Do you remember how awkward it was to learn how to ride a bicycle?
It took all kinds of effort to keep from falling. One over-correction after another, we zigged and we zagged, careening forward to keep our balance. The ride was harrowing! We either fell to the ground, or found a way to keep upright. So much energy is expended trying to balance on the bike. It takes a while to become more efficient and find a straight path. But the incentive was high because falling off a bike is much more uncomfortable than figuring it out how to ride.
Four stages of competence
When we wade into the territory of the new, resistance crops up in many forms. Over time, the road becomes smoother.
Psychology describes this process as the four stages of competence. We move through them – or get stuck – all the time, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Unconscious incompetence: Ignorance is bliss! The unconscious incompetent has no idea they don’t know. They might even think they know it all! This kid doesn’t know what a bike is or what to do with it. Because she’s unaware, there’s no desire or impetus to learn.
Conscious incompetence: The bubble has burst. The conscious incompetent becomes aware they have a deficit and now she’s woke! There’s something she needs to know and do, and she doesn’t know how to do it. If she sees value in this shiny new skill, she gets motivated to learn and move forward. There’s a lot of uncertainty at this stage and everything that comes with it, including making mistakes.
Conscious competence: Now we’re getting somewhere. The conscious competent knows how to do something intellectually. She’s a novice, and doing the thing requires a ton of energy in all its forms: focus, time and attention. Breaking things down into chunks is a great strategy for the conscious competent.
Unconscious competence: “It’s just like riding a bike!” Notice how the expression ISN’T “It’s just like learning how to ride a bike. The unconscious competent has now mastered the skill. They can execute it proficiently while doing something else! The unconscious incompetent who remembers all the steps may be able to teach it to someone else. She who strategizes will find systems to make it more efficient. And she who let herself forget thinks everyone should be able to do it easily, just like she can! (And doesn’t get invited to many parties.)
What to do when the going gets uncomfortable
The next time you find yourself lamenting, “I thought it would be easier than this!” It’s time to shift your energy. Go easy on yourself. There’s no deficiency in you. Support your mindset and emotions and keep plugging away! You’re in a well-known process and with time, practice and guidance, it will all begin to flow.