Try Harder

Plateaus don't mean that you stop. Psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner defined the three phases we go through when we acquire a new skill.

1. The cognitive phase - we think about the task and figure out ways to carry it out more proficiently 2. The associative phase - we don't need to concentrate as hard to complete the task, we make fewer mistakes and become more efficient 3. The autonomous phase - we run on auto-pilot and don't think about what we're doing

Many of our daily tasks require us to be in an autonomous phase otherwise our brains would be over-loaded. But in some areas of our lives, this is not where we want to stop. How to go beyond this phase?

Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a leading researcher on expertise, has found that the autonomous phase represents a plateau that is not the upward boundary of our innate ability. Meaning, his work has found that we often do more or better than we think we can.

His work found that top performers stay out of the autonomous phase by

a. focusing on their technique b. committing to a goal c. getting feedback

For example, professional athletes spend most of their time working on difficult moves, while amateur athletes practice moves they already know. The key to going beyond your capabilities is to constantly push beyond what you think you can do and then analyze your failures. In essence, you have to become a "self scientist" - understanding what you think you can do, test it, track the data and then revise your understanding.

Or as martial artist Bruce Lee put it “There are no limits. There are plateaus, and you must not stay there; you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.”