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Emotional Development
13 April 2024

Plateaus: The Key to Self Confidence

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Plateaus are an inevitable part of the learning process, often happening after we’ve mastered the basics. Young people especially will mistakenly take them as evidence they’ve accomplished all that they can, and disengage from learning. But pushing through a plateau is the best way to achieve real excellence!


Discover the inevitable learning plateaus that young learners face and explore effective strategies for overcoming these challenges to achieve mastery and boost self-confidence. This article delves into why plateaus occur, their impact on development, and practical advice for parents to help their children navigate these critical learning phases.

  • Learning plateaus are common and signal mastery of basics, requiring new strategies to push forward.
  • Plateaus often stem from a learner’s negative self-perception and fear of failure.
  • Strategies like the “20% Rule” and encouraging vulnerability can help break through learning plateaus.
  • Understanding and navigating plateaus is crucial for developing resilience and achieving higher levels of skill and confidence.

Plateaus: The Key to Self Confidence

Learning plateaus challenge and potentially derail intermediate to advanced learners, stemming largely from our own mental hurdles and self-perceptions.

  • Starting new endeavours often begins with optimism and expected quick rewards.
  • Learning involves facing mental obstacles and unexpected challenges.
  • Article examines learning plateaus and their roots in negative self-perceptions.

When we start a new job, relationship or hobby we’ll often begin with a story in our mind of how we’re going to start learning and while it might be tough, we’ll be able to stand it and in no time we’ll be rewarded with happiness and accomplishment.

Learning isn’t a straight line though, and as we go through the different stages of learning, it’s highly likely that we’re going to experience obstacles and challenges. Almost all of these challenges come from within, our mind.

Have you ever had your Risky Kid just start to get good at something, only for them to suddenly have a change of heart? Or have you ever done this yourself, where you told yourself that you’d achieved all you could? In this article we’re going to explore the idea of plateaus and how they can often unseat intermediate to advanced learners, and how they often emerge from negative self perception patterns that we need to break.

What’s A Plateau In Learning?

Discover how learning plateaus, where progress slows, can challenge and demotivate learners, urging the need for resilience and strategic effort.

  • Plateaus occur when progress feels sufficient but actually slows.
  • Reduced effort during plateaus leads to less challenge and poorer outcomes.
  • Understanding and overcoming plateaus is essential for continuous learning and resilience.

One of the later obstacles that we experience are plateaus. These are times when our progress begins to slow, however often it’s at a level that we believe is pretty good! We’ve put in the time and effort to get past the basics and develop our skill, but we believe that this is as good as it will get.

When we encounter these plateaus, it’s fairly common that a learner is likely to start reducing their effort because they’re seeing a reduced return. Reduced effort means reduced challenge and stimulation, and of course reduced results! All of this will often mean once we plateau, shortly afterwards we’re going to disengage and often quit.

Plateaus are an inevitable part of learning, and so understanding them and learning to navigate them for learners, coaches and families is crucial so that we can build the resilience to push past them.

Why Do Plateaus Happen?

Learn how initial progress in learning can lead to obstacles that challenge continued advancement and self-confidence.

  • Early learning stages involve grappling with basics before gaining traction.
  • Progress may stall due to unsolved challenges or insufficient effort.
  • Learners may doubt their abilities when facing persistent obstacles.

Early in our stages of learning we’re wrestling with the basics. However once we get past those first steps, our progress starts to pick up again and we can get some real traction, with successes and triumphs, picking up impressive skills and ability.

However during this build up of skills, we’re likely to hit natural blocks again. Either because we encounter something we don’t know how to solve, or just because the effort we’re putting in isn’t enough to achieve success. Learners, especially those early on, can often get into a rhythm, and if that rhythm isn’t enough for success they look inwards.

Because learners have got this inertia, when they do hit obstacles they can often believe that rather than being something that will take more effort, they might feel it’s something which they’re just not skilled enough to overcome. Without real experience overcoming these roadblocks, which can be hard for young people to have in their repertoire, they stop trying.

What Do Plateaus Do?

Explore how reduced effort during learning plateaus can lead to disengagement and a cycle of underachievement.

  • Reduced effort at plateaus increases failure and decreases success.
  • Disengagement during plateaus can lead learners to quit prematurely.
  • Associating plateaus with limits prevents reaching full potential.

This reduction of effort and disengagement magnifies the effect of the plateau, and failure and an absence of success will occur more often. Learners, especially young learners, will lack the ability to put in more effort at this time, feeling increased sensitivity to this uncomfortable process and trying to reduce it.

Progress slows, enjoyment and enthusiasm diminishes and progress gets slower, all at a time when the opposite is needed. When we plateau and don’t manage it, there’s often only one outcome. We’ll end up wanting to quit.

If this happens, then a reinforcement process occurs, where we begin to associate plateaus with a sign that we’ve accomplished all we can. The next time we face a plateau, we’ll reduce effort and move away just as quickly.  We’ll never learn the real heights of what we can achieve!

Reaching False Peaks

Molly And The Plateau

Molly was a Risky Kid who had been with us for a few years and overcame a lot. In fact in the first term she had wanted to quit and we helped her navigate it, after which she became an incredibly hard worker and even a leader in the program!

She progressed through the program steps at Risky Kids, first through Foundation, Alpha and Alpha+, and then mastered the intermediate steps of Delta and Delta+. Now Molly was a consistently hard worker, and every time she came in she tried, but it was that consistency that was a trap. It became comfortable.

As she entered the advanced program steps of Ultra, she started to encounter some more complex challenges which her consistency alone couldn’t accomplish. Within a few months Molly had asked her family to unenroll from the program, something she had spent years working on.

After a brief investigation with the team they identified that they felt there was a lot more that she could give in class, and working with Molly began to create a plan to bust through her plateau.

Plateau Busting

Understand how overcoming learning plateaus enhances skill mastery, boosts self-confidence, and fosters personal growth.

  • Plateaus often precede major skill mastery and increased motivation.
  • Breaking plateaus leads to higher skill levels and greater self-confidence.
  • Encourage vulnerability and increase effort by 20% to overcome plateaus.

Getting through plateaus is essential for growth. They’re going to commonly occur at the later stages of our learning, but before we’ve really started to master our skill. It’s a time when motivation can be just starting to ramp up, and enthusiasm and interest.

When we break through plateaus not only are we rewarded with some of the highest levels of skill, but we also attain boosts in our self confidence and resilience, learning lessons not just in perseverance, but deep lessons about fighting for the things that we believe in and want for ourselves, and overcoming our own limiting beliefs.

There’s two primary practices that we encourage at Risky Kids to get through plateaus. One is simple, one is a bit more complex!

  • Encourage & Support Vulnerability: To be able to bust through a plateau we need to tap into reserves of effort and motivation. To achieve this, we need to care whether we fail or succeed. This can be difficult though, as it means exposing ourselves to discomfort, it makes the failures hurt that much more! For young learners, this means letting them know that it’s normal, and a good sign that they care if they fail!
  • The 20% Rule: This is an easier one to work through. We need to put in 20% more effort when we encounter plateaus. This will not only provide extra adversity, it will help us identify where the “cracks” are in our skills more easily and let us know what to work on.

At Risky Kids, these are clear conversations we have with our learners, to explain the importance of them but what their emotional experience is likely to be. Also, to guide them through how to challenge themselves that extra 20%!

Breaking On Through

Busting Through A Plateau with Molly

Molly’s mum had approached the team, and had worked with them previously to get Molly through her first motivational challenge. She was eager for the team to explore how Molly was feeling before just unenrolling her and encouraged Molly to speak with her Coaches about it first.

This let them identify that Molly felt she was doing everything she could, even though the team knew she had so much more to give. We explored this with Molly, by making sure she understood we knew she was feeling motivated, and that she couldn’t achieve much more. But using a few examples from classes, they explored times when she held herself back.

They challenged her to start working with them on putting in 20% more in the classes, trying bigger challenges and working harder and faster. They also spoke about how this might sometimes be frustrating, but that she had to give everything she could and really care deeply about succeeding. They reflected on how much she had achieved so far and how important that was to her.

Molly agreed to work through all of this, and in a few sessions she had already started to see improvements, and to feel like she was growing again.


Plateaus are a big part of learning. They’re the gates to the highest levels of skill, self confidence and resilience. Many times learners and families will confuse them with the limits of what a young person can achieve or be taught.

These protective feelings that we have at these moments, where we find it tough to accept what we’re giving might not be enough, or to expose ourselves to deeper feelings, are the opposite of what we need.

We need to teach young learners to be vulnerable in these moments, to dig deep, to support them through it and they’ll be rewarded with both the highest levels of mastery of the skills they’re learning, but also with stronger resilience and evidence that they can achieve great things.

Richard Williams

Richard Williams

Risky Kids Founder, Director of Programming

Richard Williams is a fitness industry consultant, gym owner, business coach and professional stunt actor with more than a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry. With an education in psychology and criminology, Richard blended life experience as a fitness industry consultant with Spartan Race, gym owner, elite-obstacle racer, ultra-runner and professional stunt actor to create the Risky Kids program.

Richard has a passion for enacting meaningful social change through all avenues of health and wellbeing and believes that obstacles are the way. Some of Richard’s key achievements include:

  • Key consultant/coordinator Spartan Race/Tough Mudder/Extreme Endurance
  • OCR World Championship Finalist –  Team & Solo (2015)
  • OCR World Championship Silver Medallist – Team Endurance (2018)
  • Professional film and television stunt performer for 15 years

Considered one of Australia’s foremost experts in the fields of fitness, wellbeing and behavioural science, Richard is frequently in demand as a guest speaker for relevant government and non-
government bodies and organisations. Speaking engagements centred on the success of the Risky Kids program, philosophy and approach have included:

  • Expert speaker/panellist Sports & Camp; Recreation Victoria and Outdoors Victoria forums
  • Closing expert speaker at the Australian Camps Association National Conference
  • Expert speaker at the National Fitness Expo, FILEX