OK Plateau

Are you cruising the OK Plateau?

If you’re not happy with “good enough,” it’s time to jump off the OK Plateau

Recently, we posted a video of a talk by Josh Foer called, “Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and Study Yourself Failing” on BodyUK’s Facebook page. In this video, Foer describes the “OK Plateau,” which he’s discovered from psychological sciences, to explore what distinguishes experts of any discipline, including athletes, from amateurs. Here’s a spoiler: it’s not innate ability. In this article, we review the Foer’s 3 key stages of skills development and relate it to fitness and training.

Understand how you learn skills

According to Foer, the key to reaching success is in understanding the three stages of skills acquisition we all go through. The first is a cognitive stage of learning whereby you have to intellectualize and give strict attention to what you’re doing. The second is the associative stage whereby you need to concentrate less, you make fewer mistakes and become better at the skill.  The third is an autonomous stage in which you no longer need conscious control over what you’re doing. This third stage, dubbed the “OK Plateau,” allows us to put repetitive tasks on autopilot and focus attention on more important things.

Get constant feedback

The same evolutionary feature which liberates our minds can also limit us from reaching our full potential. Constant daily experience or practice of a skill doesn’t necessarily lead to improvement or the development of further expertise. Foer uses the example of typing to demonstrate this. People reach a certain skill level with their typing and see no improvement in spite of years of daily practice because they’re surfing the OK Plateau. People who become experts, according to Foer, deliberately stay off the OK Plateau.  They engage in “deliberate practice” which puts them squarely in the cognitive stage. They focus on technique, stay goal-orientated and seek constant, immediate feedback on performance.

Put quality over quantity

Foer underlines that how you spend your time practicing is more important than how much time you spend doing it. To improve, you must spend your time on difficult tasks that reveal your failings. You must get out of your comfort zone. Seeing yourself fail allows you to pinpoint and fix problems.  Foer encourages you to look at people more successful and competent than you and study what they do, how they think and what decisions they make. Foer suggests to treat what you do like a science: collect data and discover best practices.

The above advice applies to anything we want to do or be good at including health and nutrition. Looking at the above points offers good advice for making healthy lifestyle changes:

  • Get quality, expert health and nutrition information and advice.
  • Review your lifestyle and pinpoint where you need to make changes.
  • Jump off the OK Plateau: set challenging goals and put constant deliberate focus on them.
  • Keep a food and training diary as a feedback tool. Be descriptive about what works or not.
  • Learn from your setbacks and other people’s experiences.
  • Join support networks for accountability, feedback and motivation.

The good news is that once you make all of these changes they will become natural and it won’t feel like a struggle. You might even find yourself on autopilot on a new plateau where great health and fitness is normal and you can use all that new energy to tackle your other goals in life. That’s a “Great Plateau”.

At BodyUK, we believe in potential, not limitation. Our programmes are designed to empower you to take control of your fitness and health. Feel free to get in touch if have any questions or you’d like to discuss your goals. 

The featured image is courtesy of winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Foer, Joshua (2012). Step outside your comfort zone.  (Accessed: 7 March 2016)
Foer, Joshua (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein. The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. London: Penguin Books.

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