5 Ways to Break Free From a Plateau

Jan 11, 2022 / By Lee LeRoy, DBA
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Sometimes we make great progress, and then sometimes things seem to get stuck. We just can’t seem to get to the next level on whatever goal we have in mind. Here are five ways to break through.

We’ve all reached a plateau at some point in our lives. This is an area where we feel stuck and can’t seem to advance toward our goal. It may have happened during a time when we were dieting or exercising. It may have happened while training for an athletic event or learning a new skill. It may even have happened—or is currently happening—in our business growth and professional development.

Plateaus can be psychologically difficult, especially if you feel as though you are doing everything right. Feelings of hopelessness and despair can begin to prevail. Many simply succumb to hopelessness and give up. When you reach a plateau, the following five thoughts may help you avoid hopelessness and persevere:

1. Exponential growth and success normally follow a plateau

Repeatedly, academic studies have proven that pushing through a plateau often leads to unexpected and exponential growth. The growth I am referring to is not only success in accomplishing a particular goal, but also the personal growth of knowledge and resilience. This personal growth may actually serve as a springboard that spills over into other areas of your life. In short, breaking through a plateau helps one build greater self-confidence and self-efficacy.

2. Simple tweaks to your strategy may be all you need to push forward

You may have heard the commonly used adage: Continuing the same activity and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. I can’t speak to the validity of that statement, but when it comes to plateaus, continuing the same activity definitely won’t get you to the next level.

During a period of plateau, it is a great time to objectively dissect your activities and evaluate their merit. This will determine which activities are moving you forward and which are holding you back. This is also a great time to try new things. In fact, sometimes one must actually go backward before moving forward. This is often the case for professional athletes.

3. Focusing on smaller incremental wins may keep you going—especially with big goals

Imagine how it must feel to be a mountain climber looking up at Mount Everest and preparing to climb 29,031.7 feet to the summit. Sometimes our goals may seem like Mount Everest (especially during a plateau). As you may already know, nobody climbs Mount Everest in a day. In fact, many never make it to the summit. There are a number of camps along the assent that allow climbers to not only physically adapt to the challenge of low oxygen conditions, but also psychologically celebrate incremental milestones of success. Not everyone wants to climb Mount Everest, but most successful people have big goals. Find areas along your path toward success to stop and enjoy incremental wins.

4. When setbacks occur, pivot to other related goals

Many years ago, I aspired to begin a new hobby. As silly as it may sound, I wanted to carve a wooden duck decoy. I purchased the “blank” which was essentially a chunk of wood roughly the shape and dimensions of a decoy. I read a number of carving books and purchased the necessary tools. At first, this endeavor seemed quite achievable. The basic carving seemed easy.

I then began to carve the head of the decoy. No matter what I did or how I changed my strategy, I simply could not create anything in the likeness of a real duck. After many attempts and much research, I simply gave up. My duck remained headless.

Years later while attending an art fair I ran across a booth filled with beautifully carved decoys. I couldn’t help but share my story with the artist. His advice was to have a number of carving projects happening at the same time. He said, “When I get frustrated with one project, I quickly move to another.”

He went on to say, “I often discover what is holding me back while working on another project.” I believe this concept can apply to plateaus in most every area of our lives. Having multiple related goals can create breathing room and space for us to reduce frustration, and potentially discover alternative solutions when we least expect it.

5. Get by with a little help from a friend

I often become laser focused on a project or goal. My level of focus can cause me to narrow my thinking. I suggest everyone find a coach, mentor or close friend that is willing to discuss your strategies, goals and objectives. That seems easy right?

The hard part is you have to be willing to put your laser focus and your ego aside, and listen to constructive criticism. I consider myself fortunate. I have a large network of people willing to help when I need it. I have to admit, it wasn’t easy to find the “right people.”

You see, finding people to help you solve problems often entails finding people who don’t necessarily think like you. We all gravitate toward like-thinkers. In my opinion, it is also important to find people who do not simply tell you HOW to move forward but instead coach you by adding alternatives routes to your goal. You then select the approach that best suits you. There are significant differences between instructing and coaching. Coaches help you generate your own solutions by providing thought provoking opinions and data. My primary “go-to” folks for business solutions and overcoming plateaus are my business coach Greg Wingard and my direct supervisor Marc Beshany. I can count on both to provide me with objective, nonbiased, logical coaching. If you don’t have a “go-to” network—build one.

The vast majority of people will simply give up when they reach a plateau. “Give up” is a polite way of saying “quit.” If a goal is truly worth achieving, do you really want to be a quitter?

Plateaus happen to everyone. It’s not a matter of if, but instead a matter of when. So how will you push through your next plateau?

Lee LeRoy has been a financial advisor since 1997 and holds a Doctor of Business Administration degree from Lawrence Technological University. He is a senior vice president and branch manager of Mid-Michigan Wells Fargo Advisors Branches.

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