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The Plateau

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Photo by Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash

I’ve noticed recently that in “projects” that are not necessarily defined in time, there comes a sagging. You know what I’m talking about. I’ll take exercise as an example because it’s rather concrete, but it happened to me in my therapy, writing books, parenting, you get the picture.

In the beginning, you have put in some initial work. That’s hard work, but you are motivated because you’ve decided to do it. That’s the definition of motivation: it makes you act. You’ve visualised yourself at the end of it; you broke it down into small goals, whatever. And after putting in some initial work, you start to see progress. You get fitter and stronger, and you notice those jeans don’t feel as constraining as they used to. Great. That motivates you to keep working.

But then, there’s a plateau of sorts. You’re not making as much progress as before. There’s work you need to do just to maintain the level of fitness you arrived at, but if you want to improve even more, you need to put in more work and time. And I want to improve more, but I don’t really want to devote my life to this thing, mainly because I have other things I also want to do.

Now, if you ask any search engine, including chatGPT, you can get a lot of techniques to get over the hump. My variations gave me things like using the Pomodoro technique, focusing on the process rather than the outcome, celebrating small wins, and reassessing my goals. All good advice, really.

Interestingly, not one of these variations told me to go through the motions, which is what Austin Kleon suggested just a couple of weeks ago. I like that. It’s what I often do and why I find my routine helpful. Besides, I tend to procrastinate less when I start writing than when I try reassessing my goals or looking for new ways to use the Pomodoro technique.

I’m still not sure, though, whether all of this is necessary. If ebbs and flows are natural, why don’t we have ebb-days: like weekends, but you take them when you feel de-motivated? I have a hard time taking days off, mostly because I had two grandmothers who never took a day off in their lives, and I’m married to a Type A, high-achieving person.

But, if we take the example of exercising, it doesn’t actually work that way. I can take a day off from exercising, but then I usually don’t feel like exercising the next day, either. However, if I just go on the rowing machine and start rowing, there’s a higher chance I’ll have more energy that day for other things, and I’m more likely to want to go back the next day. By the way, I love my rowing machine.

So, maybe the answer is just to start writing. It got me a blog post, at least, so that’s something.


Note: I use ChatGPT to summarise an area for me instead of using a search engine and looking at individual results. For example, for this post, I used prompts like "how to keep going when you don't know how long it'll take" and "what to do when you hit a plateau in progress". However, I didn't use it to write the actual post. Promise.


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