It’s Not a Plateau, It’s Progress

Next time you think you’ve hit a plateau in your personal growth, you need one simple thing.

Image for post
Image for post


Massive progress is likely staring you in the face.

When we embark on self work, it can be very difficult to see progress. Humans’ negativity bias makes sure of that.

Research says that for every negative piece of feedback we take in, we need at least five positive messages to override it. Sad but true.

If you feel like you’ve reached a limit in your personal growth, pause before you label it a plateau.

When we assess progress while we’re feeling derailed, we do ourselves a major disservice. Would you assess how your healthy eating is going right after eating a [random] cheeseburger?

If you’re like most humans, that’s exactly what you do.

Even if it was the only cheeseburger you’ve had in three months, you’re very likely to confer failure on the other 95% of the progress you’ve made.

Why is personal growth a seemingly never-ending challenge?

Because self work rewires our brains. New neural pathways are being constructed. We make connections that we never have before.

And when we develop a growth mindset — where we welcome failure and setbacks as part of the process — we change brain function.

Brain remapping is hard.

But we can choose to look at plateaus for what they almost always are — textbook developmental shifts, disguised as failure.

Plateaus are a trigger to get us to take stock. To make careful assessments instead of knee-jerk generalizations.

At certain critical points in personal evolution, we have a period of disengagement when similar questions afflict us all. Have I wasted my time? What has all this denial gotten me in the end? And even, “Do I deserve to have the life I desire?”

When in the clutches of self-doubt, the key is not to be our only assessor.

Have you ever asked a friend if they see or feel anything different about you while you’ve been doing self work? Inevitably, others notice our progress sooner and more clearly than we recognize our own. If you don’t have enough of your own evidence, ask someone.

I did this with a group of virtual strangers, whom I met in a personal growth group I joined in October.

The five of us are in an accountability group. We knew nothing about each other prior to the course, yet each week we lift each other out of the negativity vortex and back into a focus on the gains.

We’ve declared what we’re working toward to each other, and when one of us plays the plateau card, the group is there to stick evidence to the contrary back in our face. Brilliant.

If you can pause long enough to do a proper evaluation, you will obtain a much more accurate measurement.

Once your moment of total defeat has passed, and you’ve paused your judgement, it’s time to collect real evidence.

Here’s an example of how I am, at this very moment, moving through a pause & reframing exercise in what otherwise could have been a dire self-assessment.

In the personal growth program, I’m wrapping up my first three month sprint. The work involves daily journaling, meditation, fitness, and living by design.

As the final assignment of the quarter, we score ourselves in the areas of accountability, courage, clarity, routine, environment, vision, and confidence.

I put ‘do scorecard’ in my goals for this week along with my other routine tasks, when I realized that now would be a very bad time to assess my progress.

Why? Because over the holidays, I was not on point, and was beginning to question the overall benefits of the program into which I’d invested a huge amount of money.

Good news is I had developed enough self-awareness to know that I needed a pause before I labeled this the beginning of the end.

I wanted evidence of action and change, so I could score myself based on the last three months — not the way I felt right this second.

First, I went full authenticity with my accountability group. Not surprisingly, all of us had some version of the same self-sabotaging tape playing in our heads.

We helped each other highlight our wins, most of which are actually written in a Slack group, but somehow left for dead! I made a mental note to go back to those wins and gains in the future.

Next, I made my journal assigned reading. Just like any book, I read, highlighted, and typed summary notes. I documented the gains over the past three months. They were all over the place. Small ones. And huge life-changing-moved-mountains ones.

I didn’t completely rose color it. I also identified gaps, so I could learn from them.

Now I have real evidence. My own + others, on which to base my score.

Though it took longer to check off my to-do list, this is a critical step to get right and keep me moving toward my goals.

The way to flip the script on your assessment is to pause, and consult the evidence.

Take five minutes to list instances of success, however you define it. If you have a journal, read it like a book. Highlight your finer moments and focus on them.

It’s ok to look for lapses, so you can uncover patterns and tinker with future formulas, but your goal should be to list as many gains — tiny or towering — as you can.

Whatever type of growth you’re looking to achieve, take these steps to pause, reframe and keep on keeping on with your goals:

  • Pause. Don’t label anything until you’re in a peak state. Humans need to overcompensate for negativity bias.
  • Engage. Be sure you’re connecting with others, especially when you’re in defeatist mode and least want to. Isolation is no one’s friend. Ever.
  • Gather. What evidence do you and others have of your gains?
  • Assess. Measure only after you’ve taken stock. Find the patterns when you’ve had killer days and when you’ve felt defeated. Give yourself a 0–10 on the parameters that matter to you (think commitment, accountability, etc.)
  • Grow. Reframing things in the positive isn’t about glossing over mistakes -it’s about focusing on the right variables. Look at your gains. Learn from your gaps. Then shine the light on what’s moved your needle, and do more of that.

Progress means: “under way; being done; happening.”

Anything that is under way will encounter obstacles. Expect them, and have a plan for a way out and through.

Once you’ve learned to pause and reframe a perceived plateau as a necessary and temporary part of growth, you’ve unlocked progress.

Think about the sequence this way — plateau, pause, progress. Rinse and repeat.

Power to the pause. Reframe your plateau and keep moving forward.

Written by

On a mission to scale global empathy.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store