Why We Plateau and What to Do Next
I have started about five different blog posts in the past three days and scrapped every single one. Too whiny. Too personal. Too boring! They say in blogging you are “famous for fifteen people” and before this blog I never had even that many people come across my writing (exception: my food column in my high school newspaper was an instant hit). It’s nice to know people are up for reading what I write but I don’t know what to write about when I’m just chugging along: at work, with my debt and my goals. I’m doing a little bit of work on everything and not really sure if it’s making progress. It’s a plateau, and I’ve just hit one everywhere. Everywhere? Everywhere.
Thankfully, The Art of Manliness already blogged about exactly what I’m feeling in Plateau Breaking: How to Take Your Life to the Next Level. It’s an excellent article and worth a read whenever you’re feeling the stuck, everyday-feels-like-a-Tuesday doldrums. They explain why we plateau in different activities in our life. It happens when we become comfortable in a task, have learned a reasonable amount about it and are ready to perform it on autopilot, which makes sense for brushing your teeth or driving, but not neccesarily in areas where you want to continue to grow.
The other two points I want to review from the article are:
Embrace the Suck
You can’t get better at surfing without a few nasty washing-machine style wipeouts (those are the one where the people from the shore see you tumbling out of a wave…and then see you get spit out again, board to follow). If you don’t take a chance and embrace the opportunity to suck on that first wave, every wave will always be difficult, scary, huge and seemingly insurmountable. I know because I am still a beginner surfer. I have taken the plunge and gone for waves and had the best rides as a result, but I mostly hang back, afraid of another wipeout and another time being held under the waves.
“To overcome your aversion to risk, you have to give yourself permission to fail and be mediocre. Instead of avoiding the things that are hardest for them, the greats of the world specifically focus on those things; they purposefully concentrate on the areas in which they make the most mistakes.” -Brett & Kate McKay, The Art of Manliness blog
That makes a lot of sense now. A friend was criticizing me (or at least, I took it as a criticism) the other day saying I only talk about how I lost money and made mistakes on my blog. Well, yeah, money has been one of my biggest weaknesses in my life! It’s where I’ve made the most mistakes and repeated the same mistakes. I’m analyzing what I’ve done in the past but I don’t lose any sleep at night. I just want to get better. I’ve let money dictate my choices when I’ve adamantly proclaimed that money shouldn’t matter. But it does matter, “If you are too unhealthy, too depressed, too poor, or too ignorant, it is impossible to look after yourself, let alone be happy” (from a great read for the under-25 crowd, Racing Towards Excellence.)
We can remind ourselves that at this moment you might not be excelling in some part of your life the way you want to be, but you are willing to make mistakes and take risks in order to push yourself to get better. Embrace the suck and you will eventually NOT suck!
Think Long Term
When we think short-term, we have a tendency to feel that plateaus are permanent. But when we take the big picture view of things, we start to see plateaus as temporary way stations that we’ll eventually get past with a bit of hard work. -Brett & Kate McKay, The Art of Manliness blog
Before this past year, long-term thinking for me was the next six months or at most, to the end of the calendar year. I kid you not when I say that if I tried to think further ahead then that I started to feel morbid, as if I was planning my own funeral. My plans were always very, very vague. Get rich. Live somewhere warm. Write. Look, that sounds nice on some pretty little Pinterest pin, but it’s no life plan. You need hard numbers and facts man! One exercise I was thinking about to help me break through my income plateau was writing down the following:
- Write down how much money you made in 2011.
- If you continued exactly as you are now, write down how much you expect to make in 2012.
- Look at your answer to #2. Is it exactly where you want to be for the rest of your life?
- If you implemented one change (new job, side income source, new business), how would it affect your income in 2012?
- Would the answer to #4 make a significant impact on your life? If it does, what do you need to do make #4 really happen?
- DO IT.
I’ll explain why this exercise is totally new to me. I’ve never really set a target income goal for myself. My goal is to increase my income as an employee and make even more as a business owner, but I’ve never thought about what the monetary potential of each one could be. As usual, another one of my manic phobias is that if I say I want to make $400,000 per year (and that’s a lot of fat stacks!) then I might somehow deny myself the ability to earn more than that each year. Why exactly am I worried about that when I am not even close to that number? I don’t know, I’m just weird and crazy-optimistic all the time. I’m like “well, let’s not limit ourselves here, what’s stopping me from $500,000? $562,000?” It all starts to sound like huge numbers but if I plan for the long-term and am deliberate about figuring out how to get to $400,000 and beyond, then it’s achievable. I’m also hesitant to put a number out there because I don’t want it to be the all-important goal. I don’t want to become psychotic in my pursuit of income. Or to imply that I need that number to be successful. Not even close. Shoot, if I get out of debt by the time I’m 30, there will be so much self-congratulating going on around here that you will have to look away in embarrassment.
So I’m obviously not thinking THAT long-term yet. I will write again on how I plan to think long-term as far as employment and business goes. My current long-term goal (and the longest-term goal I’ve ever had) is just paying off all of my debt. It might take just 15 months (age 30) or it might take a little longer. But as long as I continue to plan for it and continue to focus on ways to achieve that long-term goal, then I am happy. And it’s reinforcing my newfound, long-term thinking. For too long, all I thought about was the next set of bills that were due (OK, still do), the next trip I could take and the next crazy idea I could play around with for a while before giving up. Well, I’ve been working on the same few ideas for the past year and they are more likely to be realized as a result.
If you want to get out of being stuck, make your next move or realize your next big idea, talk about them less and work on them more.
Have you been hitting a plateau lately? What did you to get out of it or what do you want to do next?