Back to Blog

Plateau of latent potential

Image of Ash Roy
Ash Roy

Forming habits is simple but not easy.

James Clear and I discussed his approach to habit formation earlier on the Productive Insights podcast. In that conversation, James talked about the Plateau of latent potential. 

Struggling to build a good habit is often because you haven't crossed this plateau. 

A good way to think about this is to consider the fact that your work isn't being wasted. Rather it's being stored. 

James used the ice cube analogy to explain. Here's an excerpt from that conversation:

So this is an idea that I talk about in the book where you are working on a habit for a while and you just can’t seem to get the results that you want and you kind of feel stuck in the beginning. And the story that I like to use is imagine that you’re heating up an ice cube, you know, so you walk into a room, it’s cold, you can see your breath and the ice cubes sitting on the table and you start to heat it up slowly. One degree, two degrees, three degrees, so on your heating this room up, but still the ice cubes sitting there. And then at some point you make this little one degree shift. No different than all the ones that came before. But you hit the melting point, right? And this ice cube starts to melt. And you, when you hit that transition, what’s interesting about it is that the change that came right before the transition was the same thing as you were doing before, but you weren’t getting anything.

And often the process of building a better habit is kind of like that where you need to be putting work in for days and weeks and it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. It feels like you still have an ice cube sitting on the table, but if you’re willing to keep showing up and work through that plateau of latent potential, then eventually you’ll hit a phase transition. And I think that the core idea here is that if you’ve been working on a habit for three weeks or a month or six months or whatever it is, and you don’t have the results that you want, that work was not being wasted. It’s just being stored and you need to continue to show up so that you get to the phase transition and allow it to release. And that’s kind of the core idea of working through this plateau of latent potential. I love that luck was not being wasted. It was being stored.

We often expect progress to be linear but in my experience, it's anything but. Progress comes in fits and starts and we often feel like we're going in circles. But in retrospect, I realize that what seemed like "circles" were in fact, (ascending) spirals.

It's often months or years later that we realize the true potential of all the work we've put in. Take this blog for example. It was years and years before the blog achieved any meaningful traction. 

For most meaningful pursuits, you'll need to cross the plateau of latent potential. And that usually means you'll have to deal with the "valley of disappointment" along the way. 

A great way to think of this is that your work isn't being wasted. Rather it's being stored.

What is required is grit and perseverance. 


Related Posts

The problem with being purely goal-oriented

Image of Ash Roy
Ash Roy

The problem with being purely goal-oriented

Postponing your satisfaction until you reach your...

Read more

On corporate prisons, freedom and meaningful enterprise

Image of Ash Roy
Ash Roy

Have you ever felt trapped in your career? Your life?

Read more