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PRODUCTIVITY

What to Do When You Hit a Plateau

Sooner or later, your efforts--and your energy--will stall. Don't fear it. Instead, learn how to work through it.
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Whether you're developing a skill or building a business, sooner or later you'll hit a plateau. Even though you're trying harder than ever, you're not getting results. In fact, it almost seems as if you're moving backward. Here's what you do:

1. Realize that this is a good thing.

In nature, healthy growth takes place in spurts. For example, when it's cold outside, trees and animals alike go dormant, waiting for warmer weather.

The same is true of human achievement. There will be times when you're improving like crazy and times when things move like molasses.

The fact that you've hit a plateau means that your progress is organic and sustainable, rather than a temporary bubble about to burst.

2. Have faith in yourself.

Even though you feel as if you're stalled, the fact that you've gotten as far as you have is evidence that you can go further.

Dig deep inside yourself and find the source of your motivation, the higher purpose that pointed you in the direction you're going.

Reflect on why you're working toward those goals and why it's worth the effort, even when it seems as if those efforts aren't being rewarded.

3. Keep doing the basics.

Thomas Edison said that "genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." The perspiration part is getting up every day and practicing the basics.

That's true if you're an Olympic athlete, and it's true if you're an entrepreneur. It's the day-to-day attention to details that will eventually pay off.

4. Celebrate the performance dip.

The dip is when you're practicing the basics and you seem to be getting worse rather than better. You're closing fewer deals than ever; you're losing against competitors whom you easily beat in the past.

This is when many people give up, because it all seems so hopeless. Don't give up now. Instead, you should celebrate, because the dip is a certain sign that your plateau is almost over. In fact, you're about to...

5. Experience a breakthrough.

If you persevere through the dip, you'll make some crucial distinction or have some special insight that will allow you to take your game up to the next level.

So long as you continue to hope and dream and stay focused on your craft, the breakthrough is inevitable. It will come. Believe it.

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Last updated: Mar 21, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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