When you are learning new stuff, there will come a time when you hit a plateau. At the plateau it feels like you’re not making any progress at all, no matter how hard you try. This can be a very frustrating experience, and unfortunately a lot of people give up learning and move on to something else (I know I have!). But the plateau is not an end, it’s a natural phase of the learning process and you are in fact still making progress.
Early stage learning
If we take learning a new sport as an example. When you first start you are a blank, you know nothing or not much about the sport. In the early months you will acquire new skills, learn the rules, experience the dynamics, and maybe even pick up some strategic insights. Progress is good! You see and experience that you get better at the sport every week and the progress satisfies you.
Hitting the plateau
But then slowly creeping in, your progress is not very visible anymore. You’re not learning a lot of new skills, you basically know them all already. There’s room for improvement, but you know the basics. You know the rules, have a feeling for the basic dynamics and crude strategies of the sport. You’re no longer a beginner, you are at intermediate level.
This is where you hit the plateau. The plateau is the experience where you feel that no matter how hard you try, there is no progress in learning. And even though this is not entirely true, the feeling is very real.
There are two major things happening here. The first is that you have progressed passed the bend in the learning curve. There are different stages in the learning curve:
- Beginner stage (0% to 60%)
The curve is very steep and you learn very fast
- Intermediate stage (60% to 80%)
This is passed the bend in the total curve. Learning speed declines and this phase takes longer than the beginner stage.
- Advanced stage (80% to 95%)
Learning speed declines even further and the length of the stage increases as again.
- Expert or Master stage (95% to 100%)
Learning speed drops to slow progress and the length of the stage stretches into eternity
So once you hit Intermediate level, your progress slows down. And at the same time it gets increasingly difficult to measure that progress, especially for the one learning the new sport. These effects combined result in the feeling that you have hit a plateau in learning.
Beating the plateau
Even when the plateau is not really a plateau (you’re still making progress), how can you beat the feeling that you’re not making progress? Here are some suggestions:
- Focus on the fun
Focus on enjoying what you’re doing, rather than on the progress you want to make. You have left the beginner stage, you’re at intermediate level already, now have some fun!
- Take some time off
If you get frustrated with the new sport (or every other learning process), take some time off. If you’re losing the fun, don’t pursue your learning goals relentlessly. Take some time off to regain the fun, but don’t quit!
- Celebrate your intermediate level
You’re not a beginner anymore! Be proud! At this time you can change from learning to gaining experience. At the intermediate stage and beyond gaining experience is the learning process. You have the rudimentary skills, now repeat them a lot to integrate them into your system. And by doing so you’re building confidence.
- Accept that there is not learning plateau
The learning plateau is not real, it’s a mental concept. You are making progress, it just doesn’t feel like it. Accept that there’s no learning plateau and reframe it to the concept of slower progress of more advanced stages. There is no learning plateau…