The 8 Causes of Plateaus and How to Beat Them

Have you ever found yourself working really hard on something you care about?

Maybe you’re trying to get your business to launch, or learning a new language, or losing weight. But it seems that no matter how much extra effort you put in, you aren’t getting any more results.

You’ve hit what’s commonly referred to as a plateau.

Working harder or more hours is not the answer. There are better, proven ways to overcoming plateaus that have been thoroughly studied.

One of the best writings on plateaus has to be Sullivan’s book, The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success. The book fantastically identifies 8 causes of plateaus and how to beat them.

#1 Immunity

Immunity happens when you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Eventually, you become immune to that action and don’t see any results from it. Everyone has experienced that feeling at some point: kisses from their significant other all the time don’t feel as electric, doing the same exercises at the gym every day slows down your results over time. What worked well before is no longer effective.


Immunity is always beaten by diversity. Try different ways to excite your significant other and new exercises at the gym. For anything, change your approach, techniques, and procedures. Anything new will help you get out of that plateau.

#2 Greedy Algorithm

Think of what the word “greedy” means — you grabbed the first thing you saw. In decision-making and everyday life, it means that you picked the best looking and by consequence short-term solution at first. Unfortunately, the short-term solution hardly ever leads to the best long term outcome, so you end up getting stuck early. You hit plateaus in the long-term because you didn’t take the time to pick the best long-term option in the first place.


For every action and decision, always think about the long-term results. Someone being greedy would never become a doctor or start a business or eat a healthy diet because they’re only looking at the short term. But if you instead judge all of your actions and decisions based on long-term results, you’ll be able to project your path a lot better, avoid the plateaus, and reap the long-term rewards.

#3 Bad Timing

Maybe it’s just bad timing for you. You could start out on a new project or endeavour just to realize that it’s not the right time in your life. Maybe you’re too busy, or you’re tired, or there are other issues you have to take care of. Those kinds of things happen and are largely unavoidable since life is ever-changing.


Take a break. Resting is just as important as your work time since it helps you recharge for later. Your brain gets a chance to reset and approach the problem from a different angle. This will pay off in the long term as you recharge and kick butt later.

#4 Flow Issues

Flow issues happen when you run out of time, money, or other resources. Maybe there’s no time left in the day after work to exercise. Maybe you have no more money to invest in your business. Maybe you have a lot of family obligations that are pulling you in all directions. At the end of the day, something in your process or life is being inefficient, blocking you from being productive and breaking free from your plateau.


The key to breaking free of plateaus from flow issues is to find ways to lighten the load. Collaborate with other people to spread the work and share rewards. Ask for help or advice from others who are more experienced. Review your daily schedule and modify it to be more efficient.

#5 Distorted Data

We often make decisions based on distorted data, which leads us right into a plateau brick wall. For example, your personal trainer might give you bad workout advice, but you trust them because they’re supposed to be certified. When you’re in school, teachers and parents advertise career options as if only a few exist: doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant. But of course, many kids take their advice because it’s all they have.

At the same time, there are psychological biases. Fallacies such as confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and loss aversion all come into play in our decision making.


The best way to overcome plateaus from distorted data is to work on removing the distortion and psychological biases. First of all, get your data from the right source. Ask doctors what it’s like being a doctor and entrepreneurs how to start a business. For psychological biases, there are known remedies that have been proven by psychology research to help.

#6 Distraction

Distraction plateaus happen when we fall victim to the illusion of working while really not being productive at all. You might be sitting at your computer supposedly to study, but end up taking a lot of YouTube breaks. You’re not actually starting your business, you just keep reading and doing “research”.

There’s no real work being done, just procrastinating and multitasking. In a sense, you never really got started, so you were always on a plateau!


Focus on taking action and getting tangible results. If you’re doing a blog, how many articles have you published in the past week? If you’re running a business, how many new clients have you contact today? Research doesn’t count, only material results matter.

#7 Failing Slowly

Failing slowly is the natural way of working. Rather than jumping in right away, you start off slow, testing the waters to make sure things are safe and you can succeed.

The problem with this method is that it’s too slow. Taking baby steps might shield you from harm, but it also means that you can’t tell if you’re making real progress. How will you know if your blog is going to work out if you only write one article per month? It’ll take years for you to figure it out, so you can’t effectively monitor your progress.


The key to beating plateaus from slow failures is, of course, to fail faster. Take the biggest, most ambitious steps you can as fast as you can. This way, you’ll know immediately if your methods are working or not. If it works out, then great, you’ve succeeded! If not, then you’ve gained your learning experience fast and can move on to the next thing.

#8 Perfectionism

The desire to be perfect holds you back from making progress. It’ll never be the perfect time to do something new or creative or great. With a perfectionist mindset, there will always be something that’s off, something imperfect.

But that striving for perfection ends up holding you back because you never start! If you don’t take action, then you never actually move forward in the real world.


Focus on having a bias for action. Your first step should not be to think, it should be to act. Get into the habit of acting first to get feedback, learn, and then you can think about how to improve your methods.

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