Thursday 23rd March 00:13

Goal-Setting: The Plateau Effect

Whenever we set ourselves new goals, the route we take follows a predictable track. Initially, the curve soars upwards fuelled by our excitement about what we can achieve and the thrill of the new. We can even have outstanding quick success. But this phase doesn't last. At some point, we hit the first of a series of coming-down-to-earth disappointments when we realise things aren't going to be as easy as we thought. Instead of the continuation of the early successes, we hit the arid plateau where nothing seems to work, no matter how hard we try and how long we stick at it. It is at this stage that many people experience feelings of failure and give up on their dream.

The Plateau Effect: Why It's a Natural Law


In their book, "The Plateau Effect", Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson say that the period of levelling off is a law of nature, as real and as impactful as gravity or friction. It's built directly into the genetic code of our bodies and the planet we inhabit. A real plateau means you have stopped growing. It means your mind and senses are being dulled by sameness, by a routine which sucks the life and soul out of you, by getting less and less while doing more and more. Understanding this force and tapping into it will let you get more from less effort and feel more in tune with the reasons you were put on this planet.

The Plateau Effect: 7 Reasons and 7 Solutions

When you get stuck on the plateau of "nothing seems to work any more", there are usually 7 reasons and 7 solutions. These are:

1. Immunity. Doing the same thing over and over again ends up making you immune to the effects you got when you were successful. You need to change what you are doing and be radical. Try a different approach, technique or procedure.

2. The Greedy Algorithm. The Greedy Algorithm is a concept borrowed from mathematics. It means choosing solutions that will give us want we want in the quickest time. Instead, forego the best short-term solution for best long-term outcomes.

3. Bad Timing. If you're working hard but going nowhere, the solution can often be as simple as taking a break. Inactivity is essential in any creative process because it allows your brain to catch up with all that you've been doing. It's why great pieces of music always sound better when there are periods of silence in-between.

4. Flow Depletion. Hitting a plateau can happen when we run out of resources such as capital, time, and energy. The flow dries up. If you can find an injection of new capital, time and energy, you can emerge refreshed. If you can't, it might mean you've reached the end-point and need to move on to something totally new.

5. Distraction. Distraction is the enemy of adaptation and can lead you straight towards a plateau. You can actively engage again by tuning in to your surroundings through the process of radical listening where you just tune in without labelling, judging, or interpreting.

6. Failing Slowly. Failing slowly is natural because it's difficult to tell if a situation is getting worse. Instead, fail fast by giving yourself clear markers of success and correcting yourself if things aren't working out.

7. Perfectionism. The desire for perfectionism can stop you starting - because the time is never right - and stop you finishing - because there's always one more thing to do. Accept that perfection is never achievable and instead set hard but liberating deadlines.

According to Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, the plateau effect is the reason why the world is full of one-hit wonders and why repeating what works once doesn't guarantee it'll work again. Keep in mind the 7 options and you can emerge from the deadening effects of the plateau and move on to the success you want.

Internet Resource: The Plateau Effect

Find out more about the Plateau Effect in this slideshare presentation, complete with youtube video.