Breaking Out of a Plateau

Plateaus can manifest themselves in two ways: physical and emotional. Often times, once a physical or emotional plateau has hit, it takes the other along with it. We find ourselves stuck – trying to land that dream job, trying to lose weight, trying to break our own records, trying to advance in one way or another. We can totally see the top of the stairs, but we don’t know what that next step is. We’ve got the end result in our minds, crystal clear – why is that not enough?

The elusive Handbook to Success must exist somewhere…right?

Unfortunately, the Handbook to Success is absolutely, positively nonexistent, and probably resides with either the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. (Side note: if you’re reading this and were already drafting your Christmas list to send off, ignore the latter part of that sentence. The purpose of this article is to empower, not dash childhood dreams.)

I’ve had more plateaus scattered across my existence than the Grand Canyon National Park. I’ve felt stagnant in the pursuit of my career goals. I’ve feared the smallness of life when it has gotten so repetitive that I can plan the next month to the minute. I’ve seen my body stop responding to my workouts-de-jour. I’ve been frustrated by going to take the next step – and realizing that all there is under my feet is the same flat land.

Yes, we know we are not comfortable, which is the first step towards reaching our goals. But the discomfort is not the blissful discomfort of inspiration and proactive manifestation – it’s a suffocating kind of discomfort. The sameness starts to morph from being simply an annoyance to an impenetrable straightjacket. And we find ourselves at a standstill.

As hopeless as it might seem, take a deep breath and realize that you are in control.

Seek out mentors for inspiration. Who inspires you? Whose mission or journey matches the one you see yourself on? I’m not talking about celebrities or historical figures. I’m talking about accessible, in-your-life-right-now inspiration. If you have it in front of you, it makes it way more attainable. Don’t know your inspirational mentor very well? Reach out. It’s not just true of the movie biz: LIFE is all about who you know. And that is not a bad thing. Personal relationships provide support, offer comfort, induce happiness and help form the summary of who you are. Confide in your mentors, share with them your goals and your feeling of stuck-ness and probe for words of wisdom. You might not be spoon-fed all the answers, but you will definitely walk away with your passion reignited.

Be honest with yourself: are you surrounding yourself with people who reinforce your stuck-ness? I’m not saying to drop all your friends and put out a personal ad that reads “SEEKING TALENTED, DRIVEN INDIVIDUALS THAT RESONATE WITH MY IDEA OF SUCCESS. DEADBEAT APPLICANTS NEED NOT APPLY.” I’m saying to recognize that everyone is on their own journey, and pay special attention to those whose paths you admire and identify with. The friend who sits and plays with his Xbox all day is probably not going to inspire you to make your boldest career choices. The pal who considers Jack In The Box its own food group is probably not the right confidante when it comes to losing that unwanted weight. Not everyone is going to be the role-model type all the time, and that is perfectly okay. But be sure to align yourself with people who make you want to do better and be better.

Cross Train, or simply switch it up. Cross training and workout variance is as good for the body as it is for the soul. After a while of doing the same thing, our bodies get used to the challenge and learn to acclimate. It’s like watching your favorite movie over and over again. After a while, you know all of the lines. It is still enjoyable, but you can predict it frame by frame. Our bodies do the same thing: the same muscles not only get used over and over again and become super-proficient at what they’re doing, but other muscles get completely ignored. Cross training equalizes these imbalances. If you usually cycle, take a walk or run. If you live for heavy weight lifting, why not pop into a yoga class? Or mix up how you’re doing things: take your 40 minute moderately-paced run and swap it for one minute of sprints and one minute of recovery, for 20 minutes. Stuff like that. Your exercise “bag of tricks” will become even more full, while your old favorite workout will simultaneously start to improve. The process of learning something new will leave you not only with a good-sore body, but a sense of pride and accomplishment. And a balanced body always – ALWAYS – gives way to a balanced mind.

This is going to sound a bit crazy – but take a day to sleep as much as you want. Seriously. Why has a good amount of sleep become somewhat taboo? When we sleep like a teenager in the middle of a massive growth spurt, we feel the need to tell people with a bit of incredulous shame. Why?! Sleep is freaking amazing!!! If I could marry sleep, I would. We’ve so gotten into the habit of extremes, of all-or-nothing, that we take the statement “life is short” to its own extreme. Life IS short, but if we’re not well-rested, we’ll walk around like zombies, not fully taking in all life is offering us. And life will seem even shorter. There are seven wonderful days in a week. If one day is spent without errands or productivity, not only is that perfectly okay, it fuels our engines for the possibility of six other INCREDIBLY productive days. You can’t have highs without lows. Or else it all runs together and becomes mundane. Guess what else is mundane? A Plateau.

The most important thing is not to rush your way out of a plateau. Life comes in ebbs and flows. Peaks and valleys. Pinnacles and plateaus. One day, hopefully far from now, we’ll hit a plateau again. But if we learn to navigate our plateaus now, then it will be much easier in the future to find that next step we are so longing to take.

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