Why We Need Plateaus
As a beginner it is easy to become overwhelmed by the various skills and scenarios presented in class. It can feel like a bunch of mental clutter floating around in your head. Much like a room with scattered clothing and books and toys and dishes and papers all over the place, it is really difficult to walk in and think anything other than, “Oh, man! Where do I start?”
Gathering and Organizing
Just like we would create a list of priorities to clean that room, we must be able to do the same with our thoughts. Everything should have a place in the room, and if it doesn’t, find a place or get rid of it. Training is the same process. The more we train, the more our brain and body should be finding little “buckets” to place specific knowledge into. This is the information gathering and organization phase.
Trimming the Fat
Progressing from the beginner mindset into intermediate, the next stage involves gaining confidence in accessing all that information previously gathered. We begin to find moments of success in applying concepts and skills we’ve been training because the repetition begins to take effect. We also might begin “trimming” away pieces of what we’ve learned to streamline out movements or thought processes.
“The plateau is nature’s way of creating change opportunity in ourselves.”
The more this continues, however, one of two things tends to occur: analysis paralysis or complacency. Analysis paralysis is when the brain pauses for a moment to figure out what is next, even when the available options are glaringly obvious. Complacency is simply becoming comfortable with specific habits because that skill has been drilled into near boredom. In either situation, this is the first “plateau” in training.
Plateaus get a bad rap. They tend to carry a negative connotation because of the root causes mentioned above. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t want to stay in a plateau. What is often overlooked is that there is very little room or opportunity to grow without them.
Think about it for a moment. Growth in training is really just change for the better...improvement. Without the need to grow, there’s little desire to seek improvement. We could be doing everything correct to that point, but progress is still stalled. The plateau is nature’s way of creating change opportunity in ourselves.
Supply and Demand
It’s a basic “supply and demand” relationship. If we want to grow and improve we must be able to recognize the moments that these opportunities are presented. Where to focus the attention at that point is a deeper discussion but that’s why we have instructors, coaches, mentors, and peers. Rarely can someone answer these questions on their own.
The “clutter > gathering > plateau” sequence is a never ending cycle. There is always something to work on, or something to improve. It just becomes more and more focused each time we go through the sequence. This is really what differentiates more advanced [anything] from others, and the exact reason for the adage, “there’s always something to learn.”
So the next time you feel “stuck” in your training, or overwhelmed by options, understand this is where you’re supposed to be at that moment. What you do with that plateau is what decides your growth into the next phase of your training. So go forth...collect, conquer, plateau, and improve!