Are you unconsciously incompetent?
The “Four Stages of Learning,” a theory by 1940’s psychologist Abraham Maslow is a good means to empathise with people who feel content in a “comfort zone” Alternatively it empathises with those who feel the need to move on and change. The Four Stages of Learning are an explanation of how people bring about change to their current situation, progressing from:
1. Unconscious Incompetence (e.g.. you don’t know that you have high cholesterol), to..
2. Conscious Incompetence (you are now aware that you high cholesterol but don’t change your lifestyle), to..
3. Conscious Competence (you develop good lifestyle choices but have to think about it in order to adhere- weekdays/weekends), to the final stage..
4. Unconscious Competence (you maintain a good lifestyle and it now comes naturally).
As an unconscious incompetent person, you do not know what you do not know. You lack knowledge and skills in the area in question and are unaware of this lack.
In this state, where you can exist for a very long time, you are not as competent as:
· you think you are
· you actually could be
· other, more competent people
You may be in one of two positions. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and you may well be happily naive, not realizing that you are not competent. You also may be in a faking state, where you believe you are competent, and either don’t realize that you are in this state or are covering up your incompetence (in which state you may be in the next stage)..
As a conscious incompetent, you realize that you are not as expert as perhaps you thought you were or thought you could be.
The transition to this state from being unconsciously incompetent can be a shocking and sudden realization, for example when you meet others who are clearly more competent (fitter) than you, or when a friend holds up a metaphorical mirror to your real ability. i.e. You know you are out of shape because others are fitter/ healthier and you feel the need to bring about a change.
You can also exist in this state for a long time, depending on factors such as your determination to learn and the real extent to which you accept your incompetence. i.e. You know you are out of shape but because your parents/peers mirror your state of health you feel no need to bring about a change due to a “comfort zone”.
Becoming consciously competent often takes a while, as you steadily learn about the new area (e.g. eating healthily), either through experience or more formal learning. This process can go in fits and starts as you learn, forget, plateau and start anew.
The more complex the new area and the less talent you have for it, the longer this will take. The good news is that many people have achieved remarkable feats of learning through sheer persistence (losing weight without any help or formal learning).
Eventually you reach a point where you no longer have to think about what you are doing, and are competent without the significant effort that characterizes the state of conscious competence.
So if you want someone to learn and they are shying away, hold up a mirror and help make them first become a conscious incompetent. Then guide them through the subsequent stages. If you feel as their friend/peer that you do not have the knowledge to bring about that change then consult others who do (Teachers/Dentists/ Doctors) but a person can only make changes when they are consciously incompetent.