Some helpful questions to do this include:
What is the current state of this area of my life? Describe with details.
When I think about this current state, what emotions come up for me?
What would a ten look like in this area?
Name the Fear
Typically when someone has plateaued, it’s because there is an unconscious fear that is hiding in the back of their mind. Often there’s an unexamined belief or an assumption about what will go wrong if they try to reach for the next level.
When you Name the Fear, you take away its power. The voice in your head softens, from sounding like a loud alarm warning you to stay away, to what it really is… your survival instincts trying to keep you safe.
By naming the fear, you create space in your mind for what it is you actually want.
On that piece of paper, write a brain dump answering the following statements:
I’m most afraid of….
If I move out of my plateau, I’m afraid that…
Take stock of what you know and what you don’t know
After you’ve Inventoried and Named the Fear, take a few minutes and determine what you know and don’t know. Sometimes the answer to our next level isn’t directly in front of us and we need to build awareness around how to solve our challenge.
Believe that the answer to your next step is close at hand. It just may take some research or a brief conversation to figure out what you don’t know, so you can create determine how to move forward.
Next on your piece of paper, write:
Here’s what I know about my situation
Here’s what I don’t know about my situation
Here’s the type of research or people I can talk to in order to move forward
What is the next best step I can take?
Now that you’ve done the internal work, let’s put a plan in action. Take a look at what you wrote in the Inventory around what a “10” in this area would look like.
Ask yourself, “what’s the next simple step I can take to move this forward, right now?”
Sometimes when we have big goals in our work, fitness, or love life it may seem that we need to take a massive step all at once.
But actually, it’s the first small step that will help you build momentum to make those big steps possible.
For example, instead of saying “I will write the pitch for the new project I want to lead at work,” you could say “I will text my friend to see if she can meet me to discuss how she led a similar project at her company.”
This process builds momentum and fosters self-trust. By following through on the seemingly small and specific steps, you are building traction and energy that will propel will out of the plateau.
Ask for support
Sometimes we can move through a plateau with ease. Other times, however, we have blind spots that we can’t see for ourselves that hold us back. The longer you swim in your current thoughts, emotions, and fears without sharing it with someone, chances are, the longer you’ll stay stuck.
While lasting change starts from the inside, oftentimes others can unlock an insight that will help you move forward in unexpected ways.
Find someone you trust: a friend, colleague, therapist, or coach who has the awareness and honesty to tell you what’s really going on. Save yourself the struggle and ask for support.
While the comfort of a plateau can be alluring, for high-performers it’s ultimately a dissatisfying place to live. Getting unstuck is always a choice that is available to you – it starts by deciding to take ownership, getting crystal clear on what stands in your way, and doing whatever it takes to reach the other side.
By cultivating the skill set of moving through plateaus intentionally, you will build the capacity to direct the course and pace of your own growth with strategy, strength, and stamina.
Carla Blumenthal is a coach for thoughtful, ambitious men, helping them create remarkable relationships and greater success on their own terms. To see more from her, connect with her on Facebook or Instagram. You can also download her free audio & workbook “Increase Your Productivity & Focus By Overcoming Your Inner Critic.”