The Four Stages of Learning

Psychologists understand that people move through four psychological stages in the process of developing competence in a skill.

The first stage is called unconscious incompetence. People at this stage don’t understand something and they don’t even know that they don’t understand. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know.

The second stage is called conscious incompetence. People at this stage are aware of something but can’t do it. They have admitted to themselves and possibly to others that they’re incompetent.

People in stage three, conscious competence, now understand or know how to do something but it requires a lot of focus and concentration. Conscious competence comes from doing the right things in the right order repeatedly.

The fourth and final stage, unconscious competence, is the level you see in professional sports people, musicians, racing car drivers, Investors, successful Business people and really great entrepreneurs. They’ve had so much perfect practice with a skill that it becomes second nature and can be performed effortlessly.

One of the most recent studies about unconscious competence was done in London with laboratory rats. After a hundred tries, the rats could navigate their way through a maze fairly quickly. After two hundred to five hundred repetitions in the same maze, the researchers observed the same ability in the rat’s babies. Their genetic imprinting had been changed.

It takes hundreds if not thousands of perfectly repeated attempts to become unconsciously competent. If you want to be perfect at something, it’s not enough to do it over and over again. You have to do it perfectly over and over again. By the same token, if you repeatedly do the wrong thing over and over again, it can become your competency.

This goes back to the concept of brain plasticity. When you’re learning something new, you create one connection of two branches in your brain. When you reinforce the new information by listening to it and applying it again and again, you reinforce the cellular structure or the cellular cluster in your brain to the point that you go from conscious competence to unconscious competence.

Information on its own is worthless unless you take it from conscious competence to unconscious competence. By gathering information and repeating the pattern of thought or behavior over and over again, you can reinforce the brain itself; you can condition the brain to take over and, without any thought, behave in ways that are in line with achieving your goals.

By: Mark Carn

Action Coach of Elm GroveThe Four Stages of Learning