Ep. 44 – The Brain Blahs: Pushing Past Plateaus

We humans love a good reward. We want to cross that finish line, get the medal, and hey maybe some orange slices, too. Wait, is there a way to skip that long line over there? I’m definitely up for that. 

What isn’t sexy for us is all that doing – the daily grind. The monotony of routine without results. Or at least not ones visible right now. 

It is very hard to stay motivated and persist past the plateaus. The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that growth occurs in spurts. Often the thing that gets us feeling stuck isn’t in the doing, it’s in the thinking that surrounds the doing. 

When we start wanting to tinker with our efforts, it’s likely a sign that the momentum machine is humming along. The steady rhythm of change often fades into background music when what we’re looking for is the sound of trumpets. 

It’s exactly in these times when you need to keep doing the doing even when – especially when – you aren’t seeing results. 

So how can you accelerate past a plateau? You might need to actually decelerate. Our brains and body can go on autopilot and while the effort may still feel the same, the output may be slowing. In these cases, rest is actually a useful strategy. Just as an overworked muscle needs time to repair, so does the brain. When you’ve been operating in the consistency loop, there can be a little less rev behind that engine. 

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you,” says the wonderful author Anne Lamott.

So if you’re still feeling stuck, try doing something else, something uncomfortable or something out-of-character. Episode 43 offered ideas on how to kickstart your morning routine. The ‘something uncomfortable’ suggestion there was to have a cold blast at the end of your shower. Shocking, yes, but intentionally so. 

Turn your attention to something else completely unrelated to the area that feels full of mud. Go to a midday matinee and turn off your phone. Walk through a thrift store, buy a piece of produce you rarely ever eat, turn on an actual radio (if you can find one!), drive to a dog park and watch how little they care about plateaus. 

Then as you come back to your effort, shift your focus to the micro actions. Making small adjustments in a routine can help refresh the approach. We are multi-sensory creatures so see where you can insert a new element or refresh an existing one. A new pair of workout shoes, a candle near your workstation, music that inspires or calms you, writing notes in a different colored pen. 

Beyond the tangible, focus on the very next Next. Then say it out loud. “I’m going to move to that table by the window.” And then the next: “Now I’m going to look up the phone number” and so on. 

Finding the micro-task helps with focus; whereas speaking it helps with accountability. It’s so easy to brush off our own mind and hearing your own voice out loud elevates the consciousness of the progress within reach to you. 

Finally, insert a little rah-rah into the routine. 

As adults, we rarely get cheers from the sidelines anymore so when you’re feeling in a slump, reach for the rah-rah that is just your style. For me, it’s words, it’s always been words. They are the cognitive comfort blanket that reminds me to keep going.  

In episode 12, I read part of a quote from a Dr. Suess book when the subject was about personal graduation ceremonies. 

For this topic, and in the spirit of a little rah-rah, I am stepping back into my childhood bedroom where there was a poster that hung on the wall. It’s called Don’t Quit and I can still recite it from memory. I have seen it attributed to two different poets: John Greenleaf Whittier and Edgar Guest. I honor them both since I don’t know the answer and I offer this poem here now as my rah to you- and it goes like this:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
When you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When we might have won had we stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–
You might succeed with another blow,

Success is failure turned inside out–
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

That’s it. 

Keep on, my friends, and until next time, keep finding ways to take good care. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.