Have you ever tried to learn or do something new and completely suck at it? Of course you have. And if you haven’t, then you’re either a liar or you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. We hate sucking at things. It bruises the ego and the brain seems to bring up all the other things you suck at in life, mixing it all together in a horrible tasting stew that gives you the runs for a week.
The natural thing to do is to quietly step back into your comfort zone and get comfortable being uncomfortable with the reasons that made you want to try something new in the first place. Better the devil you know, right?
OFCOURSE YOU’RE GOING TO SUCK AT SOMETHING NEW. You aren’t NEO from The Matrix who suddenly knows Kung-Fu – The world isn’t what the TV tells you it is. For us humans back here in the real world, learning any new skill requires going through a series of steps.
There are FOUR stages to learning any new skill.
- Unconscious Incompetence
- Conscious Incompetence
- Conscious Competence
- Unconscious Competence
This is where the person does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily even recognize the deficit – You don’t know what you don’t know, and you might even deny that skill is even useful. The person must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
This is where the person becomes consciously aware that they aren’t good at something, or that there is a deficit in a particular skill that is useful to them. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage – The more pain the mistake brings the greater the desire for change.
This is where the person learns the skill the first time, and understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating it requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in doing the new skill. Remember when you just got your drivers licence? Left foot in, change gear, left foot out, accelerate, hands at 10 and 2, check rear view mirror, check speed – holy crap better slow down a bit… etc.
You knew how to drive, but you needed to consciously think of the steps and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Crunching gears and reversing the car into the letterbox a few times are some of the mistakes you might have made before you moved to the next step. Graduation from Conscious Competence requires practice and use of the skill until you do it automatically on the next step:
You’ve had so much practice and use of the skill it becomes something you just automatically do.
It’s Friday and you’ve finished work for the week. You jump into the car and start driving home. The music is blaring, you call your friends to see what they’re up to tomorrow, you’re thinking about what to have for dinner, and maybe you send out a few text messages as well. As you’re singing your favourite song at the top of your lungs you pull into the driveway and turn the car off, get out and go inside.
Then it hits you – who the hell just drove home?
Your unconscious mind, that’s who.
And the skill of driving is so well practiced and learned you can do the task automatically without even thinking about it. That is being Unconsciously Competent.
If you want to get really good at something, you need to go through the pain of sucking at it enough until it becomes automatic and you can just about do it with your eyes closed. Yeah, it sucks to fail and there isn’t any alternative to getting good at something.
So go out and fail graciously. Go and do something you absolutely suck at. Then do it again.
Just remember that one day very soon you will be very, very good at it.