Ray of Hope in a Landscape of Stimuli
I am stuck on a learning plateau and it’s exhausting: The current learning stimulus is not sufficient enough to induce further synaptic changes.
No matter which new skill is being learnt, it’s common to hit one or several plateaus throughout practice – and it’s also common to get discouraged by the vanishing progress with reduced or no visible improvement. But when I am starting something, I want to do it good. It sometimes feels like a curse: I will go every extra mile needed to achieve what I want to. And this has cost me not only a lot of time with missed days of relaxation and fun, but probably also some friendships, connections with people, and diverse experiences throughout life that I missed out on.
I juggled for many years, but getting beyond five balls just never really happened. Hours and hours, weeks and weeks, several years, I spent throwing stuff in the air, just to catch it one more time. While there was a lot to enjoy, it also involved many hours, alone, of focused practice to reach the next level. I also played piano for over ten years; but there, I got stuck as well. The problem was that I did not put in the required effort, even though the conditions were excellent. I learned some great techniques on the way from my last piano teacher on how to achieve continuous progress; however, I did not implement them until later in another hobby: climbing.
I am climbing now for eight years and it is the hobby where I have the most direct experience with plateaus. My piano teacher always knew the most important part and tried to explain it to me so that I can act accordingly: To overcome plateaus, the most important thing is to adapt the stimulus to your progress and vary it over time. This involves active analysis of your efforts and progress, knowledge and creativity for planning your next steps, and willpower and stamina to adhere to your plans. I have encountered many people in bouldering who wonder why they do not progress any more “even though they train as much as they did in the beginning when they progressed quickly”. But that’s the point: You cannot do the same training and expect it to work all the time! Body and mind will adapt and, thus, your training has to adapt as well. This doesn’t always mean you need to train more or harder, but often it means you need to change your training altogether.
And then, there is my beloved new hobby: Photography. Lately, I am also feeling kind of stuck. I am not satisfied with the results; as always, I want more. However, I did not implement the lessons I learned in climbing so far: I not only need to put in more precious time, but I also need new stimuli. I am eager for our next holidays, but I should also try street photography, portraits, city scapes, anything else from nature.
But maybe even more important: I think I have to learn how to set lower goals for myself. I have to learn how to be happy with the journey, even if it’s is slow, instead of focusing too much on the results. I have to stop moving my goal posts before I even reach them.