There is something interesting that happens when we get new toys and want to play with them. We unwrap them with all sorts of anticipation. The excitement of the new experience courses through our brains and gives us little adrenaline bursts.
Just like a present, new and novel experiences light up our brains like candy. Unlike that new gift, we may discover that learning something new isn’t always so easy. All that excitement can be transformed into frustration, because becoming really good at the new thing doesn’t come so easily. The exciting idea doesn’t always transmit into practical application.
I am thinking of myself here. I was so excited to build my website! I got my domain name with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, only to be hit with the reality of using WordPress to build a website. There is a real learning curve involved. You can insert the new mastery of anything: WordPress, Marketing, any Adobe product, making friends, getting a degree, anything. We start off with loads of enthusiasm, and we might end up quitting because the new thing ends up being harder than we expected.
It’s important to know that there is a process to learning; let’s call it the “Learning Journey.” The learning journey is made up of four stages, Unconscious Incompetence; Conscious Incompetence; Conscious Competence; and Unconscious Competence. Understanding these stages will help you not feel less like quitting just because a hard new learning didn’t get instantly downloaded to your brain in 5 minutes.
Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence
This means that we don’t even know what we don’t know. Let’s say I see a beautiful photograph, I have no idea what went into making that picture. I just know I want to make a beautiful photograph too. What I may not understand is that the photographer had to understand how to use the camera, how to choose the shot, she may have had to use Adobe Photoshop (or some other software) to clean it up and adjust it. But, I don’t know all that yet. When I decide to get a camera and start taking pictures, I may find out my images aren’t as pretty, and I don’t know why. So, I start to investigate, and find myself moving into the next stage.
Stage 2 – Conscience Incompetence
This is the stage at which we begin to know what we don’t know. It can feel like there is so much to learn. This can be incredibly frustrating. We’ve begun to have a clear understanding of what’s expected, but we really don’t yet understand how to make that happen. In fact, this is the stage in which most of us give up. This can be true of a new skill, a new game or new software. It isn’t so easy to figure out, so we quit. Or, it can also apply to a new way of doing something, for instance, changing our diets or managing our anger. This is the stage that we have to start educating ourselves. Reading books, taking classes, fiddling around and trying different things to see what we get. It is truly the stage for exploration. If we can persevere and make it through this stage, we will have the benefit of moving on the third stage of the learning journey.
Stage 3 – Conscious Competence
We now know what’s expected and we know how to make it happen. We have been learning, maybe teaching ourselves, reading tons of books, we have watched YouTube videos till our eyes bleed, taken classes and maybe consulted experts. Camera’s are complicated and good photography is not just a quick snapshot. It still takes a lot of energy to do the new task, but we are starting to feel confident. Neuroscientists have taken P. E. T. scans of the human brain during stage 2 and stage 3. What they have found is that the brain uses a tremendous amount of glucose as it is learning and concentrating on new tasks. Your brain wants to attain mastery so it can do its thing with ease. This is exactly what occurs in the fourth stage of the learning journey.
Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence
Finally, we no longer have to think too hard in order to do the task, but rather our brains can coast as we go into automatic drive. This is the stage in which we feel the most competent doing our task. We have all felt this at times. If you drive the same route to work every day, you may find that you left home and then arrived without noticing much of the drive; your brain didn’t need to focus on the skill of navigation, just on driving. It’s also the stage that we always wished we started in, especially when we start a new skill.
As we decide to learn new things or change patterns of behavior, we find ourselves moving through the first, second, and third stages again and again. The harder the thing we are trying to learn, the more frustrating it can feel. It’s helpful to understand these stages so that when you find yourself learning something new or changing some behavior, you can recognize and understand what stage you will be in. Then give yourself a break. Honor that you are even trying something new! It takes time and fortitude to become a master. It will happen if you keep on pushing through the stages of the Learning Journey. Oh, as for me, I finally got my new website up – WordPress and all. Check it out.