Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Four Stages of Learning

The Four Stages of Learning 
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

One night in the Tuesday ANAD support group, a member excitedly talked about something she learned in her business class: The 4 Stages of Learning: 1) Unconscious Incompetence, 2) Conscious Incompetence, 3) Conscious Competence, and 4) Unconscious Competence. The first, “Unconscious Incompetence”, was described as being “blissful”. In this stage you can’t do something, but you are unaware that you can’t do it. Imagine a very small child happily playing a “song” on a piano. Then you move into the second stage “Conscious Incompetence” which is the most painful. It is the stage where you know you can’t do something, but don’t know how to fix it. Remember your first piano lesson and how awful you knew you sounded? The third stage “Conscious Competence” lasts the longest. You have to consciously work on the problem, deliberately choosing tools, making mindful effort everyday. Everything you do feels awkward and unnatural. This is like practicing the piano hour after hour on a difficult passage of music. The fourth and final stage is “Unconscious Competence”. This is where you can do something effortlessly and without thinking about it. It has become natural and second nature to you. A pianist playing a familiar piece of music from memory would be an example of this stage. A person would occasionally move back into the third stage, work on a problem consciously, then move back into the fourth stage. The group realized that the minute they realized they had a problem they were in the Conscious Incompetence stage, and they found this stage very painful and frustrating. Some who were farther along in their recovery felt that they were in the Conscious Competence stage, that everything was awkward and unnatural and had to be deliberately worked on. It was hopeful to also point out that the women who were in the group the longest said that they felt they had one foot in the last stage, Unconscious Competence, some of the parts of recovery were beginning to feel second nature and they didn’t have to think about it so much. The group discussed some of the skills necessary to recover and how hard it was to keep working mindfully and consciously in the “Conscious Competence” stage. Many acknowledged how hard it was to not give up when things didn’t feel natural after a short while. We realized that since we tended to be perfectionistic it was hard to stick to doing something that didn’t come naturally. We may have the best of intentions, but after the initial excitement of trying something new wore off many gave up after 3 to 5 days. Everyone started thinking of new possibilities when I told them that it took 21 days to make or break a habit. Maybe if they kept that timeframe in mind it would help them to stick to something, even though it didn’t feel comfortable or natural. I reminded them not to overwhelm themselves and try to take on too much at once. Sometimes we need to work on just one thing at a time. So we decided to make it a challenge, to pick one thing and to do it consistently for 21 days. It could be something very simple such as “I am going to repeat an affirmation every morning”. Or it could be risky and scary, such as “I will eat breakfast every morning, no matter what I’ve done the night before.” A little harder one might be “I will ask my critical part to talk to me like I would talk to a friend.” In the next newsletter I will let you know the results of our experiment. (If you want to try along with us, please remember to make your challenge something that you need to stretch to get to, but within a realistic reach.

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