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Creating Successful Leaders

We’re all familiar with that awful feeling of being stuck on a plateau, in a dry spell, up a river without a paddle, whatever you want to call it. After the excitement and challenge of learning something new, we get to the point of proficiency, and there is where you’ll encounter the deadly lull.

This is because your brain lights up to new challenges, releasing that feel-good chemical we call dopamine as a reward for reaching new milestones. You know what I’m talking about: that feeling you get when you finally nail the recipe that you never figured you could make, or hitting a personal fitness goal you thought impossible. It’s the joy of landing the big job, acing the tough class, or taking on a project that’s ripe for new personal growth. In other words, it’s the satisfaction that comes after long hours of frustration and failure where you go, “I got this!”

Unfortunately, once you get it, “its” magic wears off a bit. You do this new skill over and over, until your brain no longer feels challenged by what once took your full concentration. Welcome to proficiency, where it’s not a big deal anymore. It’s expected.

Author Whitney Johnson argues that the way to combat a plateau is to implement some personal disruption, writing that “We may be quite adept at doing the math around our future when things are linear, but neither business norĀ life is linear, and ultimately what our brain needs, even requires, is the dopamine of the unpredictable. More importantly, as we inhabit an increasingly zig-zag world, the best curve you can throw the competition is your ability to leap from one learning curve to the next.”

Don’t think of seeking out new challenges as a task you must do in order to meet the demands of the world at large. Instead, do it for yourself. Want to get that burst of accomplishment you used to get when you were still learning? Then seek out new tasks that push you outside where you’re already proficient. This is where real growth happens, and real growth leads to mastery.


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