Monday, November 24, 2014

The Journey - from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence

I make no claims on originality in this post. This just distills ideas I've read over the past year or so in various books. I'll be glad if it helps you on a bad day.

Sometimes when we set out to learn something new, we feel we are getting dumber, not smarter, as we make progress. If we push through these feelings however, often, the results are quite good. We achieve what we set out to do, and more. As optimists like to preach, our failings are most often in dreaming too small, not in dreaming too big and crashing spectacularly. Besides, you only lose when you tell yourself you're lost, and then give up. Otherwise, the clock is still ticking, you are still alive, the goal is still in front of you, and you're still making progress. Anyway, this particular post is not about the power of optimism, or sunshine and rainbows in the land of all success. Rather it is more focused on the journey. The journey from where you are, to where you want to be, and the terrors or unpleasantness you find along the way.

So why exactly do you feel you're getting dumber when you start learning something new? Well, let's see. You want to learn something, so you know you don't know it. This is an improvement vs the earlier state where you didn't even know you didn't know this (let's call it skill X), so already, you have transitioned from your erstwhile state of "unconscious ignorance" to a state of "conscious ignorance". Maybe "ignorance" is too strong a word. Let's call it incompetence instead. So now you're consciously incompetent. That's good news.

Good news?! you ask. Yes of course. Because of the "conscious" part. "The more you know, the more you know you don't know" - and that is not a bad thing. Now you can do something about your incompetence. What? Why, work of course! Work on your conscious incompetence, work hard at it, and eventually it becomes a conscious competence. This is where many people feel the most pain. The journey between those two states. Learning can be fun. But you should give yourself free reign and not pressure yourself unduly - this particularly happens to people who are already masters in some other field, and are not used to "feeling like a beginner all over again" while learning skill X. But when you free your mind to the task, and focus on the learning process, enjoying every bit of it, you learn faster. And lo! there's the state of conscious competence for you.

But is being consciously competent enough? Of course not! You want to keep up the level of practice till you get better and better, and conscious competence becomes unconscious competence. Now you are a true expert. You execute at your peak performance level without even thinking about it consciously, almost on reflex. And this is where you plateau again, till you look for another skill to master. skill Y anyone?

Good luck on your route to mastery!

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