OK Plateau

Most of us spend at least an hour a day practicing, but we don’t notice much improvement.

In the 1960s psychologists found we pass through 3 phases.

The cognitive phase where we’re figuring out the task while discovering new strategies to perform better and making tons of mistakes. This is where we are focused on what we’re doing.

The associative phase where we make fewer errors and slowly get better.

The autonomous phase where we turn on our autopilot and move the skill to the back of our head by doing it and not necessarily paying attention.

When we feel we are good enough at a task, we simply turn autopilot on and go about our merry lives. We all reach OK Plateaus because of this.

Psychologists believed that there are barriers that we cannot overcome whether they be mental or physical. For example, it used to be the case that nobody could run a mile faster than 4 minutes.

Then one person ran a 4 minute mile, and eventually somebody ran a second faster. Now every person who deems themselves a competent runner can run a 4 minute mile. It’s as if the floodgates lowered this barrier, simply by having someone break straight through.

What differentiates experts who are amazing at what they do? Is there something you can learn to do something better and become amazing at? The answer is yes. There are a set of generalized principles that are used by experts in the field of why their practice regimen gives them the expertise they desire.

If you want to get better at something, you cannot do it when you’re in the autonomous phase. It’s too hard to develop expertise. Use these strategies to stay out of this phase.

  • They operate outside of their comfort zone and study themselves failing.

For example, if you wanted to lift more at the gym, try to lift 20% more than you typically do, and see where you fail. You’ll spend more time understanding where you failed and how you can improve. The best people who practice try things that are really hard. Deliberate practice at it’s nature is hard.

  • People will also walk in the shoes of people who are more competent than they are.

Instead of how much practice you put in, think about how much studying you do around closing the gap between you and people who are more competent than you.

  • Experts crave and thrive on immediate and constant feedback.

Intuition does not provide you enough of a compass to know where to improve. Rather having a close feedback loop will provide you with methods to tune where you could improve next time.

  • Experts treat what they do like science.

They collect data, they analyze data, they create theories of what works and what doesn’t and they test them. This helps us create best practices.

Having a notion of overcoming OK Plateaus will separate you from just ok to amazing.