When you’re a business owner, or if you’re working towards any sort of goal, you’re probably focused on moving “onward and upward” at all times. You’re always thinking about what’s next and how to get there.
Sometimes, though, we’re so focused on moving ahead at all costs that we make ourselves exhausted. Instead of paying attention to the signs that are telling us it might be best to stay put for a while, we insist on struggling against the current.
We call this “stress progressing.” When you do it, you’re often so beat down by the time you reach your goal that it hardly seems worth all the effort it took to get there.
Have you ever had that feeling?
We usually tend to think of plateaus in a negative context, whether the topic is business or weight loss or anything else we’re striving for. We talk about plateaus as if they’re something you hit and need to move past as soon as possible, lest you stall out and lose all forward momentum.
But what if we started thinking about plateaus a little differently? What if we looked at them not as a terrible rut, but a natural part of the business-building process and something to actually revel in?
If you’re willing to make that mental shift, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Embracing the Plateau
Think about climbing a tall, challenging mountain peak. There are natural changes in the path; some areas are really steep, with sheer, jagged drop-offs, while other areas level off naturally. What happens when you get to those natural plateaus in the mountain?
You don’t rush ahead, afraid that you’ll suddenly lose all the progress you’ve made so far. No, in fact, you do the opposite. If you’ve been climbing for a while, you probably take a few deep breaths and give yourself a break. You might even sit down for a few minutes. You embrace the chance for rest, because you know there’s still a lot of work to be done ahead.
You can make a shift in your business by thinking about plateaus in the same way. Just because your growth has hit a slow spot doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to start sliding backwards, losing revenue you’ve worked so hard to build. The “leveling off point” is simply a natural part of building a business.
In fact, plateaus are a natural part of any growth process, and, as Bob Sullivan and Herbert Hugh Thompson explain in their book Getting Unstuck, a healthy part of it. Rather than follow conventional wisdom and try harder, stretching yourself thinner than you already are, they argue that sometimes the best thing to do during a plateau is absolutely nothing at all.
Just like reaching a level point in your mountain climb, a business plateau is a great time to take a breather. This might be the perfect opportunity to take that vacation you know you’ve needed or step away from the office for a bit to spend more time with your family.
Science has shown that taking time away from work is not only good for our productivity—it’s essential. Taking short breaks, like a trip to the water fountain, as well as long breaks, like a weeklong vacation, both result in a boost in productivity when we return to our work.
Embrace the plateau while it lasts.
Going back to the climbing scenario (maybe a vacation to the mountains is in our future!), there’s another key thing any good mountain climber does when he reaches a plateau in the journey: he anchors in.
He takes his caribeaners and clamps them to a new set of secure anchors, setting himself up for a safe and steady climb ahead. You guessed it—there’s a metaphor here for your business.
You can use plateaus as a chance to “anchor in” at a new safe spot, setting yourself up for even greater forward progress when you’re ready. This might mean investing in a new software your team needs to do its job better or making an investment you’ve been thinking about for a while.
It might even mean taking a few months to simply reassess where you’re at and get a clearer perspective on where you want to head next.
When you’re at a plateau, you’re not hanging off the side of the metaphorical mountain in a position of risk. It’s a great time to try something new while standing on solid ground.
When you reposition your thoughts around business plateaus, you’ll feel more comfortable during times that feel “stagnant” and you might even learn to take comfort in them. Plateaus can bring clarity and offer a chance to do some much needed preparation for a period of growth in the future.
Have you experienced a plateau in business? Did it end up being a good or bad thing? Leave us a comment and tell us!
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