11/24/2014 12:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Tell if You're Plateauing (And What to Do About It)

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I guess we most commonly associate plateauing with age.

People say that you plateau when you get older; that you level off and no longer become better at anything because your body and mind are tired.

That's a load of garbage.

I've known people younger than myself who have already plateaued and I've know people much older than myself who are way more physically and intellectually fit that I've ever been.

My point is that you're never too young or old to stop trying, but you're also never too young or old to do something about it.

My goal with this post is to help you realize if you've stopped trying to better yourself, to show you why it's important to keep pushing and to help you find ways to improve any lack of motivation you may have towards the latter.

How to tell if you've leveled off


We all get busier as we get older. You get out of college and start working and, suddenly, what you thought was very little free time becomes a whole lot less. Or maybe you started working immediately after high school and spend the majority of your time doing manual labor. Either way, we tend to start making excuses for ourselves about why we can't learn something new, or exercise, or give our time to others.

"I'm too (insert reason/excuse here) to (insert the thing you're should do here)." The statement of a chronic plateauer.

If you find yourself thinking and saying things like this often throughout each day, it's likely that you've already plateaued.

I mean things like "I'm too busy to do that" and "I have too many deadlines to do this." Not statements like "I'm too sick to go to the gym." You do need to know your limits and this latter example is a responsible and healthy choice.

I mean when you make excuses for yourself about why you can't try something new or change your routine. I understand that you feel swamped with everything that's on your plate already and you don't want to take on more. But what are you really gaining by not trying to improve yourself and test your limits?

You might think you're gaining time. But time to do what? To sit in front of the TV and watch everything around you pass by?

If you want more for yourself than that -- if you want to be an active participant in your own life -- then I want to make you specifically aware of the fact that you can do whatever you want with your life, whenever you want. It can even seem quite easy if you approach it with the right mindset.

But why should you try? Why should you give up precious hours of your day to train for a 5K, or learn a new language, or -- what the hell -- learn woodworking?

Why plateauing is bad


Unfortunately, plateauing is socially acceptable in our society (that of the U.S.) and people who go above and beyond to improve themselves throughout their lives are seen as the "overachievers."

But allowing yourself to level off is bad for a number of reasons.

For one, you don't get nearly as much satisfaction out of your life when you allow yourself to only go through the motions. When you decide that you want to learn something new or get healthier, you start setting goals for yourself. And each time you meet one of those goals you feel awesome.

Two, you don't realize your full potential. If you let yourself plateau and never make new, meaningful goals for the kind of person you want to be, you might go through your entire life thinking "Oh, I'm just your average so-and-so."

When you strive to do new things, you find that you can surprise yourself, which can be a huge confidence-booster.

Thirdly, you don't enjoy the small things in each day. Putting away laundry and cleaning up after your pets or kids might not be the number one thing you'd like to do. But when you get daily satisfaction out of hobbies that you choose to participate in, doing the normal stuff doesn't seem so bad.

Your day is overall more enjoyable and you're more productive in your daily tasks because you aren't a grumpy mess.

There are plenty of other reasons why plateauing is bad. Its keeps you from growing as a person, it limits the ways in which you can contribute to society -- it limits the ways in which you see yourself.

But now it's time to talk solutions. Say I've actually interested you in breaking up that plateau. What actions can you take to shake things up in a healthy and productive way?

What you can do to unplateau yourself


I don't expect you to suddenly start CrossFit training (but if you want to I would certainly support the idea!). There are a number of small things you can start doing to create some excitement in your day without disrupting your usual productivity levels. Here are just a few of them:

1. Make realistic goals for yourself

One of the quickest ways to get out of your slump is to start setting goals for yourself. However, if you set goals that are too easy or totally unrealistic, you aren't going to feel very satisfied with yourself when you complete them.

Another common oversight we make when setting goals is that we don't set them for ourselves. We set them for our boss or our family. While striving to do well at work and at home is great, it isn't a goal for you.

If you really want to get off your plateau, you need to set a goal for yourself about something that is important to you and that you can achieve alone (you're certainly welcome to include others in reaching your goal, but it shouldn't be necessary).

For example, if the way you want to better yourself is by getting in shape, don't set the unrealistic goal of jogging 5 miles the first time you go running. Just make a goal to go running two or three times your first week, and then bump up your goals from there.

2. Nip negative statements in the bud

One of the main reasons we plateau in life is because we allow ourselves to think in negative ways. Remember my earlier example of "I'm too (insert reason/excuse here) to (insert the thing you're should do here)?" It's a perfect example of a negative statement. You're saying that you can't do something because something else is getting in the way.

It can be really difficult to change the way your brain is wired, so if you have a hard time preventing negatives statements from slipping in, just change the way you think about them. My favorite way to do this is to follow up a negative statement with "but..."

For example, "I'm too busy to go to the movies, but I bet I could go to the movies and finish up the rest of my work later." Once you add the "but" after the negative statement, it becomes a lot easier for your brain to think of a positive solution to the problem.

Part of keeping yourself from leveling off in life is keeping a positive attitude and, for me, this has been one of the most helpful ways to do so.

3. Don't feel bad when you fail

Failure is all a part of making sure that you don't plateau. The way I see it, if you imagine a straight plateau, a few (or even many) pitfalls in the dirt are way more interesting than one straight, boring plane.

Use any failures you experience to motivate your future successes. Feel great about the fact that you tried and failed as opposed to never trying at all. It might sound a little cheesy, but perspective is optional and how you choose yours will influence how happy and satisfied you are with your life.

If you made it all the way through this post, I'm proud of you. It's a long one. Let it be the first of many successes and failures as you strive to improve your life, productivity and positivity in the future.

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