Attacking “The Dip” With Process Focus

by Cory Shaffer, Ph.D., CC-AASP

Author Seth Godin wrote a remarkably simple yet powerful book describing what he refers to as “The Dip” (below). It is the point we hit when our results begin to plateau – even decline – and we wonder whether we should stick with what we are doing, try something new or different, or give up altogether. The Dip can be brutal. The rapid growth and excitement of learning something new or switching to a new training program is gone, and we are left with mediocre results, a lack of motivation, and questions about what’s next. The Dip, it seems, is what weeds out good athletes and teams from great athletes and teams. As a Mental Performance Coach and someone who has been around elite collegiate athletics for the last several years, I have seen The Dip wear out and eat up promising young athletes – not because of lack of talent, but rather, lack of process.

Here’s an honest statement for you to think about: Everyone wants to be great, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to be great – that is why The Dip eats people up. Achieving extraordinary things takes an extraordinary effort (oftentimes at extraordinarily mundane things), and many people just simply aren’t that committed to excellence. They like the idea of being great, but do not engage in a process to become great. The outcome – being “great” at something – is alluring because of the glitz and glam that come with it, but unfortunately, we can’t just snap our fingers and be great or jump straight to the outcome that we want. It just doesn’t work like that. You also can’t ‘life hack’ your way to greatness or through The Dip. There are no shortcuts or substitutes, either. In the world of sports, lots of people talk the talk, but few are willing to walk the walk. Having or developing a process is what will help push through The Dip and lead to another growth curve. This requires self-reflection, intentional action, and most importantly, patience.  It’s easy to get sucked into focusing on how far you still must go or how much progress you haven’t made.  It’s more difficult to shift your focus on what’s in front of you, on how far you have come and how much progress you have made. Here are a few suggestions on what to do if you find yourself entrenched in The Dip.

  • Learn to shift your focus. Reconnect with why you play to begin with. This will ground you and bring some gratitude and enjoyment back to what you’re doing.
  • Then, shift your focus to today, or this week, and begin to develop a plan (i.e., process) on how to attack each day. This process should include goals and intentions for each day with an emphasis on areas of improvement.
  • If you aren’t sure where to begin in developing a plan, do a quick (but honest) evaluation of where you currently stand. Ask yourself the following questions: What is working well for me recently, and why? What is not working for me recently, and why? Answering these questions should provide clues of where to put your focus and energy in practice.
  • You can also develop a practical road map of actions and behaviors for you to strive for and later evaluate when looking back and reflecting on each day. Think of this as a ‘habit tracker’ where you’re aligning action with intention. By deciding which behaviors and actions support your goal then tracking whether you complete them each day, you’re adding a layer of accountability to your process that otherwise would not be present. At this point, the proof of your progress will lie in your process.

Above all else, keep it simple but have a plan. Recognize and celebrate progress. The Dip is a challenge you will face again and again in your career. The key to putting yourself on an upward trajectory is process focus, a positive attitude, and patience.