Friday, February 6, 2015

Work through the plateau / Catch a wave

The hard part of a project is the plateau. You flatten out, level off... progress grinds to a seeming halt. But does it?
Like I think I've mentioned here before, it seems that sometimes after 'giving up' and walking away from something for any number of reasons, you forget about it. A few weeks or months (or longer) later, for whatever reason, you pick it back up, out of necessity, nostalgia, or something else, and it seems.... suddenly not so challenging. I mentioned this before in the context of trying to learn to read Urdu. It seemed so complicated and so non-intuitive... I set it aside for a while (because I didn't really need to learn it to begin with), and remember coming back to it a while later and thinking.... this makes so much sense.
Perhaps it was because I saw it from a different angle, or had a more 'big picture' idea, but I am pretty sure it was not because I had done lots of other study on it or had more exposure to it in the interim. That was a passing thought I'd had.
Perhaps my next learning project. We shall see
But I got to talking to a coworker the other day about progress and plateaus, and it struck me that this is kind of a fun thing about learning... as long as you do it continually. Sure, there are plateaus, but pushing through them isn't useless. Rather, it enforces and solidifies what you've already learned. But it seems that plateaus and waves come in cycles, like those moving walkways at an airport. You'll have to walk a hundred yards or so by yourself (and that section is where all the bathrooms and water fountains are), but then there's another walkway, and if you are paying attention, you can take that fast track and make some extra progress for that little section. Have you ever noticed how fast you feel when you walk fast on the moving walkway? Soaring!
In any case, I feel like whether it's music, working out, language, almost anything... progress comes in waves, and it's not even really progress itself. It's the opportunity for progress.
I'm thinking now that I probably should have had a reality-check and run this idea by some others before talking about it, but I feel like I'll have these great inspired stretches of a few months where things come easy (in one endeavor or another, sometimes together) and I feel like I'm making
huge strides in whatever it is (learning Italian, studying composition, adding weight to my squat, whatever) and when you see that, take advantage of it, right? Push a little harder, work a little more, because it seems like it's being handed to you, and you don't know how long it'll last. It's like the Super Star that turns you into Invincible Mario. Don't waste that time, because it's like a superpower, and it won't last. Study, read, speak, take notes, and make your intellectual/musical/linguistic/athletic hay while the proverbial sun shines, because there's another plateau on the way.
I am curious as to what it is that causes this. Perhaps it's just a contrast to the less productive
period that came before it; artists have creative bursts. I feel very specifically that I could almost mark on a  calendar, even in retrospect, where some of my productive spurts have been in the past year or so. I'd say they last for a couple of months, and happen maybe twice a year... ish.
I also think that certain productive habits can kind of... condition you to maintain some degree of creativity or productivity even throughout the drier spells and plateaus. I have a lot of writing to do with my two blogs. If you're a reader of Fugue for Thought, you know that we have various series and collections of pieces that represent a few weeks' or months' (or more) worth of a train of thought. I've got that blog (one section of it) tentatively scheduled out to January of 2016, with only two open spots. That keeps me busy, and there's always something kind of in the back of my mind about it, so if I have a thought or an idea, I'll set it to paper or make a note about it immediately and may even write an entire article on the spot, even if it isn't for another few months. I did that recently with a four-part series I'll be posting in a few months. It was done in one day just because the ideas all kind of made sense in my head, so I took the opportunity to get it down onto 'paper.' (You may have noticed this blog is still a bit haphazard and I haven't gotten into that great a routine [yet]).
What I mean to say with all this is that if you feel you're on a creative spurt, or have that burning desire to do some learning or reading or need to scratch an itch, then take advantage of it! Just this week I had a wild hair and decided I want to learn a new language, something radically different than anything I've studied before. I will likely not continue with it, but it would be nice if I could. And even if I don't, it's a great mental exercise, and who knows when some of it might come in handy.
This somehow is less cohesive than it was in my mind. People perhaps get discouraged when things are difficult to memorize or seem not to come easy or when progress seems slow. I'm not sure if it's just part of some weird cycle (full moon?) or if there's some other trigger to it, but really, when you're on a roll, take advantage of it. That way, you've stored up lots and lots to ponder on and think about during your next dormant phase. It's exciting, I think, and I hope someone reading this has some idea what I'm talking about and can identify with what I'm saying here.
In short, it comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts, and be patient when it goes.
Just keep learning.

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