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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Was 2011 Your Best Year Ever?

As published in the January 2012 Edition of Columbia Business Times:

2011 is in the books. How was your year? If 2011 was one of your better performing years, you may be headed for a plateau trap. We’ve all experienced it, the scenario where we just can’t seem to push past our prior success point.

Hitting a plateau is a perfectly natural phenomenon that occurs in many different forms and in all phases of our lives. Running into a plateau doesn’t have to mean failure — we could see it as a new challenge. Peaking can be an opportunity to renew ourselves, increase our learning, practice self-acceptance, reaffirm our values and take a run at an enduring and lasting kind of success.

When we hit plateaus in our work or life, we are encountering resistance or blockage between the stage we are currently in and the stage in which we would like to be. This could be a promotion, a pay increase or some other form of growth we desire. We start looking for paths that will lead us to the next stage. Those paths beyond the plateau are typically long, sometimes rocky and with no quick gratification, so we instead start taking paths of least resistance. Here are three of those paths:

We dabble

We start strong into something for a while and perhaps we get a quick result, but soon those instant results start to fade, so we’re off to try something else. We will say we just weren’t comfortable or it just wasn’t the right fit for us. While those things could be true, more often than not it was a patience issue or a “pain of change” aversion.

Some people make entire careers and lives out of dabbling. Their favorite phrase is “I tried it, and it didn’t work.” Dabblers are great targets for multilevel marketing people. When we dabble and the going gets tough, we get going … to dabble somewhere else.

We obsess

We just want to get to the bottom line. We believe someone or something has the simple answer to get us from here to there. When it doesn’t materialize right away, we obsess and go back to the way we did things when we did get results, thinking if we just push harder in the old way, somehow we will break through.

Pushing obsessively harder and harder to get results the previous way will only result in putting us further back than we were previously. When we obsess, we talk ourselves into scenarios where we believe we can willfully force change or results to happen our way without doing anything differently.

We hack

We believe we have the hang of it — and we are good enough to be where we are — so why try to advance. I call this hacking, because it perfectly describes my golf game. I’m decent enough to participate, but I don’t have enough desire to get better.

Leaders get this way, too. They have reached a certain level of position and success, and they can continue at that level or in a decline without having to change or step up their game. When we’re a hacker, we try to maintain whatever past success we have achieved.

Have you located yourself yet? When you hit a plateau, do you have a tendency to dabble, obsess or hack?

If you consider yourself on a path of continual improvement, you will realize that plateaus are part of your growth process. Plateaus can often be long, where nothing seems to improve. You may even get bored with the process.

The continual improvement process does not make for good 30-second commercials or 30-minute infomercials, where results are instant and guaranteed with an easy pathway. And if you are planning to embark on an improvement journey, you may even find yourself bucking current trends in American life.

Goals are great for future planning and targets, however the continual improvement process for the peak performer only exists in the present. It involves embracing and loving what you have to do today to push past the plateau. It involves not living too much in the past or too far into the future.

Your future results are simply a culmination of what you did with all your today’s. If all your todays are focused and executed with discipline toward continually improving with the proper change and discipline, those todays will culminate in a fabulous 2012.

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