Jan 27, 2024

Pressure Proof Tip: The Power of P

USEA/Lindsay Berreth photo

Most people believe skill development is linear, meaning we start from nothing and gradually improve from there. They think the first point on the learning-graph starts low on the left and rises steadily upwards to the right from there. While this seems logical, it’s not actually true. The real graph of skill acquisition looks more like a slight up-slope followed by a plateau, a pit and a peak.

There are many different phases to skill acquisition. Most are positive and empowering but there is one that can be a bit of a downer. That phase is called the plunge. Here are the five steps that most people believe lead to proficiency:

Pick: We select a skill that is meaningful to us.

Practice: We attempt that skill and repeat it.

Progress: We improve our ability to execute that skill.

Perform: We keep practicing that skill until we can perform it successfully.

Peak: We continue practicing, progressing and performing it until proficiency

Sadly, this plan is missing three pivotal pieces: pushes, plateaus, and plunges, and without them peak performance just isn’t possible. The actual path to proficiency looks more like this: We pick, practice, progress, and learn to perform a new skill, but that’s when we hit the plateau; the place where our progress stops, and we’re prevented from becoming truly proficient. Luckily this is where the push and the plunge come in; the two pieces of the puzzle that are designed to break the plateau.

The push and plunge are what occur when we realize that, “To get something we’ve never had, we’ll need to do something we’ve never done”… and to do that we’ll need to push ourselves outside our comfort zone where a temporary plunge in our performance is sure to occur.

Take for example developing a strong leg. We practice riding and progress until we can perform good leg-aids, but we know that this is where the plateau begins so we push ourselves outside our comfort zone by dropping our stirrups, which causes our performance to plunge a bit. We know, however, that if we refuse to ride without stirrups we'll miss the push and plunge phases which will ultimately keep us stuck on the plateau forever!

But there’s a problem. Many riders predict the plunge and either pause or procrastinate to avoid it which causes them to stay perched on the plateau. The solution is to simply develop persistence and the perception that we have the potential to push past the plunge and that all that’s needed is a bit of humility and vulnerability. One way to do this is to simply re-label the plunge from something bad to be avoided, to something good that inspires growth. Sadly if we put-off the plunge we also put-off the potential of reaching proficiency.

Perfectionist struggle the most with the push to the plunge problem because their self-perception is usually based on performing perfectly. Sadly, they put so much pressure on themselves to perform perfectly that they clip their own wings by avoiding the push into the plunge altogether.

One of the history’s greatest runners, Steve Prefontaine once said, I’m not the fastest runner, I’m just the one who can handle the most pain. Pushing to the plunge can be emotionally painful… that’s why many riders avoid it, but if we re-label it from a problem to a plan we can avoid much of the pain it causes. Plan for the plunge, and you eliminate the problem!

The same thing happens in real life. You may learn a foreign language in school but you’ll eventually plateau…until you spend a summer in France struggling, knowing that it’s the struggle (the push to the plunge) that’ll ultimately break the plateau and lead to greater fluency.

This is how we actually achieve peak performance:

Pick: We select a skill that is meaningful to us.

Practice: We attempt that skill and repeat it often.

Progress: We improve our ability to execute that skill.

Perform: We keep practicing that skill until we can do it successfully.

Plateau: We find that our progress pauses and our performance levels off.

Push: We push ourselves off the plateau by trying something new.

Plunge: We struggle with this new skill but know it’ll help us break the plateau.

Peak: We reach a new level of proficiency thanks to the push to the plunge!

Wow, that’s a lot of P’s! It’s a good thing I’m writing this because if I was saying this I’d probably be spraying this! I hope you enjoyed this month’s Pressure Proof tip. l’m building my 2024 summer clinic tour now so if you’d like me to teach a mental coaching clinic and/or seminar to your riders send me an email at [email protected] or visit www.PressureProofAcademy.com.

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