Last summer, when I took a Radical Sabbatical, I set out to learn what I needed to keep my teaching practice alive and vibrant. Over those four months, I learned that I needed to have dedicated time and space for creativity. I learned that I needed to have time outside under the sky. I learned that overscheduling leads to stagnation. I got it. I really did. But when I returned to teaching in the fall? I filled my calendar to the brim and spent most of my time inside at the computer.
I felt frustrated with myself and my behavior. I couldn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing when I knew what I knew! What was going on with me?
Then I remembered a classic approach to the learning process called the Four Stages of Competence. The Four Stages are:
- Unconscious Incompetence – when I don’t even KNOW what I don’t know
- Conscious Incompetence – when I know what I don’t know and I still cannot do it
- Conscious Competence – I know how to do it and it takes focus and attention
- Unconscious Competence – I have embodied the skill and I can do it effortlessly
It was a relief to recall this theory and see that I was just in the learning process – not failing miserably to carry out my intentions.
Before my sabbatical, I was in Stage 1, Unconscious Incompetence: I didn’t know what I needed to make my teaching practice thrive. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. During my sabbatical and in the months that followed, I experienced the ineptness and discomfort Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence. I understood, on an intellectual level, what I needed to do but I wasn’t able to do it. A few months later I am now moving between Conscious Incompetence (sometimes I don’t do what I intend to do) and Conscious Competence (I’m able to do what I intend if I focus and concentrate).
Another way of looking at the process is a cycle of learning, practicing and embodying. The awkward and uncomfortable sensations of moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 is the sensation of learning. That’s what learning feels like – unfamiliar and clumsy. Then, we need practice to move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 and even more practice to take us into Stage 4, Unconscious Competence, when a skill is effortless and embodied.
Often, there is a misconception that learning won’t feel awkward and uncomfortable, so when it does, people think they are doing it wrong. Discomfort is inherent in Stage 1 but many people want to avoid that feeling. The whole learning thing can be an awkward affair, so if we avoid it, we can avoid the anxiety or embarrassment.
I am convinced that the number one reason that people don’t want to take a Nia class is that they think they’ll look silly or uncoordinated. To avoid that feeling, they get on a treadmill! For many folks, it was risky enough to get into workout clothes and walk out of the locker room. Why in the world would they step into a studio with windows and … wiggle??
Two reasons: (1) Learning new things keeps us from becoming entrained to our habits and (2) learning keeps us vibrant, animated and alive!
If we keep doing things the same way and don’t endeavor to learn new things, we become entrained in our habits until our habits become the only way we can do things. Our brain gets so hard-wired in one direction there simply is no other way for it to go.
And perhaps more importantly, learning keeps us alive and vital. Learning creates a literal spark in our bodies and energy in our minds. Practicing then develops our discipline, determination and focus.
So are you ready to get awkward with me? Tomorrow, I’ll say more about how we can use current brain science and the Cycle of Competence to do anything better and move into mastery.