#652 The Plateau of Latent Potential

An Important Concept to Understand

Continuing our series on the power of Atomic Habits, let’s look at why we often parachute off the Optimizing Jet (powered by Atomic-Habit fuel) right before things start getting interesting.

James has a really cool way of framing this.

First, quick recap.

As we’ve discussed, little things add up to big things. The problem is that it takes TIME for those little things to add up to those big things.

Unfortunately, too often we want our lives to change x days after starting the new diet or fitness program or whatever. And, when the results don’t IMMEDIATELY show up, we stop doing the little things that would have led to the success we’re after.

That gap between our effort and results?

James calls it the “Plateau of Latent Potential” and tells us: “It’s a hallmark of any compounding process: the most powerful outcomes are delayed.

Darren Hardy wrote a whole book on a similar theme called The Compound Effect. Remember our magic doubling penny? The magic doesn’t REALLY start until we’re pretty far into the process. (Reminder: When offered $2.5m today or a doubling penny for a month, make sure you ask what month it is! Your magic penny will be worth $1.3m on Day 28 and $10.8m on Day 31!)

Jeff Olson also wrote a whole book on a similar theme. His book is called The Slight Edge. He tells us that people want to go from “plant to harvest” without “cultivating.” He says: “Plant, cultivate, harvest. And that second comma, the one between cultivate and harvest, often represents a loooong period of time.

In Atomic Habits, James uses a couple of metaphors to bring his point home: an ice cube and a stonecutter.

First, the ice cube. Imagine you and an ice cube hanging out in a freezing cold room. It’s 25 degrees. You can see your breath. Your challenge: Melt the ice cube.

You figure out how to raise the heat to 26 degrees. Nothing happens to the ice cube. You work harder and get the temperature up to 27 degrees. Nothing. 28. 29. 30. 31 degrees. NOTHING happens! The ice cube is still staring you. Then, you get to 32 degrees and everything changes. The ice cube starts melting.

James says: “Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees. Your work was not wasted; it is just being stored. All the action happens at thirty-two degrees. When you finally break through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success.

(btw: The same latent potential exists as we build up to the 212° and 451° activation points as well.)

Then we have the stonecutter. We have our +1 version of the parable over here. I love the way James puts it: “Mastery requires patience. The San Antonio Spurs, one of the most successful teams in NBA history, have a quote from social reformer Jacob Riis hanging in their locker room: ‘When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.’”

Today’s +1.

Have you (like every other human on the planet!) ever given up during the “Plateau of Latent Potential” phase—before we got to see all the results you were brewing?

Remember the stonecutter. And the melting ice cube. And that loooooong comma between planting, cultivating, and harvesting.

All that energy put in before we get the big results? It’s latent potential.

KNOW that DELAY is an essential part of the process.

And get back to +1ing. 🙂

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