Have you ever started a fitness program and made great progress at the on-set? The weight falls off. The muscles start to build. It almost feels effortless.
And then you hit a wall.
The scale doesn't budge. You can't lift heavier weights. You aren't increasing your repetitions. You aren't able to gain speed or distance on your runs. You've hit the dreaded plateau - the arch nemesis of every fitness junkie. The plateau brings your progress to a screeching halt. The exercises and habits that once yielded positive results don't produce anything anymore. You are like a hamster on a wheel: running and running and getting no where.
So how do you overcome this obstacle? Are you simply stuck with no hope?
Take heart, there is a way out of the plateau.
In all of my research on how to bust through a plateau I have narrowed down all the articles and opinions to my top 4 favorite pieces of advice. What I found so encouraging about these 4 simple steps is that they aren't just related to your physical fitness. They are perfect plateau busters for the spiritually stagnant as well. Just like physical plateaus, spiritual plateaus are the arch nemesis of the Christ follower. They threaten to pull our attention away from God and leave us dull and useless in furthering His Kingdom. When we hit a plateau our prayer life grows silent, our thirst for God's word diminishes and our heart is simply not yearning for God the way it used to. Have you ever experienced this type of plateau? You don't need to fall deep into sin, denounce God or switch religions to plateau. That is a different matter entirely. A spiritual plateau is like a stagnant swamp that has no flow of water in or out, creating a stench that only worsens over time.
To grow in our faith we must push through our plateaus, not give in to them. To grow out fitness capabilities we must bust through our plateaus, not just do the same old-same old.
The following are 4 tid-bits of information to try out the next time you hit a plateau. I hope they will encourage you and help you claim the victory over your next plateau:
1.) Identify your weakness. If it is in fitness maybe your weakness is your balance or your anaerobic capabilities. Identify the problem area and target that. If your squat looks great - great form, heavy weight, reasonable repetitions - then don't focus on improving your squat. But if your lateral lunge leaves you fatigued and practically falling over then put your effort into improving your lateral lunge. In your spiritual life maybe your weakness is carving out time for prayer. You are faithful in your devotional time but your prayer life is hit or miss. Be honest with yourself and identify this as your problem area. Then seek to fix it by setting a time and place that you will meet God in prayer.
2.) Baby steps. You won't go from lifting 30 pounds weights to 60 pound weights over night or over the course of week. But you will never get from 30 to 60 pound weights if you don't start lifting 35 pound weights. Start small. Start with reasonable increases and set reasonable goals. In your spiritual life, when you start to carve out that special time for prayer don't expect that you will go into a state of meditation for an hour if you haven't even been spending two minutes in prayer with any kind of regularity. Set an amount of time that you can stick to. Start with 10 minutes and really tune in to God. As you grow in your faith your time in prayer will grow too, just take that first baby step.
3.) Do more. Your dead-lift is your favorite exercise but you always stop at 12 repetitions. Why not do 15? Add a little bit more onto your current regimen. Don't stop just because you've always stopped there before. If your body can take it, push it a little bit further. In your spiritual life, don't stop just because the timer went off or the daily devotional has come to a close. If you always read your morning devotional why not add a time of journaling afterwards? Give God more of your time and you will encounter more of His heart.
4.) Do something different. Your body will get used to the same exercises if you never switch up your routine. A dumbbell bicep curl is great for a period of time but sooner or later your muscles won't be challenged unless you change the way they are being stressed. Move over to the cable machine, pick up a barbell, try using a kettle bell. Pick up something new and challenge your body in a different way. Your muscles won't know what hit them and that plateau will become history. If you are spiritually stagnant you can try something new, too. Instead of reading the same scripture over and over, try turning to a chapter of the Bible that you've never studied before. Seek out different authors, pick up a new book on an area of faith that interests you such as grace or miracles. Try changing the time or place that you do your daily devotional. If you have always read the Bible before bed try reading it in the morning instead. Switch it up, try something new.
These simple pieces of advice aren't complicated but they can have a profound impact on our physical and spiritual well being when we are honest enough with ourselves to know that we are face-to-face with a plateau.