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Four Stages of Learning

What are the stages of learning? All of us have been learning since we were born. How often have you thought about the actual process? This simple matrix was developed in the late 1960’s. (The emoji’s are not from the 60’s!)


When we want to change and learn something new, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we don’t know everything. However, the reality is that we don’t like those moments when we don’t know something. My natural inclination is to feel uncomfortable in those moments. Do I admit that I don’t know or do I just fake it?


Sometimes it’s even worse. There are plenty of moments when I don’t even know that I don’t know. We sometimes call these blind spots. In the image above it’s called “Unconscious Incompetence”. A simple and rather trite example is bad breath. They say we don’t know our breath is bad because we get used to our own smells and don’t notice it. Often I think I know something but I really don’t.


For example, I remember being in a University class taking a belief assessment inventory that measured whether our thinking was rational or irrational. I came to this statement, “To consider myself worthy, I can’t make mistakes.” It hit me like a lightning bolt - I think this about myself and was not consciously aware of it. This was the beginning of a journey to replace an irrational belief with a rational one.

(The Belief Assessment is in the tool box)


The next step in learning is “Conscious Incompetence.” At this point we have the truth but we’re not sure what to do. In the example above, I learned that I don't have to be perfect to feel worthy. Now I had a chance to move forward. If I had not become aware, I would have been stuck at stage one.


Stage three is the process of gaining “Conscious Competence” in the new thing we are learning about ourselves, others, life, God, or whatever we’re learning. It’s often slow and requires lots of patience. I often tell myself that my goal is to get at least 1% better and then keep building on that gradual change. Change is possible.


Over time we arrive at “Unconscious Competence”. Our new way of thinking and being becomes so natural it’s as if we’re transformed into a new person. Everyone who has ever learned to ride a bike, swim, drive, type, play and instrument has experienced these four stages. 


You can use this tool as you make the personal changes you want in your life. One step and one percent at a time!

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