We lack the knowledge of our lack of knowledge.
With that said, we do not have to remain stagnant, stuck in our lack.
And while you cannot snap your fingers and call forth perfect clarity, you can equip yourself with a framework to ensure you are always growing and developing.
The Four Stages of Competence (also referred to as the Four Stages of Learning) was originally developed by a management trainer named Martin M. Broadwell in 1969. It breaks down the stages of learning, from ignorance to mastery, providing a map of the process of learning.
We’re unaware of what we’re unaware of.
We don’t know what we don’t know.
We lack the knowledge of our lack of knowledge.
This can bring with it a light, carefree bliss.
Life is, by all accounts, quite simple.
Being shielded from the unknown can lead to us feeling almost omniscient.
It is far too easy for us to remain in this stage.
Ignorance is bliss.
As long as we can keep the awareness of our ignorance out of sight, we can remain in the paradise our ignorance allows.
We are stuck, without hope of improving or learning.
If we are unable to learn, we are unable to change.
In order to learn, we must first open our eyes to realize there is much we do not know. This is a painful process, but, as Carl Jung wrote, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”
If Unconscious Incompetence is Bliss,
Conscious Incompetence is Awareness.
Realizing that Life is not as you thought it was can be deeply disruptive.
Recognizing you are wrong agitates your sense of
and safety in the world.
Though this awareness is crucial for us to progress forward, it can feel deflating.
This can be a cause for repression, frustration, and giving up.
Seeing all there is you consciously don’t know only emphasizes the truth there is much you unconsciously don’t know.
Waking up to this realization can be a cause for despair.
It also can be a cause for realizing a whole new set of possibilities.
You may be lit up by an unfamiliar feeling of wonder or curiosity, something many of us have tragically left behind in our childhood.
We are given the opportunity to become a beginner again, where we can start anew.
By loosening our grip on the deceptive feelings of certainty that expertise provides, we can begin with a beginner’s mind, where, “there are many possibilities,” unlike the expert’s, where “there are few,” according to the Zen Monk Shunryū Suzuki.
The awareness of our ignorance will undoubtedly create some level of cognitive dissonance, leading us to potentially employing a whole arsenal of defenses to keep us from these dangerous realizations:
things are not as I thought.
I am not as I thought.
We are severely stunted in our learning without these realizations.
This is the birthplace of growth and new opportunities.
Becoming aware of our lack does not have to surprise us or catch us off guard.
We can use this as another reminder, another data point that there is
little we know,
much we have wrong,
and an absurd amount we have yet to consider.
There are many questions we have yet to answer,
But even more questions we have yet to ask.
If we are approaching our learning with humility, the awareness of our limitations is not crushing. It does not negatively affect our sense of self, our self-esteem, or feelings of competence.
Of course there is much we still have to learn.
Why would we ever believe otherwise?
This is an invitation into deeper learning and appreciation.
Seeing a shortcoming does not negate it.
Realizing you have a particular flaw does not rid you of it.
Growth is nearly impossible unless we realize our shortcomings, but it cannot stop there. Beyond realizing a shortcoming, we must make the choice to work towards bridging that gap.
We must position ourselves as someone who is teachable, who desires to learn.
We must be, “content to be thought foolish and stupid,” as Epictetus once wrote.
We must put in the work necessary to reach a proficient level of competence.
It will always be easier to bury your head in the sand and ignore the complexities of the world than it is to engage in this vulnerable step of learning.
To deliberately move towards mastery means we must actively learn. This does not mean you need to only sleep three hours, quit your job, or neglect important relationships in the process, but you will likely have to direct more energy towards it.
By consistently practicing and struggling with new tasks, we grow closer to potentially reaching the unconscious competence we desire.
Baking sourdough bread is different from learning about the causes of World War 2.
Gardening is different from learning about the efficacy of Eastern Medicine practices.
How you learn one topic may vary greatly from how you learn another.
How you learn may vary greatly from how another learns.
Regardless of what it is you are learning or how you best learn, consider these two principles:
Deliberate practice, as James Clear defines it, is a “special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic.”
It is an intentional, thorough way of practicing by breaking down the whole process into parts.
You begin with a specific goal, and you set everything up with that in mind:
We are not aimlessly hoping for maybe improving.
Everything is set in accordance with one thing: our goal.
Deliberate practice, as noted in The Making of an Expert, has two distinct aims:
1) Improving your skills
2) Extending the reach and range of your skills
Understanding deliberate practice, both in theory and in practice, will help us to learn and grow, keeping us from being tricked into prematurely considering ourselves an expert.
Burdening yourself with a load you cannot carry will smother you desire to learn.
Refusing to carry a load altogether will, too.
Notice the term: productive struggle.
This is not struggling for the sake of struggling.
This is struggling for the sake of a greater good.
If we are engaged in a productive struggle, we are challenging ourselves with a task a bit beyond what we feel comfortable and familiar with. We are accepting the fact that learning inherently carries with it a level of risk.
In Why Struggle is Essential for the Brain– and Our Lives, Jo Boaler writes, “We cannot achieve anything creative without being comfortable with mistakes and struggle.”
This concept has been unfairly imprisoned within the educational world, but we would all benefit from it: Without engaging in productive struggle, meaningful learning appears off-limits.
From unconscious incompetence all the way to unconscious competence.
From not knowing you don’t know, to not knowing you do.
From ignorance to mastery.
This final stage shows mastery as you engage with once seemingly-impossible tasks with a sense of competence and autonomy, two of our three psychological needs (the third being relatedness).
What was once difficult may now be instinctual.
What was once incredibly challenging may now be something you rarely think through.
How are you at walking?
What about starting your car and backing it up?
Did you have to stop 10+ times while reading this to figure out a sound/letter/word you were stuck on?
We are growing in mastery over ourselves and our environment each day, which is great news. The more skilled you are at a task, the less calories your brain burns.
Your competencies are realized at both an emotional and biological level.
This is just as much for me as it is for you.
They are proof of your potential for progress.
They are endless invitations for you to continue learning and growing.
To strive towards competence, one must first recognize their incompetence.
Regardless of your educational experience or accolades, many of us have never truly learned how to learn
Without the expertise of a professor teacher, it is hard to know
what to learn,
when to learn,
and how to learn.
You do not need to go back to school, pay thousands of dollars, or rely on a teacher to learn.
The Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) can take your dreams, goals, and even hobbies, and give you a structure and framework to help you meet them.