We all have experienced moments when learning something new felt overwhelming. Whether we are learning a new business skill, a new language, or even riding a bike or how to walk – as humans we tend to go through the same 4-stage learning cycle.

    1. Unconscious Incompetence

This is a stage where we don’t realize what we don’t know. We’re unconscious of our incompetence. What is important about this stage is that sometimes we can live in unconscious incompetence for a long time. The way that we continue to grow is through asking ourselves, “What did I learn? What’s working and what’s not working?”

Sometimes our egos keep us from really wanting to have that information and then we can become defensive because we don’t want to hear negative feedback. It is critical to get that information, however, to grow. That feedback is a gift for us to continue to grow and be our best. When we are in this growth place, we are more open and receptive to wanting to learn what’s working and what’s not working. Then we are able to identify areas of growth ourselves, which is what moves us to the next stage.

    1. Conscious Incompetence

This is a stage where we become aware of what we do not know.

During this stage of conscious incompetence, we might feel uncertain, confused, overwhelmed and insecure. We might begin to question our competency, which can create all kinds of feelings. So, what do we do? We grasp for our identity, we grasp for what we know, for our competency, in order to feel better about ourselves.

When we are learning and we don’t understand things, that is a very vulnerable place. It is important to keep in mind that in this vulnerable place our learning is the richest.

This stage is probably the most difficult part of the learning cycle. It is where we become more and more aware of what we are not good at, how we are not succeeding and how we are not mastering something. Because there is so much vulnerability, emotion, and even struggle, as we are trying to figure out something new, this is also a stage where we can get stuck. We become overcome by feelings of our incompetency of what we are trying to learn.

That happens, leaders and it is okay. Leadership is a huge area, so there may be a piece of leadership that we are really excelling and doing well in and there may be another piece where we are not, and we are getting some tough feedback. That is okay because that is an area to grow and learn.

    1. Conscious Competence 

This is a stage where it becomes fun again. This is where we begin to realize that we do know something. In this stage of conscious competence, we begin to be conscious of our competence, but we still have to work at it. It requires discipline and practice.

We might have a checklist that we are following or we might have different stages that we are using to help ourselves, but we have to be intentional about practicing it and developing it. During this stage, it all starts to come together. It feels encouraging and we begin to feel hopeful again.

    1. Unconscious Competence

Unconscious competence is where we are just executing this new skill or new practice without having to think about it. This can be a very refreshing place because we are mastering a new skill and entering a new level in that area.

It feels so good to accomplish that, so we need to remember to enjoy that unconscious competence.

Then the big question is, “What is next? What is the next opportunity for me?” and just like that, we cycle back to unconscious incompetence. As long as we are growing and learning we will be a part of that same 4-stage learning cycle.