Episode 49: Hitting a Plateau: How to Help Our Clients (and Ourselves) Get Unstuck

Plateaus are going to happen in your business. The good news is that there are ways through them and coaching is a powerful vehicle for getting us ready for the next level. In this episode, I'm sharing strategies you can use to get unstuck.

49: Hitting a Plateau: How to Help Our Clients (and Ourselves) Get Unstuck

How you are feeling about your business? If you've lost the energy you used to have for your work, that might be a signal that you've hit a plateau. Today we're tackling the topic of getting unstuck. We've all experienced that feeling of being stuck.

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Show Notes

How you are feeling about your business? If you've lost the energy you used to have for your work, that might be a signal that you've hit a plateau.

Today we're tackling the topic of getting unstuck. We've all experienced that feeling of being stuck. It's a normal part of a growth cycle but when it happens, it can be hard to look at it through that lens. Remember, after every plateau comes the opportunity for growth.

In this episode, I'm talking about what it means to hit a plateau, the telltale signs of being stuck, and techniques we can use ourselves or with our clients to get unstuck and break through to the next phase of our journey.

Topics covered

  • How to figure out if you've hit an energetic or productivity plateau
  • Looking out for plateau indicators in our clients
  • What procrastination signals to me
  • Paying attention to our clients' emotional state
  • Tuning in to the subtext
  • How to help clients get unstuck
  • Figuring out why our clients may be hitting a plateau
  • Doing self-reflection as a coach
  • Helping our clients achieve some movement
  • Dealing with plateaus in your coaching business

Resources mentioned

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Well, hello there, my friend. Welcome to another episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. I'm your host, Lee Chaix McDonough. And as always, thank you for joining me for this week's episode, we are about to tackle a topic that I would say most, if not every single one of us have experienced at some point in our businesses and our relationship in our lives. That's right, I am diving into the dreaded plateau, or what happens when either we or our clients get stuck. In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that when clients come to us for coaching, it's because on some level, they feel stuck. They know they are capable of achieving more in their businesses, in their relationships, in their health, in their life, and they need some support in breaking through and hitting the next level. So this idea of clients getting stuck is not something that we as coaches should shy away from. In fact, it is at the very foundation of why our clients are reaching out to us, and at the heart of the work we are going to do with them. 

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 So in today's episode, I want to talk about what it means to hit a plateau or what it means to feel stuck. What might our clients be thinking or feeling or doing if they've hit a plateau, and then we're gonna walk through some techniques that you can employ to support your clients who may have hit a plateau. And I'm going to talk about how you can support yourself if you are feeling like you've hit a plateau in your business or in your life. So we have so much to cover today, I'm super excited to dive into this topic. And as always, I am going to want to know what you think about this episode. So if you are not already following me over on Instagram, come on over find me I'm @CoachwithClarity, feel free to slide right into my DMs, I would love to know what you think about today's episode. 
Before we get into how we can get ourselves out of a plateau, let's be really clear about what a plateau is, let's let's define the term for a second. And when I think about hitting a plateau, what I've observed in my clients, and what I've experienced myself is that there's two ways to view it. First, I may be hitting a plateau that has more to do with my productivity. So this is where having some quantitative data can be really helpful. Perhaps we're looking at the number of new client connections we've made, the number of clients that we're signing, if we're noticing a leveling off of growth, or maybe even a little downturn, perhaps we've hit a plateau in how we're connecting with our audience.
If you are creating content, whether it's a blog post, or a podcast, or social media posts, and you notice that the level of engagement hasn't really shifted, maybe it's even declining a bit – these are some quantitative indicators that may suggest we're hitting a plateau, and we've got to shake things up a bit. So I do think it's always helpful to look at the numbers, look at your key performance indicators, or KPIs, and pay attention to any trends because those trends can indicate if we are hitting a productivity plateau. But on the other side, I think it's also equally, if not more important, to take a qualitative approach to this as well. Let's look at how you are feeling about your business. Do you still have the same level of energy and enthusiasm for the work that you're doing? Or are you feeling kind of energetically stagnant? Even if things are going really, really well, and from a data perspective, it looks like you're on the up and up, if something isn't feeling quite right to you, or if you feel like you've lost motivation and drive to return to the work, then that may signal that you've hit a bit of an energetic plateau or that you're feeling stuck. That might indicate that you've hit an energetic plateau. So I would suggest that it's really important to look at both of these aspects when we're evaluating how we're doing in our businesses, and then when we are engaging with our clients who may be feeling stuck, we can be looking for the same indicators. 
So what might suggest that they're feeling like they've hit a plateau? Have they noticed that some of their metrics are stagnant or even declining a bit? Or is it more of an internal energetic feeling? They just don't have the same passion or drive for the work they're doing or the relationships they're in or how they're feeling about themselves. So when I'm working with clients, and I suspect that we may be looking at a plateau, there are a few behaviors I keep an eye out for and my clients that suggest, “Okay, they may be feeling a little stuck here”, and the first one to look for is whether there are any avoidance strategies at play. And the biggest one is procrastination, and I see it quickly because this is one that I fall victim to as well. If I am feeling less than enthused about a given aspect of my business, I will try to avoid it, and I will do other things instead, things that make me look productive, and maybe even make me feel productive, but they're not necessarily moving the needle in my business. And I know deep down, I'm not going towards these activities, I'm actually running away from one and that is a hallmark sign of avoidance. I know when I am procrastinating, there is something going on that I need to take a closer look at. Another avoidance strategy that often comes up is shiny object syndrome, and I'm sure some of you are familiar with this but in case this is a new term for you, shiny object syndrome essentially means you are constantly getting distracted by the next new bright and shiny idea. So you'll get an idea, it'll be amazing, you'll get to work on it, and then for whatever reason, either you're getting bored, or you're just not feeling connected to it anymore, you move on to the next big thing and then the cycle repeats. And what we have are a lot of wonderful projects that have begun and aren't seen through to the end. So I would suggest that shiny object syndrome is another avoidance strategy, we are doing everything we can not to attend to the work at hand. So whenever there's any sort of avoidance going on, I think that's a key sign that there may be a plateau, our clients may be feeling stuck, and we need to dig in a little bit. 
In addition to the behaviors that we might observe, or that our clients are sharing with us, we can also pay very close attention to how they are describing their emotional state. So when I work with clients who have hit a plateau, they may present in a few different ways but oftentimes, there's a level of boredom, or even apathy that they're bringing in. So it's just that they don't feel lit up or excited about the work they're doing and this is a change. At one point, they did feel highly motivated and really excited about the work they were doing. And now, not so much. So when we see a change in how they feel about the work, when we move from excitement to boredom, we're gonna want to investigate that because it may suggest that we've hit a plateau.
Clients who've hit a plateau may also be really angry or frustrated, and not understand why they're not making progress, why they're not experiencing growth in whatever area of their life, and I see this sometimes with the clients I work with who are coaches, and they're so good at what they do, and they have so much value to offer and yet, they're getting frustrated, because they feel like they're not securing new clients or they're not connecting with their ideal audience in a way that they used to. So there's been a change here as well. So it's totally understandable that someone who's hit a plateau, may be feeling frustrated and angry and uncertain about what to do to break through. Sometimes that frustration shows up as sadness and even despair. So clients may be feeling hopeless about the fact that they've hit this point, and they don't see a way out. and that manifests in thinking or saying things like, “I'm bored”, “I'm burned out”, “I can't do it”, “I don't know what I'm doing”, underneath that often, we may kind of pick up on some fear – fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of rejection – all of these are signs that our clients may be hitting a plateau. So as coaches, we need to be on the lookout for this, we need to be listening to what the client is saying and sharing and also paying attention to the subtext as well, because when our clients have hit a plateau, it can be a very frustrating and demoralizing experience. And as coaches we are perfectly positioned to support them through it, and help them make their next breakthrough and break out of that plateau, and we're going to talk about how to do that next. 
The very first thing we want to do with our clients is normalize the process of getting stuck. Hitting a plateau, whether it's in business or your health or your relationships, whatever area we're talking about. Hitting a plateau is normal. It may not feel good, and we may not want to hit a plateau, but it is normal. It is a part of life. We are going to have peaks and valleys. We are going to have periods where we feel highly engaged and motivated. And we're going to have times where things slow down a bit. It's the ebb and flow of life. So the very first thing we want to do is normalize the experience of feeling stuck and maybe even reframing it into not only expected occurrence, but a sign that growth lies ahead. I have frequently had the experience with my clients and in my own life, that right before I am about to make a huge leap, I have a fairly extended plateau. And I've come to see it as my time to rest and revitalize and get ready for the next leap because if I'm constantly making leap after leap after leap, then I don't have time to integrate anything that I've learned along the way. And quite honestly, it can be kind of exhausting. So sometimes we even need these plateaus in order to synthesize everything we've learned along the way, and give ourselves the time to breathe. So we can normalize the experience of hitting a plateau or getting stuck. And we can see it as a harbinger of a growth period that's about to happen. 
I find when working with clients who've hit a plateau, there's often a few reasons why it's happening. Sometimes it's because the client isn't really clear on what it is they want to achieve. Perhaps they haven't taken the time to really concretely define their goals, or their expectations, whether for the coaching relationship or for what they want to achieve moving forward. If they are feeling fuzzy or hazy about their big picture vision and the path towards that vision, then it makes sense that they might be feeling kind of stuck. So sometimes it's a matter of going back clarifying the ideal outcome. And also clarifying the values that support that vision. Sometimes it's simply a matter of refining the vision and the goals, creating an action plan. That alone can shift the energy and get clients moving in a different direction that may help them break through that plateau. Sometimes, though, it's not a matter of being unclear about the vision or the process, but the timeframe for that process may be off. I think of this more as a pacing issue. So if any of you out there are runners, you know that if you are running a long race, you do not want to come out of the blocks too quickly. If you expend too much energy at the beginning, then you are going to hit the wall, and you're not going to be able to sustain that pace for the entire race. And I think sometimes when we're working with clients, we need to remind them that whatever goal they're working on, this is a marathon, not a sprint. So we need to really pay attention to pacing, to ensure that they're taking actions in a way that's sustainable, so that they're not trying to do too much too fast, and then peter out. But they're also not going so slow that we're not seeing progress. So sometimes it's a matter of simply refining the pacing of the work that they're doing, so that they're seeing measurable, sustainable progress. And that can be really inspiring and motivate a client to keep going, that could be enough to help them break out of their plateau. 
So while sometimes it's about having unclear or fuzzy goals or vision, and sometimes it's a pacing issue. I'll be honest with you, more often than not, what we discover in the coaching session is that feeling stuck or hitting a plateau has a lot to do with mindset issues. There is some sort of limiting belief that is cropping up and getting in the way, it's creating a huge obstacle between what the client wants and what they're able to accomplish. And if this is the case, I'm going to suggest that focusing on external work, or finding ways for the client to be more productive, may be a short term strategy, but it's not going to work in the long run, we have to address whatever internal blocks are coming up to help the client break through this stuck point so that they can reach the next level.
So how do we do that? How do we actively support our clients who have hit a plateau? And I would suggest before we start engaging with the client, we need to do some of our own self reflection as a coach. So first, we need to think about the relationship we have with that client. What's the rapport like? Have we spent enough time building trust with them? What's working? What's not working? We want to make sure that we have created an environment where the client does feel comfortable to share their victories and their missteps with us so that we can support them through that. So that means really examining the energy that we are bringing to the coaching relationship and ensuring that all three rights are present. And when I talk about the three rights I mean, right fit, right goal, right time. Are we the right coach for this client? Is this the right fit? Is the goal that the client wants to achieve within the coaching relationship an appropriate goal for us to work on together? And finally, assuming we are the right coach, and it is the right goal, is this the right time for us to be doing this work? Or are there other things going on in the client's life that may be getting in the way? So if we have taken time to assess the relationship, and how we are showing up as the coach, and we feel confident that all three rights have been met, then we need to look at how we can engage with the client. And as I mentioned before, the first thing we want to do is normalize this process, we want to stay curious about what the client is experiencing, but we also want to approach it from a place of neutrality. We do want to make sure our approach is one that is certainly empathetic, but also curious. And we're not meeting them with any sort of disappointment or judgment, we want them to know that we are with them, right next to them every step of the way, and that we are here to support them. 
Now sometimes what happens in coaching, and I have to tell you, this happens to me quite a bit, is that when I am working with a client, and there's a particular issue they're working through, it is highly relevant to what I'm currently experiencing in my own business or in my life. And as we do the coaching session, because the work that we are doing in session can certainly apply to my own life as well. But what that means is that when we as the coach highly identify with what the client is going through, we may be bringing in our own interpretations, our own internal messaging about what's happening and if that happens, we just want to notice it. We want to be mindful of the meaning that we are ascribing to what's going on, and we want to ensure we understand what is the client's stuff, and what is ours. So again, I just want to put out there this happens. This is a normal part of coaching and there's absolutely nothing wrong if this is what you experience. It's not something we need to get rid of or fix, but it is something we want to be mindful of so that as we're engaging with our client, we can notice what's coming up in us, and then make a note to address that with ourselves after the session. So now that we've done a little internal reflection, and we understand how we're showing up in the coaching relationship, and how we can support our client, it's time to do the work, and I love starting with some values and vision clarification. 
When a client is feeling stuck, or like they've hit a plateau, that's often a signal that on some level, they are experiencing a misalignment with their values. That suggests that the actions they're taking or not taking are not consistent with what matters most to them. So when we start by guiding the client through clarifying their values, we can then essentially hold up a mirror and ask them to examine how the actions they're taking or not taking reflect their values. And if there's a mismatch, if the client sees a disconnect, then sometimes that's enough to kind of spur some action. So I do always start with going back to the values. Everything I do in my client work and in my training, and in my education, is anchored in what really matters most to the people I'm serving, that is our compass. That is what keeps us on track. So we start there, we examine what values may be showing up or not showing up, and that gives us an idea of where we need to go from there. That's often a perfect segue into reexamining the client's vision and goals. So going back to the main desire for coaching and what they wanted to work on, let's make sure that the goals that they set at the start are still relevant and still connected with their vision and their values. Sometimes simply tweaking the goals or coming up with a different vision statement is enough to inspire action and change the energy. So clarifying the values and the vision are important, and while we're doing this work, we do want to examine whether or not there have been any other major shifts or changes in a client's life. So even if what we're doing is working on business coaching, if they have experienced a significant shift in another aspect of their life, good or bad, that will have an effect on their readiness and their motivation and their business. You know, these elements of someone's life don't exist in a vacuum and what happens in one area will have ramifications on another. So it's helpful to do a quick assessment with the client and if there has been a major change in another area of their life, then we go back to normalizing it and suggesting that, yes, given that this is going on over here, it makes sense that it would have an impact on your goals and that maybe you've hit a plateau. From there, we can partner with the client to find ways through it. 
So now that you've spent some time with your client going through their values, their vision, other factors that are possibly affecting the work that you're doing together, it's time to look at how we can best support our client through this plateau and help them achieve some movement for clients who are having more external blocks to what's going on. So it's not so much mindset or inner work that's getting in their way, but maybe more logistics or planning, sometimes a helpful strategy can be to create mini goals around what it is they want to accomplish. So if they have a large goal, if we can kind of break it up into chunks and create smaller mini goals, and then action plans for each mini goal, that can provide a very direct route for the client to follow. And in accomplishing those small tasks, it's going to build momentum, it's going to build confidence. And that may be enough to shift them out of the plateau state. trying a different tactic or approaching it from a different angle may be enough to shift the energy to see some change and inspire the client to keep moving forward. So our role as the coach then is to partner with them to help them co create these mini goals and these action plans. We want to help them assign dates to the tasks too, so that we are creating a reasonable timeline, and we can also help them identify any possible external blocks that could get in their way. So what resources would they need in order to accomplish their goal? And how can we mitigate the effect of those external blocks? 
Now, as I suggested before, while for some of our clients, this external goal oriented approach is going to work very well for them. Many of our clients are also dealing with internal blocks. So there's some sort of belief that they are holding, which is preventing them from moving forward and taking action and addressing and hopefully resolving that limiting belief may be the key to helping them break out of that plateau, and make progress. There are so many ways as coaches that we can do this kind of work with our clients. And the type of mindset oriented coaching we do will largely depend on what the client is thinking, feeling and experiencing. So I've done some deeper dives into particular emotions. In earlier podcast episodes, I did a series on coaching through difficult emotions. So if you head back in the archives, you'll see that Episode 18 is all about Coaching Through Sadness, Episode 19 is about Coaching Through Anger, and Episode 20 is about Coaching Through Shame. So once we've identified the limiting belief, and some of the emotions that come up around it, we can tackle it accordingly. And you may find that three episode series on coaching through difficult emotions, a really helpful place to start for inspiration. I also spent a little time in Episode 36, talking about how we can coach our clients through what I called The Great Unknown, or anytime there's uncertainty about what's coming up ahead and our clients are feeling apprehensive or nervous, even a little scared. That certainly comes up when we're addressing mindset blocks, so definitely check out Episode 36 for some insight on how we can support our clients and ourselves when we're going through uncertain times. For now, I will suggest that at the heart of mindset work, is identifying the belief that is getting in the way, like really calling it out, being really clear about what it is, what it's saying, even giving it a name, literally or metaphorically, depending on what works for your client. But we want to get very clear on the specific message that is behind this plateau because once we've identified the message, we can then walk our clients through the process of examining how that message has influenced them, and we do this, certainly, “How is it limiting you?”, “How is it keeping you from getting what you want?”, but we also want to acknowledge how this message has served them. Because for most of our clients, there will be some sort of secondary gain that they've gotten from the message and that gain is usually staying safe, not being vulnerable, not putting yourself out there for people to judge you or ridicule you not having to fail. There are all sorts of reasons why these mindset issues come up, and it often has to do with basic safety and survival. 
We do this so that we can normalize the process, so that our clients understand not just what is going on, but why it's happening and how it is a normal part of being a human being. So often just normalizing it is enough to turn down the intensity, and to help our clients feel supported, and then like they can take action. So we want to identify the message, call it out, really understand what's going on, put it into context, and then we can help our clients create a new message. One that will support them in taking action, one that might replace the old message that's been keeping them stuck. If you want some specific ideas or activities that you can engage in with your clients about this, you may want to pick up a copy of my book, ACT on Your Business. There are a couple chapters in there where I explore some mindset processes, and I provide some activities and exercises that you can do for yourself or with your clients to work through some of these mindset blocks. So you can find ACT on Your Business at Amazon, you can pick it up in paperback or Kindle. It's a great resource for values based activities, mindfulness based activities, and yes, definitely mindset oriented activities as well. Once you've tackled the mindset work with your clients, and you've helped them create that new message, then we can take that message and have it be the anchor point for an action plan. Now, this is where the inner work meets the outer work, and we can revisit the original goals and strategic planning that you've done in previous sessions to ensure that we're still aligned, we are on the same page with our values, our vision, our action plan, and this new message that's going to support your clients every step of the way.
So I've just walked you through what the plateau might look like in your clients, why it happens, and some strategies for supporting your clients through it. But let's be honest, sometimes our first client is ourself, and this is work that we can be doing through some self coaching whenever we are feeling stuck. And many of the strategies I've shared with you today to use with your clients you can use with yourself, whether it's through journaling, or meditation, or talking it through with a partner, even working with your own coach, you can apply so much of what we've talked about today, in your own life. And it starts by normalizing the process, understanding that every single coach out there goes through periods in their process where they feel stuck. It happens. And in fact, I just went through one of those plateaus, and it was about this very podcast. It was so interesting, because I was able to create these episodes and share them with you, I actually found that I was getting more downloads and the podcast is growing. So it was not a quantitative plateau, like I talked about at the beginning but it was a bit of a qualitative plateau. I found that I just didn't have quite the same level of excitement or enthusiasm as I did when I first got started, and I felt quite guilty about that, actually. Because here I was creating this podcast week after week sharing it with my people, it's one of my primary ways of connecting with you, and the energy that I was bringing into it was kind of, “I mean, I don't really want to, but I guess I'll do it”. That didn't feel good, and underneath that I started feeling like a fraud. That if I'm bringing this energy into creating the podcast, what does that say about me? What does that mean about me as a coach? Well, I'll tell you, it doesn't mean anything other than, “Oh, I'm a normal human being going through a plateau”, that we have peaks and valleys and that it's natural, that energy and excitement about a project is going to ebb and flow. Now I was really lucky because I am currently running a certification program, there are eleven students in my cohort and they are phenomenal. I consider it such a privilege to work with them week after week and to watch them grow as coaches. And every week part of our work together is a coaching lab where they coach each other, we practice the skills we've learned. Well, this week, we did something a little different and I had them coach me. We did a round robin style coaching where every coach asked one question and then it moved to the next coach, and the issue I brought was feeling stuck about the podcast. And I have to tell you, the coaching I received from my students was so powerful. It helped me really shift my approach to the work that I'm doing and also how I felt about myself as a business owner and as a podcaster. So I cannot express my gratitude enough to my eleven students, all of whom are powerful coaches. It really is extraordinary too to bear witness to, and I now feel much more connected to my podcast and the work that I'm doing. So yes, I hit a plateau with this very show, it lasted for a few weeks, and I had the honor of receiving powerful coaching from my students using techniques that I had taught them. It was really a neat experience to be both client and instructor and witness that. So all of this to say, it's going to happen in your business. Plateaus are normal, there are ways through them. Coaching is such a powerful vehicle for breaking through that stagnant cycle, and getting us ready for the next level because that's what I want you to remember, after every plateau comes the opportunity for growth. So if we view plateaus as part of the cycle, and as preparation for the next phase, then we can take away some of the intensity around how we feel about it and the thoughts that we have about it, and we can get ourselves ready to take action. And with that, I think it's time for this week's Clarity in Action Moment. 
So for this week's Clarity in Action Moment, I am going to ask you to take a stroll down memory lane. And I would like you to think about a time where you felt like you hit a plateau, a time where you felt stuck. So maybe it was a goal that you had or a project that you were working on, and it meant a lot to you, it was definitely connected to your values, but you were not taking action on it, or you felt energetically misaligned with it. Once you've brought that experience to mind, I want you to consider two questions. Number one, how did you know you were stuck? And number two, what helped you get unstuck? Those two questions provide a lot of really powerful data that you can use to support your clients and yourself. The first question helps you identify key indicators that you are in or approaching a plateau, or that your client may be in one. And that second question can help provide some guidance about your next steps for getting out of the plateau, because you've done it already. If you've hit a plateau in the past, and you're here today, you've done something to help break free from that cycle. So when we think about what's worked in the past, that can give us a lot of clues about what we can do in the future. We can repeat what worked, we can tweak it a bit – there are all sorts of paths forward here, but it's always helpful to start with a review of what we've done in the past and allow that to inspire our future action that can also inspire the work that we do and supporting our own clients who are also experiencing their plateau. So that's your Clarity in Action Moment for today. I want you to think about a time in the past where you hit a plateau and I want you to ask yourself two questions – number one, how did you know you're stuck? And number two, what got you through that stuck point? Then come find me on Instagram, I'm @CoachwithClarity and let me know what your key takeaways are from this episode. I would love to hear how what we've talked about today will support you in your coaching process and in your life. 
That's it for me this week, my friends, but don't worry, I'm going to be right back in your feed next week with another episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. Until that time, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough encouraging you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.

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