Ceiling Effect: Why 99% of Self-Help Leads to Plateaus

the glass ceiling trap book cover

The glass ceiling effect refers to habits, skills, and advice that got you at your current level, but prevent you from moving to the next level.

It’s “glass” because whatever it is that you’re missing, you don’t yet see it.

Luckily, this article is here to help.
You will learn what ceilings are, how to spot them, and how you grow past them.


The definition of ceilings is:

The ceiling effect refers to advice, behavior, or mindsets that help some people up to a certain level (plateau), but turn ineffective or harmful to reach the higher next level of self-development, skills, or results

Ceilings VS Glass Ceilings

A glass ceiling is the same, but invisible.

While any ceiling can be hard to overcome, you can work on the visible ones.

For example, imagine you race cars.
You see in the data that you lose time in breaking.
Your breaking skills or technique are your current ceiling.
You know what to work on.

Glass ceilings are different.
You can’t work on overcoming glass ceilings because you don’t even realize you have them.

You’re stuck at your plateau level, but can’t see the next ladder upward.

For this article, we’re interested in glass ceilings in the self-development industry.

So let’s dig deeper:

Good glass ceiling advice is the worst blinder

And here’s what makes glass ceilings hardest to spot:

It’s often good content, advice, or teachers that create your worst ceilings.

With neutral or bad advice, you don’t advance at all.
So you’re more likely to troubleshoot, try new things, and eventually find what works.

But it’s good advice that pushed you upward against the ceilings.
And because it served you well, you struggle to see how it’s holding you back today.

Glass ceilings are particularly harmful in socialization and anything people-related.
This is why:

Ceilings Make You Lower Value Because They’re Visible To Everyone Above

This is why glass ceilings cost you big:

Your ceilings are obvious to everyone else who’s above you.

Because, to them, they’re floors.
Sure, sometimes higher-level folks lack the conscious awareness to clearly define what keeps you below.
But they sense it. Your ceilings are still very real to them.

You don’t know you’re below. But the man above knows you’re below him. He stands on your ceilings. He was there before and moved past them. Or he was born skilled/aware/high-power and just senses you’re below

That means that your ceilings make you lower value to those who moved past them.

That’s why it’s so important to learn from truly advanced teachers.
People at your level can’t show you the ceilings.
Only those above can.

Why you’re alone and nobody helps you past ceilings

Problem is:

nobody from the level above wants to help you.

Why should they?
There’s no “what’s in it for them“.
Plus, many people have egos. They wouldn’t even learn, but only get offended.
So it’s just a risk for higher-value men to teach.

#real talk:

To those above you, you’re just an idiot who doesn’t get it.
Plus, as a lower-value man who doesn’t get it, you’re a lot more likely to just take. Without giving.

The top ceilings of lower-quality men are floors of tolerance for higher-quality men (and women)

Lucio Buffalmano

#real Mach talk:

And if you have potential… You’re just more competition they don’t want.

Well, at least TPM is here to help 🙂

Let’s review a plain example to understand the concept:

Example: “Suiting Up”

Suits are a symbol of power for the young man who “won” an investment banker job. But he’s facing a ceiling he doesn’t yet see. He doesn’t realize that his suit sub-communicates lower value to the millionaire entrepreneur

A business suit communicates authority.

Cialdini said so in his best-selling Influence.

Other networking books advise to “dress 10% better than everyone else”.

It makes sense.

Especially for me.

With my sociology background, suit-wearing business jobs weren’t easy.

So when I cracked the business world it felt like I had made it.

Great-looking suits served me well to get and advance in the business world. But when I got into entrepreneurship I’d purposefully avoid anything suit-related

I loved wearing suits.

Suits were the symbol of the status I had earned.
I was a professional.
F*ck yeah!

I’d catwalk around office -“look at me, I belong”-.
And I’d dress better than most to display I was confident, hungry… And on my way up.

Back then I also thought Barney from “How I Met Your Mother” was cool and funny. (Today I think he’s an idiot).
And, like him, I often donned a tie going into clubs.
You know, just to let women know I wasn’t a broke student anymore.

And… It worked.
It was a great approach, back then.

Then, I Reached A Higher Level In My Life & Career

Today I see suits as the opposite.

A symbol of subordination, captivity, and towing the line.
It’s a semi-mandatory uniform to fit in.
If you don’t wear it, you’re ostracized.

And I realized that only those who dress as they please are in charge of their lives.

A suit devalues you at this higher level of bold individualism, entrepreneurship, and freedom.

Entrepreneurs make it a point to avoid suits.
It’s how they advertise they’re one level higher.

That’s why tech entrepreneurs dress casual.

At this level suits are lower-level class.
It’s people who have NOT made it -and who come to sell you something (possible takers)-.

Signs You’re Stuck Under A Ceiling

As long as you apply yourself, forward progress should be natural… Unless an invisible glass ceiling holds you back 

So, if ceilings are invisible, are you cursed to stay under them?

Not necessarily.

A good observer armed with an open mind can see the signs.

At the highest level, it’s:

  • You get some success, but not as much as you want
    • You plateaued. Plateaus are the natural consequence of glass ceiling self-help
    • You’re still far from the top – or far from your highest potential

Many men have a far higher potential that they even think of.

Getting near the top is realistic and possible in most cases because most of your competition does NOT maximize his potential.

You should of course have enough raw material and effort to advance.
But once have those in place, continuous advancement to your natural top is the natural consequence.

IF you tackle all visible constraints, that is.
And if you don’t move up, there are invisible ceilings

This is the “theory of constraints“.
Alex Hormozi built his business accelerator program around this simple philosophy and approach.
And you can also apply it to personal growth and advancement.

If you struggle to advance but don’t see a problem, a glass ceiling is the problem.

Lucio Buffalmano

Some more concrete examples:

  1. In your social life, you can engage with high-quality people, but they keep you at arm’s length. You have just enough value, but there’s some ceiling. May be unconscious power moves, small-timer manipulations, or lose status with low-power behavior
  2. In dating, you get sex, but can’t keep great relationships. You may have some toxic behavior you aren’t aware of yet
  3. At work, you’re competent but aren’t advancing. The ceiling may be your soft skills. And before you jump into “leadership skills”, it may be office politics that undermine you. Or failure to understand human nature and general power dynamics

Etc. etc.

The point is this:

If you can spot the signs, sometimes you can turn glass ceilings, into visible ceilings.
And then you can address it.

Self-Help Is 99% Ceiling Advice

And here’s the kicker:

The vast majority of self-help is ceiling advice.

It’s the very nature of it because:

1. Only the masters can take you all the way up

And masters are rare.

Everyone else is advicing from their level.

Maybe their level is two levels above you.
Very helpful.
But that may still be a long way to the top.

Second spot. Not bad! Unless you wanna get to the top. Then, that #2 coach will become your ceiling

2. Lower-level folks can’t see all the way up

It’s the concept of the idiot, the Average Joe, and the genius.

The idiot may not even see the extra value of the genius.
So he takes the Average Joe as role model.

Example of Self-Help Ceilings

Just some examples:

Mindset Ceilings 

Most self-help mindsets are ceilings. 

Just an example: 

  • You deserve the best

It’s a good wake-up call for most men who expect too little out of life.

But once you gain more confidence, it becomes an entitlement trap.  
Elliot Rogers thought he deserved attractive women -and went on a killing spree when those women disagreed-. 

Even without those extremes, it’s still a limiting mental crutch.

The higher level is to think highly of yourself independently of what you can or cannot get at your current level of development. 
So a more empowering, antifragile mindset may be: 

  • I’m happy with myself. I may need something extra to get Y, but chances are I can get it if I work on it. And if not, I’m still an overall cool guy 

Maxim Ceilings Marketed as “Laws” & “Iron Rules” 

Lists of laws and “iron rules” are ceilings by definition.

This is the paradox:

The best laws are for average men.

It’s simple logic.
A good law applies to most people, in most situations.

To be as universal as possible, the “law” MUST target the average.

This is our main criticism to otherwise great books like The 48 Laws of Power.
I’ve seen too many unsuccessful men end up here after misapplying those “laws” with no power intelligence.

Also see:

48 Laws of Power VS Power University: Which One Should You Pick?

Thinking Ceilings: Generalizations

For example:

  • All Women Are Like That, a popular red pill mantra

Same as above:

The best generalizations are “good”.
They apply to most people and cases.

In this case, many fundamental, underlying drives are common to most women.

But the nuances and exceptions all get lost -and BTW it’s in the nuances and exceptions that advanced men and strategists thrive-.
And only poor thinkers over-rely on mantras.

At the higher level, sticking to generalizations harms your ability to understand reality because reality is complex.

Social Skills Ceiling Advice

A popular one:

And, either implied or explicit: avoid passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive

Makes sense.

Most of the time.

But a few times it’s better to avoid assertiveness.
And you may want to strategically be passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive.
It’s those few times that differentiate the advanced practitioners, from the “OK ones”.

Power Matters -duh!-

Or this approach:

  • To be interesting, be interested

And, implied, listen instead of talking.

It’s a popular approach by the most popular social skills gurus: Dale Carnegie

And it’s largely true.
And many low-empathy and big talkers desperately need to heed that.

But it’s also low-power to make everyone else the center of your attention.

Why do you think some people may talk a lot?

It’s because they’re high-value men, with much wisdom to share. And people are happy to listen to high-value men.
Or, often the case in our high-narcissism times, they simply have attitude that others need to listen. But that attitude often shapes reality.

Also, don’t forget:

Charismatic people capture people’s attention by putting themselves at the center of attention.

Those exceptions are what makes the difference between good performers, and top performers.

Here at TPM we want to teach how to be top 1%.
So Power University teaches how to be exception-al.

Business Ceiling Advice

A popular one:

  • You’re one sales funnel away from being a millionaire

It’s true.
But, Alex Hormozi says, for the next-level you better focus on product and brand.

Dating Ceiling Advice

Example from a popular “red pill guru“:

  • Always reject “let’s just be friends”

Good for still clueless men who accept friendship just to hang around a girl.

But a high-value man may be better off saying “yes”.
First off, to display he’s not butt-hurt by her romantic rejection.
And he may leverage an attractive woman for preselection. Or meet her girlfriends.

And if it’s during last-minute resistance, he’s better off agreeing and continuing escalation.

Personal Development Ceilings

Two examples:

1. “Strong” Foundations of Self-Esteem… Turn Fragile

What you build your self-esteem around matters.

Many men build their self-esteem around being “strong”.

Often, physically strong.

It’s a major mental ceiling.
For one, strength naturally decays over time.
So, at best, it’s fragile and time-limited “confidence”.

2. Fighting For Status Is Empowering… Till You Start Flying

As per our learning phases:

In the beginning, you may lose status and respect with various power moves.

Then, you start fighting back.
And then, you start winning.

You think this is power.

But then, you grow once more.
And fights become traps that aren’t worthy of you.
Then, you fly higher.

Types of Ceiling Advice

So far we talked of ceiling advice in relation to “level of progress”.

But some ceiling advice can be straight out bad because it’s not a good fit.

For example:

Works for the 80%, not if you’re top 20%

This is the paradox:

The best general advice is for average people.

Just like we said for “laws”.
It’s simple math.
To work best for most, it has to target average people.

That’s why we felt compelled to write this article.
We don’t target average men here :).

Works for other types of men, not you

For example:

  • Speak less than necessary

This is a popular “law” from The 48 Laws of Power.

It’s great advice… For most people who aren’t great speakers.

But great orators would give up their superpower!

I’d even agree with Greene on a personal preference level.
Dialectical incontinence rubs me the wrong way. But who cares what I think when millions of people made Jordan Peterson, Russel Brand, or Jay Shetty rich.

That law also doesn’t work in many other situations:

Lucio: social psychology research shows that people who talk more during group formation acquire more status

Works for different goals, not yours

For example:

  • Learn hard skills, become the best at it

But if you want to advance with leadership and BIG money… You also need soft skills.

Power awareness, leadership, strategic thinking, etc.

Works for some situations, not yours

For example:

  • Be more outgoing to be more charismatic

Works best for party situations.
But in a mafia sit-down you may want to be the more silent type.

Works for different age brackets, not yours

For example:

  • Move slowly to convey power

Great advice for high power and accomplished men.

But a young guy who’s learning the ropes should probably move faster.

He’s not expected to convey power, he’s expected to show eagerness.
That maximizes his learning, opportunities… And future power.

Works for different phases, not the one you’re at

Most self-help is to “achieve more”. But after achievement, you’d benefit from unplugging

TPM’s content may even be mandatory advice to effectively achieve demanding goals.

But once you internalize the skills and achieved all of your goals… You may move beyond TPM.

You internalized the skills, you read people as second nature.
And those are enough to coast in your “post-achievement” life phase.

That’s why the last step of our process is to chill:

Why work hard all your life, when you can achieve all your goals… And still leave some time to spare for chilling and enjoying?

Low VS High Ceilings

Low-ceiling means your growth will stop soon-ish.

High ceiling instead means you make a big jump, and keep growing for a longer time.

What’s low or high ceiling is contextual.

TPM’s content tends to be high ceiling.
That’s because most people pursue some goals or more scarce resources. Those are competitions. And always follow power dynamics principles and strategic considerations.

ceiling effect representation with a man touching an invisible ceiling above him

In our very unbiased and objective view, TPM’s content is very high ceiling

Dave Ramsey’s “avoid debt” advice is lower-ceiling advice.

Being careful around debt is great advice for over-spenders.
But you should quickly understand the limitations of that advice. (Ie.: a mortgage for a flat you love is fine if you can repay it).

Ceiling Law

The ceiling law states that:

Any general purpose advice, habit, mindset or framework that doesn’t include exceptions, nuances, and flexibility is, by definition, a ceiling.

It doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful to you.
Or useful to reach a specific goal.
But it means that you should consider when it’s time to ditch it. And do something else, take a different approach, or move on to better alternatives.

How to Break Through Ceilings

Here are some tips to avoid getting stuck under ceiling self-help:

1. Be Prepared For Ceilings

Simply knowing about ceilings is a great start.

  1. Accept there will be ceilings. It’s simply part of growing
    • Don’t be bitter once you discover your ceilings. It’s simply part of being alive
  2. Assess for ceiling teachers and be ready to move past
  3. Be careful of misapplying ceiling laws, “iron rules”, etc. See some examples here.
  4. Look all the way up. It can help you assess the steps you need, and the possible ceilings along the way
  5. Ponder your self-development ceilings. Look at what you’re proud of today. Ask if it serves you well. See if you don’t have too strong an ego. Etc. etc.

2. Mental Level: Make Piece With Complexity

Some men struggle to accept the world’s inherent complexity.

Simplification is their mental crutch.

We’re not saying to scrap all simplifications.
There is much utility to good laws, generalizations, or “easy diagnosis” of others.

But you’re often better off accepting complexity, nuances, and black and whites.
Reality is beautiful because it’s complex.

3. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills help you spot ceilings before you hit them.

3.2. Learn to Read Characters

So you can avoid low-ceiling teachers.

Even as a beginner, you can assess for:

  • Honesty
  • Intellectual honesty
  • “high-quality man behavior”


And their opposites:

It doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything from these bad gurus.
But you’ll probably learn less.
And they’ll work in overdrive to make sure you remain under their ceiling. F that! 🙂

Read more here.

Our alumni in Power University 10x their ability to read people.

4. Accept Your Level

Once you realize there are higher levels, you may want to skip all the way through.

Sometimes that’s possible.
But not always.

So remember:

Ceilings are only stopping you when you’re ready to move higher.

You can’t simply reach the highest level by skipping through the stages.


5. Earn Your Breakthrough: Conquer Your Level

Accept, focus, and conquer your current level.

Once you hit a plateau, then you’re ready to break through the ceiling.

Ultimate mastery is the final crowning of the man who becomes 100x a master.

6. Pick Good Mentors & Coaches

There are many ways mentors and coaches can be helpful.

But one of the most important is showing the invisible glass ceilings.

Specifically look for people who talk about “levels of development”.
They (intuitively) understand the concept of ceilings and plateus -and chances are they’ve gone through them-.

6.2. Always Ask For Feedback

You’d be surprised how many random people can see what you can’t (yet) see.

One of those feedbacks may just break a new glass ceiling for you.

As long as you’re open-minded to listen…

Power University has shown countless men their social and power ceilings. As the cutting edge course in this area, it takes you to the ultimate floor, no ceilings and mid-tier levels

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