How to move past a plateau to the next level

Ever get to a point when you’re practicing a skill where you feel stuck? Feel like you’re putting all this effort in, but you aren’t getting any better? Start wondering if you should really be even trying since you’re clearly not cut out for doing it?

Yeah, me neither.

But I recently read a great book, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer that throws a wrench in this thinking. In the book, Foer, who is training his memory skills to compete in a memory competition, explores his learning process. He cites Michael Posner and the late Paul Fitts, two psychologists who described what they termed the “OK plateau” that occurs when you are acquiring a new skill. In the”OK plateau”, you’ve moved past the first stages of mentally and physically getting the hang of a new activity and assimilating this new knowledge. You reach a stage where the activity becomes more autopilot.  It’s no longer as difficult as it was, but you get to a point where you stop improving. You’re ok at what you’re doing, but you’ve come to a plateau.

How do you get past the stagnation? Foer points out Dr. K Anders Erricson’s study of expertise. We move past a plateau by failing keep our brains in the OK plateau. The people who are able to get past this wall and improve further, “deliberately practice the things they aren’t good at or that are hard.” That means failing. On purpose. And using our failures as a tool for improving from our mistakes.

Easier said than done, especially if you’re a person who tends to be a perfectionist. It’s very tempting to stay in the comfort zone of being “OK”, where you don’t fail, but you also never progress any further. In Forrest Yoga, we are continually challenged to stay out of auto-pilot. Consciously staying present in the breath is one of the best ways I know to begin to push past a stuck point in a pose. Yet it’s challenging and sometimes scary and there are days when I just want to zone out, revert to auto-pilot, and go through the motions, staying comfortably on my safe plateau.

In my practice, I’m becoming aware of the times–or particular poses–where I resist the challenge and risk of failure that are required in order to move forward. In an upcoming post, I’ll share how I, along with some fellow yogis,  are committing to push ourselves beyond our wall.