No, you have not stopped learning or growing when you hit a plateau. You are not stuck in the mud. You are progressing.
In my work I coach people through the struggles of programming new habits and in my play I coach people through the struggles of strangles on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu mats. A common phrase I hear in both realms is “I think I have hit a plateau” or “I am not progressing” or “Is what I am doing working, because I don’t feel it” or “I am just getting beat up.” While the last one is definitely more a BJJ phrase, it can feel like you are getting beat up when you try and “fail” at something in your life.
When we try something new, inevitably there is going to be a time when we are a sponge that sucks in information and we learn very quickly. We then become accustomed to that speed of learning or growth. That growth will yield results that we have never seen before, mostly because we had never tried it before. These results become the reward for the action and just like your cute puppy who craves a treat when he sits, you crave the results that the new task has provided you. You are creating a habit loop.
Here is what I mean using Brazillian Jiu Jitsu as an example. You walked into the Dojo knowing nothing. The first few classes you get mauled, but learn the rear naked choke and other cool submissions that seem to work flawlessly on your significant other when you get home. That feeling of learning something new is a reward for your subconscious.
Then after a few more classes you catch another new guy in what you think is a perfectly executed rear naked choke. This provides you with another reward. Time goes by and you keep hitting these “First” milestones. All these firsts are immediate reward responses. After a while however these first milestones start to dry up. The rear naked choke you got the other new guy with now doesn’t seem to work (He is getting better too). Nothing you see seems as shiny as it once did in its original form.
When you hit this point you have hit your first of many and inevitable “Plateaus”. You see it as a flattening out of your growth. The feeling of the plateau is your inner self crying because it is not getting the rewards it now expects from these certain actions. The plateau is perception, not fact.
So how do you beat this feeling of a plateau? You appreciate it as a positive time in your growth. It is a time to reflect on your journey thus far and take pride in the growth you have made so far. It is a time to understand that mastery of a subject never happens in 3-6 months. In life mastery of yourself happens over a lifetime. It is an opportunity to consciously enjoy the journey it has been.
If you perceive the period in time you are currently on as a plateau congratulations, you have just leveled up. Enjoy the peaceful flat greenland around you and keep taking action. Be ready for the next challenge that awaits.