What is a Plateau?
I think of a plateau as a flat space between two heights. It is as though I am finding a breathing space on a hill or a mountain and where I need to stay to rest a while before the next climb. Is this the same in the workplace or in your personal life?
From a psychological point of view, there is only so much learning you can take on in one go before you need to take a break—and as humans, we never stop learning! This can be active study of a particular subject or learning as you progress through life with its daily challenges.
Children and young people need a plateau time to achieve growth in every area of their lives. I wonder if this is why teenagers appear so incommunicative! The years of constant learning has to settle as they discover who they are and what values they want to adopt as individuals.
My daughter is a teacher and she tells me that between physical growth spurts, it seems that the mind shuts down, or lies dormant but it is all there ready to come out when the child has matured physically. Abbirose said:
“Thinking back to one child I have taught.
He did not seem to make any progress between Christmas and Easter then suddenly
in the summer term, he made leaps physically (a growth spurt)
and all the previous learning just came out.”
Our minds and bodies are incredibly created, and so individually wired, which is why (in my opinion) the government’s focus on SATS and testing children seems wasteful! (But I will not be drawn down this political line!)
If this is part of the human condition, it makes sense that you also have other times in your life where you plateau or need to plateau for a while. The problem comes when you are unprepared to let go of constant efforts to achieve, have appropriate rest whilst continuing to work at a good level or accept that a plateau is necessary for the next ascent to be ventured.
In the sports field, there is an understanding of Performance Plateaus. These are times when after improvements and achievements following a training plan everything appears to level off. It causes frustration and discouragement if not fully understood. The temptation to push harder and break through this invisible barrier is great. However, results will come later when it is realised that plateauing has a purpose and the body needs time to ‘catch up’ with itself. Loren Fogelman has made some comments on her website Expert Sports Performance.
How do you recognise a plateau period?
- Like taking a breather—a time of relief and freedom
- Like taking an enforced break—a time of frustration and discouragement
Your mind-set is your choice as to how you view your Plateau time. It takes maturity and understanding to associate your plateau with a time of waiting, consolidation and to pull on and practice your skills of patience.
It is a time when little or no change occurs which is often in great contrast to a previous period of activity or progress. The timing can be unwanted.
My friend, Gill Scott, fellow author, has a marvellous ministry, Disentangling Genius put it this way:
“My plateaus are frustrating as they go on too long and I have so many of them!”
You may have enjoyed the previous activity and felt valued when progress was made so to have a time when nothing appears to happen is a shock and it feels uncomfortable. It can easily be confused with procrastination and you may give yourself a hard time because of this.
Take comfort: it is a temporary phrase and will end. Decision-making at this stage needs to be carefully considered. In the analogy of walking up a hilly slope, when you rest at a plateau stage, you have three choices:
- to rest up and settle there for the rest of your life
- take a moment and go back down to where you were
- after an appropriate ‘re-gathering’ time, move forward and upwards again.
What will you choose?
When work pressures conflict with your plateaus
Increasingly there is pressure in the work place with more and more expected of you. A recession, cuts and budget decision does not take into consideration the personal commitment a person gives to the work. Often as the work is the priority, you are expected to operate at maximum capacity 100% of the time. This can include when you have an already full workload and it is increased. This can be to accommodate changes in structure forced by economic climate etc. Without a plateau programmed in to give good healthy consolidation of learning it means you have to wait for holidays to have a forced plateau. Is it a surprise that during this time, sickness comes upon you?
Recognising a Plateau in your life
Good plateau situations are when waiting time is used wisely, unhurriedly without seeking the next step prematurely. It is like a hibernation with information being latent, emerging to be maximised in its right time.
When you are self-aware and self-encouraging, you can recognise a plateau and be unfazed when you have progressed really well then it suddenly appears to stop. No matter what you do, it seems that nothing changes. You are stuck in a no-mans land, a place which is undefined and undetermined. It will feel either like a desert island to relax on or one to try to escape from or it might feel like a wasteland or desert. It will depend on your nature and ability to recognise a plateau quickly, know that this period is temporary and good for you. From a believers viewpoint, there is nothing that can happen to you that God will not use for your and other’s edification at some point. Nothing is ever wasted.
It might take a while to recognise this is your current situation.
Is a plateau the same as being stuck? It may feel similar and you may feel blocked in the same way as a writer experiences writer’s block. It is worth checking out whether your body and mind are asking for time to assimilate the current situation and recognise your plateau time.
What starts a Plateau time?
It might be necessary to enter a plateau stage to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed with a changing situation. It seems that plateaus start during transitions, such as:
- Physical changes in the body
- Psychological and spiritual growth which involve new learning periods
- Performance spurts
- Recovery from illness or injury
- Significant changes in your work or personal situation.
- Study times
- Career transition
- A Pivot point in your life
The middle plateau ground
It can be a waiting period to ensure you have all the skills, values and information you need for the next stage. It can be a time when you feel that you are treading water—going nowhere fast—but it is an important period.
What ends a plateau period?
The timing for your next stage is found in your readiness. Your mind, body and soul have caught up with one another and there is room and space to move forward. For a believer it is as though God’s plans are aligned with your plans—the other agendas are now ready for you to go ahead. It is worth checking out if your are moving forward in His plans or in your own strength?
Time periods are unpredictable as your learning, consolidating and taking action is personal and specific to your character and circumstances.
What to do when you Plateau?
- You need to be patient in the waiting! It is a natural defense for your health and so you can only continue onto the next stage when you are fully ready.
- You may find waiting for the next stage very difficult, baffling and unwanted. However, you can use this very effectively.
- Invest in your work and personal life with what you already know, so your skills and values gain deeper understand and form a stronger foundation. You will know what works and what does not work for you and can use this knowledge later. Use your physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual muscles; enjoy the known territory for this moment. All your muscles can be toned, steadied and practiced without straining in a plateau time.
- Plateau periods can be invigorating in itself and do not need to be considered a permanent state. Avoid fearful thoughts: such as the plateau period is always going to be how the rest of your life is going to be and allow your mind, body, and soul time to catch up with each other.
- Be as comfortable with plateau periods as you are in periods of activity and progress.
- Take the flatness out of a plateau by viewing patience as a skill. While you practice it be a friend to yourself and show yourself some kindness by lowering your self expectations.
My friend, Jonesy, cried out: “It’s unfair, nothing is happening. I feel miserable, I’ve always made good progress in my career and
now it’s as though it’s finished as nothing is happening.”
Louis said: “When I talk to God – I cannot hear his voice anymore.”
Whereas Pat, also a believer, said: “It is in times like these, I have to draw on inner strength, know that it will work out well and it’s all in God’s timing.”
To help You find a healthy balance and take advantage of the healing nature of plateauing I have put together a table for you.
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