Unconscious Competence

When developing new habits, it is helpful to understand the four distinct phases of the learning process.  Most of us, at any given time, can be said to be “unconsciously incompetent” about a number of skills.  These are skills we are not even aware we are performing in a suboptimal way.  Hence, this is a period where “ignorance is bliss”.

If we become aware that there is a better way of doing something, we then become “consciously incompetent”.  Now, we know that we have an opportunity to improve or get better at doing something and ignorance is no longer an excuse.

Once we decide to pursue a new way of doing something, by practicing a new approach, we become “consciously competent”.  This means that the only way we can persist in doing something better or different is by remaining vigilant and present to the new way we want to act.  If we do not stay conscious of the change we are attempting to make, we are likely to relapse and return to the old way of doing something.  That is why we call this phase “conscious competence”.  This is often the longest phase because we need to consistently pay attention to doing something in a new way, and that can be very hard at first.

After doing the hard work of consistently showing up in a new way, we finally move into the last phase of learning called “unconsciously competent”.  This is when we no longer have to think about doing something in a new way, because that new way has become our new normal.  We have developed a new habit, and we do not need to devote mindshare to maintaining the new behavior because it is hard-wired.Un