A typical learning curve is characterized by a slow start, rapid acceleration, and finally, the dreaded plateau. At first, most people have difficulty learning a new skill because many of the initial concepts are foreign. In jiu-jitsu, this is akin to learning the names of positions and techniques as well as some of the mechanisms behind their action. As you begin to internalize the many different positions and some of the philosophy behind them, you will be ready for the middle phase of your learning curve where you will experience rapid growth. The middle part of the learning curve is always the best because it is where you are picking things up at a rapid clip. Unfortunately, this growth is not sustainable and your skill development will eventually flatten out. This stage is usually called the plateau.
In jiu-jitsu, the plateau can be a practitioner’s biggest challenge. Understanding plateaus and why they occur are an important part of building your resilience and breaking through these barriers in order to ensure you stay the course. During the plateau, your progress will feel like it’s stalling out because it moves slowly. Plateaus, if not handled properly, can lead to frustration, burnout, and even cause some people to quit because they are no longer making the progress they desire. This is unfortunate because there are ways around plateaus, and by circumventing the area you are struggling with, you will ensure much greater overall progress and vastly improve your development on the mats. Here are some do’s and don’ts for dealing with your next plateau.
Ask for Your Instructor’s Feedback
When we hit a plateau, there is a point where our learning has slowed down and there is not much more we can do by ourselves. Soliciting your instructor’s feedback can be a great resource to find other avenues to accelerate your learning again. Perhaps you are missing a key detail in the positions you have worked. That tiny detail can result in another rapid learning phase. Keep in mind that your instructors have been where you are and likely have experienced many more of these periods where their learning leveled out. They have been through many of their own plateaus and will have some amazing guidance for you as you break through your own.
Try New Things
If ever there was a time to try new techniques or improve different positions, this is it. Your plateau happens because your learning of a particular skill begins to level out. You can keep the learning sharp if you take on new techniques and attempt to master new positions. Timing this for when you are beginning your plateau can keep your development moving continuously which will keep you from feeling like you are not learning anything. This is the time to get out of your comfort zone and work on new ideas instead of crashing headfirst into the area you are leveling off at.
There are many reasons why we can fail to overcome plateaus.
Sometimes, the frustration we experience from stalling out in our development can lead to stress and psychological burnout. Wearing down our mental capacities can hinder our problem-solving skills which will leave us much less equipped to handle these periods of slower progress. Taking a day or two to rest your mind and body can often help give you the reset you need to approach your struggles anew.
Be Hard on Yourself
When you hit a plateau, your attitude must stay positive. It is easy to develop a negative attitude when things seem like they are at a standstill. What one must understand is that though the progress has stalled out and is moving much more slowly, the fact remains that just by showing up, you are still making progress. Being too self-critical when you cannot see your own progress is a detriment to your development, and you will need to be kinder to yourself when you are experiencing these periods of slow progress. In jiu-jitsu, these times will be many, and you must move through them effectively.
Assume It Will Be Your Last
If this is your first plateau, congratulations. It likely means that you have excelled to a point in a certain area where your progress has slowed down and you are ready for the next big challenge. Keep in mind that this will not be your last plateau. You will experience them from time to time and you will continue to break past them if you are diligent enough to keep putting in the work. Be smart about how you approach your plateaus and you can use the skills here to overcome the next one.
Whatever you do, do not quit! Your plateau is not a good reason to end your practice. The great thing about reaching a plateau is that it is a good indicator that you have come a long way from where you started. Before you think about quitting, consider trying new things and getting some rest. Approach the issues you are having from new perspectives. Plateaus are not limited to your daily training but rather also occur in your day to day life. The same practices that help you overcome those plateaus are applicable here. We all have our ups and downs in this journey and quitting is rarely the answer.
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
– Vince Lombardi