Tagged: repetition

Plateaus and Four Ways to Get Past Them

Everyone hits plateaus on the way to impossible goals, but there are things you can do to get past them more quickly: staying with the plan, changing the plan, easing up and staying one step ahead.

Why Am I Stuck On This #@*%ing Plateau?

I’ve hit a plateau. Actually I’ve hit hundreds.

We all reach a point where progress toward a impossible goal stalls or even feels like we’re moving backward. It plateaus.

If you don’t reach one, it’s a sign that you’re worthy of a bigger goal.

Plateaus can feel awful, but they can also be a beautiful waypoint. And they are an inevitable part of reaching for something extraordinary. By learning to move past them quicker, we reduce the pain and get to the finish line faster.

Four Plateau-Busting Strategies Plus 1 Essential Component

Below are four ideas for moving past a plateau. The common element to all of them is having people around you for support. Whether that’s a coach like me, a colleague, a spouse or a friend, information from external sources helps you to design your next steps and experience plateaus with less discomfort.

1. Stay With The Plan

It’s possible that you underestimated what it takes to reach your goal.

Sometimes our idea of how fast things should happen is simply wrong. Especially for those of us who have had an easy time learning new skills, we might believe the next skill should come quickly. Wrong. That’s called a fixed mindset, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

That new skill we wanted to learn in 10 repetitions might take us 100 repetitions to master. Or 1000. With a fixed mindset, those last 990 repetitions (if we do them) feel like a death march of failure.

Contrast that to the growth mindset. The growth mindset is neutral and observant. After 10 reps, the growth mindset experiences something like “Wow, we’re not making the progress we hoped for. Okay, let’s evaluate. What’s working? What’s not? Is this still the optimal plan? Cool. Let’s keep going and see how things progress.” The growth mindset is aware, it’s hopeful but not attached to a result. And it’s scientifically proven to lead to better outcomes.

Six years ago I started a quest to become one of the top players in a second sport. I had already won 14 world championships in freestyle flying disc, and I would win 2 more while taking on this new adventure. While I knew what it took to become a top player in freestyle, I didn’t have all the information on this new sport (called DDC). Fortunately, I had a great mentor who sped my progress.

And I still hit plateaus.

What I didn’t realize was that truly mastering the essential skills for DDC was going to take a lot more work than I thought. Once I came to terms with that, I not only stayed with the plan but doubled down on it. I knew my throws were not at a high enough level for the DDC I wanted to play, so I started noticing more opportunities for throwing practice. These sessions were exciting and injected new energy into my experience of DDC.

Thousands of practice throws later, I was more consistent and effective. My stress level in games went down because I could count on the muscle memory of my practices when executing plays.

2. Revise The Plan

Most of the time, our first instinct is to work harder or give up. That temptation to give up is real. It’s a heavy feeling to wonder whether we can actually get there and if it’s all worth it. When we get to this point – and we all do – it’s a symptom that we’re focusing too much on the end point and not enough on the experience of getting there.

Staying connected to a winning mindset is essential. Any victory is going to be fleeting. If the purpose is to finish a marathon or get a promotion or win a world championship, what happens once you’ve done it? There is a literal graveyard of people whose lives felt completely empty after achieving an impossible goal.

What if you could arrive at that finish line and be more of yourself, full of pride in the effort invested in the chance at victory? If we can do that, we emerge stronger with more long-term resilience.

So, the plateau. What you’ve been trying feels like it’s not working. Your performance isn’t improving. Your progress seems stalled.

For my DDC project, I had timelines for my progress and ideas of where I should finish at my next tournaments. It all seemed very obvious. And I was wrong most of the time.

I was catching up to the level of more experienced players and thought I knew what it took to get there. With every breakthrough, a new blindspot opened up between me and my goal. After feeling frustrated by underperforming over and over, I took a fresh look at the plan.

As I mentioned, I started practicing more often on my own. I also started noticing what else might work. Playing with the local club was a great learning lab, and it didn’t put me in enough top level games, so I played as many pick-up games after competitions as I could. Teaming up with elite players helped me learn to adapt and deal with more sophisticated game situations than what I was familiar with. And it started to build my reputation.

I noticed that the additional throwing practice was helping with basic technique but that the top players had resilient technique that performed in a variety of wind conditions, so I practiced in “bad” wind too and threw hundreds of incompetent shots in order to raise my level of competence.

By revising my plan often, I believe I shortened my plateaus and accelerated my progress.

3. Ease Up

This is the fun one, and it has its risks. Sometimes the best way to get past a plateau is taking a break. Most often, by taking a break, we are allowing our brain to go to work in the background integrating all our learning so it’s more ready to be used next time. During intense periods of learning and training, we sometimes don’t give our brain enough time to do its thing.

Over the past few years I’ve been learning new languages using an app called Duolingo. I’m probably one of their power users. I have a streak of more than 650 consecutive days of doing lessons. When learning new languages, I have the visceral experience of how we reprogram our brain when we master new skills. There are very few things as basic as the words we use to communicate. Changing that code sometimes feels like I’m twisting my mind. I go through cycles of immersing myself in Duolingo’s lessons and easing up to a minimum level. What I’ve noticed is that my brain starts to pick up new patterns after easing up. I give my brain time to catch up and lock the learning in, and I get more out of the next lessons.

For my DDC project, I’ve found the best results easing up after a competition. During the competition, I’m learning but my brain needs needs more time to let it all soak in. Giving myself some time after a competition opens the door for improvements. Something that was a struggle before is more natural. Or, strategic opportunities become more obvious. It changes every time.

Here is the risk: there is a fine line across easing up, being lazy and giving up.

When you decide easing up is your strategy, monitor whether it’s actually a strategy or whether you are avoiding doing the work. Monitor your gut. Is easing up just a sneaky way of quitting? Keep connected to the motivations for your goal and keep designing the experience you want to create for your life as you pursue it.

4. Stay One Step Ahead

Most of the time, we realize we’ve plateau’d while we’re already struggling. What if we could be one step ahead, predicting the plateau and solving it before it sets in?

Going back to my quest to learn DDC, what if I had been in deeper communication with my mentor about what it takes to get to the top? I had such absolute trust that my approach was much closer to “he’ll reveal what’s next when the time is right,” but what if I had been in conversation about what to expect, what to be doing differently.

It’s possible that I could have skipped or shortened a plateau or two. It’s also possible that I wasn’t ready to hear the complete plan. You know how when rereading a book, we see things we never noticed during the first read? If I read a book six years ago about becoming a better DDC player, I might have seen some lessons but not really noticed them, not known how they were actionable. On rereading, previously invisible lessons would jump out as A HA! moments.

To stay ahead of plateaus, we need to gather information and feedback and hope we notice the important lessons in time to speed us past a plateau and toward the finish line.

Ready To Jump To Your Next Plateau?

Which strategy do you need now? It may take some exploration.

Let’s be clear. Whichever strategy you choose, it leads to another plateau.

Sound depressing? It doesn’t have to be. As we navigate these plateaus, leaping from one to the next, what keeps it beautiful is being in the moment. By staying connected to why we are taking on the impossible, we can shape our experience as we stay in the process. We can see plateaus as inspirational evidence that things are working. And as an opportunity to optimize our plan.

As for me, as I write this I have made three finals at major tournaments this year, including a runner-up finish at the world championships in England. I’m ready to jump to what’s next.

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Problem Solving

Repetition Opens Up Elegant Solutions

This is the fourth and final article about using repetition toward deep mastery. So far, we have explored discipline and expertise and expression. Repetition can take us to an even deeper level when we integrate it with problem solving.

LEVEL 4 – REPETITION CREATES ELEGANT SOLUTIONS

It’s easy to be expressive when things are going right. Things are flowing. We’re in a rhythm using our skills, connecting it to how what we want to express.

Then shit happens.

Have you logged enough repetitions that you can adapt? Level 4 is about getting past challenges.

At first, simply continuing when problems arise is hard. We don’t even know what to do when things go wrong. We get confused. We panic. Most of us need to experience an emergency to know how to get out of one. Pilots use flight simulators for this. They use traditional classroom and book instruction to learn the solutions in different scenarios. Flight simulators make the scenarios real. Their repetition is about learning to stay calm under pressure. They fail and learn from it. In some ways, it’s a repeat of Level 2 – learning the skill of fixing things.

Becoming adept enough to find solutions is good, but the beauty of problem solving is when it goes beyond fixing to elegance and creativity.

Being calm under pressure is valuable. Being creatively calm is invaluable. It’s what lets you land a plane in the Hudson River.

Raw, undirected talent dismisses mistakes. At Level 4 we notice their potential. Creativity is the goal of repetition here. Turning accident to advantage.

This is where Picasso decides it’s a problem to draw a bull the same way over and over again and reduces it to 9 brushstrokes.

This is where Bode Miller skis himself off the downhill race course and uses the netting on the side of the course to ricochet back into contention.

Without comparing myself to Picasso or Miller, I’ve been fortunate to experience this area of Level 4 often. In fact, the entire idea of freestyle at its highest level is to create the biggest problem for ourselves to see if we can elegantly get out of it. Sometimes there is an elegant solution, other times a clumsy mess. The more I give myself big problems to solve, the more elegant solutions show up.

When my team prepares for the world championships, I’m on the lookout for fortunate mistakes. Some of the most memorable planned moments start as mistakes. “Wait, that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it would be cool if we did it on purpose.” We shift course and use repetition to create something fresh out of the mistake.

Many people are uncomfortable in chaos. Most businesses have low tolerance for chaos. They want clarity, a focus on the known, predictability. And they are rarely the businesses known for innovation. Innovative businesses leave space for chaos. Allowing staff to fumble around with new concepts and search for better answers includes a risk of failure and also opens up space for big breakthroughs – seeing new markets, inventing new approaches to treating disease, finding better ways to talk to one’s customers.

The deepest mastery is courageous in its curiosity and experimentation. It doesn’t settle or shy away from the unconventional. It’s about uncharted territory. It is both discerning and playful. While engaging in this level of repetition can feel terrifying, it’s just as likely to be exhilarating and fulfilling.

If discipline is where we become skillful. Expertise is where we become solidly competent. Expression is where we become memorable. This territory of problem solving transcends all of them. This is the level where we have a chance to be legendary.

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Expression

Repetition Creating Expression

In this series, we are exploring different ways repetition can lead us to mastery. So far we have looked at discipline and expertise. This time we go one step deeper, to expression.

LEVEL 3 – REPETITION CREATES EXPRESSION

Level 2 of DEEP mastery – expertise – is about fixing flaws. It’s about pursuing perfection. Learning new facts. Acing the test. Putting our skills to work in different circumstances.

Level 3 is where we set aside perfection.

By the time we get here, we know we can be nearly perfect. We also know perfection is not where the real growth is.

In the hands of masterful talent, flaws can be magical. Listen to the best violinists. Their precision is so amazing that they can create intentional imperfection in the performance. Waiting a fraction of a second longer for one note. Rushing another. Stretching the tones. Their imperfection has another name: interpretation.

Our Level 2 repetitions let us perform perfectly. And we don’t want that. Perfect is boring. Perfect is sterile. Introducing variations or flaws makes our creation more compelling.

The aesthetic of wabi-sabi is about appreciating the beauty of the imperfect.

The beauty in imperfection

A basketball player might notice he has enough airtime to dunk the ball with style instead of make a utilitarian score.

Athletic Expression

A project manager might be so versed in timelines and process that (s)he can find quality, cost savings or efficiency by refocusing on the individual strengths of the team.

Casting Perfection Aside

At first, it’s about doing it right. Am I showing up? Am I doing my reps? Am I performing this skill well? Perfection matters. And then it doesn’t.

In Level 3, we put our personal touch on the skill by letting it stray from perfect – and in doing so we might just redefine perfect. Here, creativity is paired with repetition. We add personal expression, and our distinctive style emerges. We become memorable.

The biggest learning comes from failure. We can refine and refine through repetition, but it only gets us so far. We might become perfect, but we lack distinction. We might be consistent but perform far below our potential. We may even be seen as the best in the world but be sacrificing an opportunity to expand what’s possible.

I struggle with that borderline between expertise and expression. While my team has won the last two world championships in the Pairs division, I would love for there to have been even more risk and expression in our performances. We nailed the consistency we needed to win, and in doing so sacrificed expressing ourselves through a wider variety of catches. I am proud of both performances, and the level 3 part of me yearns for more expression in each performance.

When repetition is in service of expression, we pursue perfection so we can embrace chaos.

The errors, the goofs, the rough sketches, the failures. Those are where bigger breakthroughs lurk. In fact, the farther we take our skills, the more we scoff at perfection because it holds us back. Being exceptional happens by finding the spaces that invite expression and in seeking out chaos.