The Okay Plateau and the Occult

In Moonwalking With Einstein, Josh Foer discusses something called the O.K. Plateau:

In the 1960s, the psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner tried to answer this question by describing the three stages of acquiring a new skill. During the first phase, known as the cognitive phase, we intellectualize the task and discover new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently. During the second, the associative phase, we concentrate less, making fewer major errors, and become more efficient. Finally we reach what Fitts and Posner called the autonomous phase, when we’re as good as we need to be at the task and we basically run on autopilot.

The idea is essentially that we rise to the level where we are good enough at something and then we tend to slack off on it. For example, most of us get to a comfortable speed with typing–usually trhough some sort of structured program+whatever we feel we need for a given task (between 30 and 80 WPM even for professional typists)–and then we stop improving. In large part because we stop practicing against an improving standard. When people actually focus and work at it, comparing themselves to others or to slightly accelerated versions of their own records, they have a tendency to start improving again and get significantly better.

We see this in the baduk world: it’s been observed since at least Kageyama that people will become a perpetual 5 kyu in strength. They will simply stop improving. They play actively, but they aren’t getting any better. Here it can be incredibly frustrating, because people will desperately want to improve, but feel that they can’t break out of where they are.

My observation is that this is a problem in occultism practices as well. We get to a certain level of competency with respect to energy work, magical practice, journeying, meditation, or whatever else and then we stop getting better. We can then get frustrated, thinking that we have reached the limit of our capability, or thinking that it is purely a matter of talent.

If you want to get better and improve, there are a few strategies to help break out of the okay plateau:

  • Keep a Journal
  • Back to the Basics
  • Attend a Periodic Workshop
  • Find a Group

These are all essay topics in their own right, but in summary:

Keep a Journal

Probably the single most common piece of advice I’ve heard in practicing occultism: keep a journal. The same applies here.

One thing I’ve found is that it is easy to improve (or decline) and not notice it. By keeping a journal you provide a basis to compare against over time. It also provides a reality check for your observations, and can help provide incentive to actually do your exercises.

Back to the Basics

The first thing we can do when we want to improve is that we can get back to the fundamentals of occultism. Pick something fundamental, like grounding or simply cycling energy, and then work on practicing it every day.

The disadvantage of this method is that you still lack a basis to compare yourself against. The advantage is that drilling the basics is one of the surest ways to improve, so long as you are doing it mindfully. The expression goes that habit is a frightening thing: If you dedicate a block of time just practicing the basics and working on improving those, a lot of other things can improve as a result.

Attend a Periodic Workshop

Attending HK Gather every year, for me, provides an awesome inspiration to keep practicing and improving. It is filled with people who have been working years to improve themselves, and it is hard to go there as an energy worker and not learn something new or see things from a different angle.

Go to an event that happens on a rare basis but has experienced people at it. This gives you outside inspiration and shows you more that you can do. It also can show what areas you are weak or strong in so that you have something to keep doing until you see them again.

Find a Group

One of the other big things you can do to escape the Okay Plateau is to find (or form) a group. There are hazards in this (e.g., many groups are not that focused), but by having a group of people–especially if you are all dedicated to improving–you can make dramatic steps by having other people who are enthusiastic and working toward some of the same goals you are. This can be as simple as just having a teacher, or it can be a group of people of varied skill levels. Whatever it is, this forms an outside check.

Conclusion

None of these works great in isolation. A journal that just says the same thing every day and never includes any practice may help some things, but it isn’t going to be as effective as keeping a journal and engaging in regular basics practice. Regular basics practice without an outside comparison can do some, but it becomes incredibly valuable when you have an outside basis to compare.

The Okay Plateau is something virtually all of us find ourselves on at one point. While there is a lot more to this topic, hopefully this list can help with breaking out.

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One Response to The Okay Plateau and the Occult

  1. GMDreia says:

    Sometimes we can also hit the plateau and end up going a different way. I used to practice magick but then hit bottom with it and ended up going a more internal, contemplative, and devotional route. I find that the kinks are starting to unravel finally. I’ve met a few others who had this same experience.

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