Learning Models

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.                                                                                  Proverbs 2:1-5 (The Message)

Sometimes when I am introducing a new concept for clients, I am asking them to do something that feels uncomfortable- at least initially. Gradually, when practicing a new behavior, they warm up to it and it then becomes familiar, and then routine. This typically prompts me to talk about a learning model. It looks something like this…

Stage I Unconscious Incompetence– This is the stage where we don’t even know what we don’t know. This can be a problem, because at this stage, we might not even know that we have a problem or a lack at all. It is invisible to us until it is pointed out, or we come to an understanding that we are missing something.

Stage II Conscious Incompetence– At this stage we have become aware that we have a lack of something or a problem and we can now begin to work on a remedy for this situation. This can be uncomfortable, and it takes some humility to accept this stage. However, that is crucial to go on to the next stage.

Stage III Conscious Competence – This is an uncomfortable stage where we begin to practice new behaviors in order to learn and grow. It may feel awkward, contrived, and it makes us anxious because we are engaging in behaviors that do not feel natural. We do them because they are said to be helpful. This may take some real trust.

Stage IV Unconscious Competence– This is where we finally begin to feel comfortable. We have practiced the new behavior often enough that it comes naturally to us.

I think of this in terms of my early counseling career. At the very beginning, I did not even know what I didn’t know. I needed to be around competent people and just learn from them. I started practicing techniques and methods which I had learned are helpful practices, and I applied these principles, but early on, it sure was not comfortable. Gradually, years in, I felt increasingly comfortable, and I can now practice with significantly less anxiety because I know myself and feel comfortable with what I do.

That does not mean that there are still some “Stage I” things out there for me. We always need to be ready to learn. There are certainly things that I don’t know that I don’t know, but I am open to that and can work my stages to grow.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the ability to learn and grow, and it never stops, Amen

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