Learn To Love the Plateau
You want to be moving. But you’re not. Stuck in the mud. Pressing against the wind. Melting into the quicksand. You work so hard and seem to be getting all the way to NOWHERE!
Here comes that evil, pulverizing question again. The one that grinds up your dreams and spits them out.
“What’s the point of all this effort if it isn’t getting me anywhere?” Asked and answered. “There is no point.”
We are disgusted as if we are referring to something outside ourselves. “It just didn’t work.” “That plan sucked.”
Thanks to George Leonard, author of the book, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, I had one of my best “Aha!” moments.
To walk a master’s path, you have to learn to love the plateaus.
The honeymoon ends.
New goals are invigorating. The fireworks shoot to the sky bursting with endless possibilities.
The rush of an open floodgate. You feel the flow and see the progress instantly.
No matter how enlivened you are, rushes become rhythms eventually. Crescendos now sound like melodies.
The honeymoon period is a triple whammy.
- You’re in a heightened state of awareness.
- The beginning surges are easily trackable.
- You set your expectations based on immediate results.
A watched journey never moves.
Our high expectations remain. Except now we are on the hunt for results. We expect a hard effort to deliver a gold medal result. Maybe 10 seconds faster per mile on your run. A faster swim split in a triathlon. A 5 pound weight loss on the scale. A job promotion or pay raise. A higher grade in a class.
When we work our butts off, our expectations of what we deserve skyrockets. As it should. Effort is the key to change. But validation is like mother nature. You simply can’t control how and when your progress will be revealed. Trust, faith, and belief in the process insures a sweet reflection eventually. Sooner or later.
We expect progress to be constant and measurable.
It isn’t constant and eventually it’s measurable.
When you work diligently, you move forward. Even with an inefficient strategy, you’re still moving. With the perfect “how to” guide, you may work and work and think you’re failing. Or you can look back and say, “Wow, I’ve come pretty far.”
Since I signed up for the Chicago Marathon in 2003, I’ve been running. When I started I couldn’t run a block without stopping to catch my breath. If progress was constant, I’d easily be running 6 minute miles now. But I’m not even close. Yet periodically I look back over the years and am astonished how far I’ve come.
Progress happens the same way the sun sets. You don’t actually see it turn dark.
Loving the plateau.
Most of our lives are spent on a plateau. If everyone realized that life is a constant practice (noun), we would have a nation of people in relentless pursuit of living fully.
Plateaus are the surest way to expose true motivations. Are you trying to lose weight because you feel judged by others? Hurt and anger drains energy. Are you losing weight to improve your health and have more energy? The plateau is your life. A lifestyle defines a way of living regardless of specific goal achievements.
If you miss your mark on a target goal, one stepping stone on your path, you’re mastering the journey as long as you remain in pursuit.
Goals are peripheral. If this stone wiggles, step on a different one. If that stone is big and rock solid, use it to take a bigger leap forward. There are tons of stones in the stream. The only way to know which stones are stable is if you keep stepping. You might fall. You might leap.
There is no destination.
Your path needs to be so compelling that the destination keeps moving farther away the closer you get.
This reminds me of when my father taught me to swim. As I swam toward him, he kept inching backwards so I had to go a little farther. It was not about reaching my Dad. It was about becoming a swimmer.
You cannot fail as long as you relentlessly practice and stay on the path. You can stumble, miss reaching a specific goal, and suffer from a bruised ego.
Discover the subtleties in the usual.
Love the plateaus as they reveal who you really are. Surrender to the process itself.