Pushing Through a Learning Plateau

Posted on November 26, 2012 by


It is amazing how quickly you can progress when you start learning a new skill.   It is self-reinforcing, motivating and downright addicting to make advances every day and it is easy to get used to that feeling.  Unfortunately, everyone eventually hits a spot where they stop making obvious improvements.  A learning plateau.

I hinted in my 200 hour guitar post that I felt I was beginning to stall in my own development and I am even more sure now that my growth has leveled off.  It is an extremely frustrating experience to be in a learning plateau.  It seems like no matter how much work you put in you are constantly at the same level.  Sometimes it even feels like your skills are regressing.

If you are learning guitar or any other skill you may be experiencing this right now.  I want to share with you how I push through learning plateaus and get back on track to achieve my goals but before I do that I want to share the conventional wisdom on the topic.

The Conventional Wisdom:

Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Plateaus are a natural part of learning any skill.  It is not a signal that you are not smart, coordinated or talented enough to reach your goal.  Anyone that has learned anything has dealt with and pushed through them.

Reflect on how far you have come.  Now is a good time to reflect on how far you have come since you started.  Maybe you recorded a video when you started or have a friend or partner that has watched your evolution.  I bet if you think about it you will realize that you have come a long way in a short time.

Have some fun.  If you have been practicing deliberately then you know that it usually isn’t that much fun.  Now might be a good time to indulge yourself a little bit.  Enjoy some of the new skills you have recently built without worrying too much about meeting your goals or pushing yourself to the next level.

Evaluate your habits.  If you have stalled in your progress it might be a result of poor practice technique.  Are you still practicing the tenets of deliberate practice?  Are you working on advancing or solidifying your skills every day?  If you aren’t then put together a plan to get back on track.

Focus on your base-skills.  A building is only as strong as its foundation and your skills are only as strong as your base-skills.  You may want to take a couple steps backwards and focus your efforts on them.  By remastering the base-skills you may find your higher order skills increasing too.

Shake things up a bit.  Have you been grinding away on the same exercises for a month?  Try shaking things up a bit and try something new and different.  After spending some time on the new material revisit the old exercises and you may have a breakthrough.

Find a teacher.  If you haven’t taken any lessons now might be a good time to start.  A teacher can help point out your weaknesses and prescribe exercises that will help you get back on track.  If you already have a teacher maybe you should try someone new.

Watch something motivational.  Sometimes you just need to get yourself fired up again.  Remember how you felt when you were just getting started?  Watch a video, read an article, listen to some music.  Do whatever you need to do to recapture that feeling and get yourself motivated again.

Getting Past My Plateau

I have personally applied all of the advice above at various times when I have been struggling with a learning plateau.  I don’t think there is one prescription that will work for everyone all the time.  Only you can figure out what is causing your progress to stall.

Maybe one of the pieces of advice above resonated with you.  Maybe you are already doing everything above and you will just have to ride it out.  Whatever you do don’t let this plateau discourage you and stop you from continuing.

I personally believe that the most important action is to keep working towards your goal.  The worst thing you can do is quit because you feel like you have reached some sort of natural limit.  Or quit because you think that it is too hard to make any more breakthroughs.

You need to keep showing up.  Progress is never a straight linear path.  Sometimes your skills progress quickly and other times they slow and sometimes even revert.  If you keep showing up and applying focused effort I promise that you will eventually make progress.

That is what I am going to do and I hope that you do too.

Do you have any tips for getting past a learning plateau?

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:
Interleaved Practice: A Secret Enhanced Learning Technique
Anything You Can Do I Can Do Also
Pushing Through a Learning Plateau on Guitar