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The Four Stages Of Learning On The Path To Mastery

Dec 8, 2007
Whenever you learn a new skill, you go through four stages of learning. Some people berate themselves if they don't immediately master a new skill. They forget that there's a normal progression involved. Keeping these stages in mind will help you avoid frustration as you progress along the path to mastery.

The four stages are:

* Unconscious incompetence
* Conscious incompetence
* Conscious competence
* Unconscious competence

The time it takes to progress through these stages may vary, but this progression is unavoidable.

Here's what each stage is about.

Unconscious Incompetence

At this stage, a person is incompetent at a skill but isn't aware that they lack it because they don't know it exists. They're incompetent and unaware of it. This stage lasts as long as the person remains in the dark about other possibilities.

As an example, imagine a child who had only seen shoes with Velcro closures. They are incompetent at tying shoelaces, but aren't aware of it because they're never seen them.

When a person becomes aware of knowledge they lack, they enter the next phase.

Conscious Incompetence

Once the person knows they lack a skill, they are still incompetent at it. The difference is now they know. This creates the possibility of learning.

The child has seen shoes with laces and realizes that they don't know how to tie them. It's at this stage that learning begins.

Someone shows the child how to tie a shoelace and they begin practicing. At first they won't be very good at it. They're still incompetent - consciously incompetent.

This phase lasts for a variable amount of time depending on the difficulty of the skill as well the abilities and diligence of the person learning it. More difficult skills take longer to acquire. A person with more talent finds progress easier. More practice results in more progress.

The next stage slowly emerges.

Conscious Competence

Gradually, the student improves and eventually becomes competent at the task. However, at first performing competently requires their full attention. This is the stage of conscious competence.

The child can tie their shoe quite well, but they need to focus to do it. Slowly, gradually the skill becomes easier to perform. It requires less intense focus. It flows more smoothly and automatically.

Eventually, they arrive at the last stage...

Unconscious Competence

This is the phase of most adults with regards to tying shoelaces - they do it quite well without ever having to think about it. In this phase a person performs competently automatically.

There are many skills we pick up and become unconsciously competent at. Anyone who's learned to drive a standard transmission remembers their first lurching starts. Over time, that complex skill became automatic.

Skills you work on now may be the same way. At first they'll seem difficult. They'll require your full attention. You won't be very good at them. You'll feel awkward.

Remember that this phase is normal. Gradually and steadily you'll improve. Before long what was a foreign skill will be second nature. Just like tying a shoe.
About the Author
Joseph McCaffrey believes in living life as a work of art in progress, and writes on all aspects of living life fully at: http://www.masteringlifespuzzle.com/
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