There are four stages that mark one’s growth in competence — like a ladder of skill — according to the ‘conscious competence’ learning theory:
At any beginning, nobody knows what they’re doing.
We don’t know the skills that we don’t know, or that we need to learn them.
As rank beginners, we can look around, and then, we copy. We can copy without understanding. That’s what kids do when they start out to write, right?
This means we know that we don’t have these skills, but we can practice so we can get better at them. Once we get copying down, we refine through practice and trial-and-error.
Going back to learning how to write, it means hours of inculcating fine motor skills and muscle memory practice until we arrive at a recognizable, readable script. In the process, we learn to associate what we’re doing to the meaning behind the activity.
For example, in learning to write we trace letters and numbers in the process of learning to connect the scribbles on the paper to the understanding that precise scribbles mean letters and numbers, and letters in a particular order can spell out the word ‘cat’ or ‘box’ or ‘ball’, or numbers and other things, like ‘5 apples.’
We know that we have these skills, and we can deploy them at will.
At this level, what we practice can become habit. Going back to hand-writing, whether we’re used to printing block letters, or can write in cursive, we can write easily and fluidly.
We put so much practice in this skill, it just comes naturally to us. At this point, we don’t have to think much about hand-writing and can write legibly while doing yet another task. And at this level, we can teach others.
Going to another example: Can you remember learning how to walk?
Conscious memory may help you there, although science and personal experience can clash as to how much toddlers and babies can remember of their earliest years. But from where you are now, can you remember?
If you can’t, have you ever witnessed a very young child learning how to walk?
They quiver and shake after they’ve hauled themselves up, hanging on for dear life to the side of the crib, or clutching their parent’s fingers. They keep trying: they overbalance, under-balance, fall forward and back and sideways and collapse — and then take their the first toddling steps.
Give it a month of watching them speed-crawl, and before you know it, they’re walking. They don’t care how goofy they look or how many times they fall down –as soon as the tears dry, they keep going. They’re purely focused on themselves.
Now what’s the difference between learning things as a kid and learning as an adult?
Sadly enough, sometimes it’s harder: We’ve been exposed to more. We’ve lived longer, and all our experiences affect the way we see ourselves, and how we see the world. So maybe there’s embarrassment at the thought of not-knowing something other people do. Or shame at the thought of, “I should’ve known this already.”
We can feel discomfort, and fall into non-stop self judgment. The pressure from the weight of our learned and absorbed expectations can be enormous — so much so that in itself it becomes a barrier against learning.
One anchor to hold onto is that even as you’ve more responsibilities as an adult, you also more power, more choices, and more freedom than you did as a child. As part of adult responsibility, you hold yourself accountable now for how you choose to use that freedom, that power, and those choices.
Knowing that, taking a few deep breathes can help you when you’re thinking of facing situations where you feel like a rank beginner again.
Life is change. If you dance around the edges of that truth instead of accepting it, you have to bear the consequences of that refusal. Learning is an extremely powerful skill you can employ to help you live with change and master the disruptions that come with it.
What do you have that can slow you down?
Complacence by itself, is not a bad thing in the short term. It means you’re satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. Over the long term, it can seduce you into staying within your comfort zone.
It can lead to not questioning, not pushing, not learning new things because the process asks you to start as a beginner.
Sometimes it’s like, “I did all my learning in college, I’m done.”
Learning is a life long thing. it isn’t just college, or courses, or seminars. It’s being receptive to new perspectives and being willing to consider them in light of what you know, and incorporating that new knowledge in ways that can help you grow — even if you feel a little shaky at times. Shaky, and uncomfortable, and yes, plain stupid and out of date. Left behind.
You have to keep moving forward lest you risk atrophying.
Can you imagine being essentially the same person you were in college when you’re in your ‘Ties? (Thirties, forties, fifties,and so on? ) That wouldn’t say much about how the passage of time influenced you, and what you’ve done in the time you lived since then. You stay the same, it’s not even stability. It’s stagnation.
If you’re not growing or changing, you’ve plateaued. You parked in one place.
Another hurdle: Self-anesthetization
You feel discomfort, you do something to drown it out. Games on your smartphone. Checking social media. Playing first-person shooter. Shopping. These activities can have their place, but when you’re using them to avoid facing something important, you’re just evading the issue.
When you procrastinate, you do ‘make-work.’ It fills the time, but so does running in place. Doesn’t get you anywhere you want to go, but boy, it sure does keep you occupied.
The challenge is three-fold when it comes to using learning to keep pace with change and not be overwhelmed. You can only learn to navigate between ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ by doing too much and too little– that’s how we learn the first few times: by noticing the mistakes we make and trying to do better on the next turn. To get to next-level learning, learn from the mistakes of others. Save yourself time and regrets.
Be open to the unfamiliar. Like lifting weights, practice raising your tolerance for and accepting discomfort, including using it as psychic fuel if you can’t quite find any way around it but through.
This is you, and now more.
We can conceive of Star Trek, and smartphones, and 3-D printable prosthesis, but can’t see ourselves doing anything strange or uncomfortable because it is antithetical to everything we believe ourselves to be. “This isn’t me.”
That’s the discomfort talking, and in a way, it’s only doing its job of protecting you. By making you feel uncomfortable, you get exposed to a new thing — keep staying with it, the discomfort slips to the background and fades. By avoiding the discomfort, you feel ‘normal’ again, which is another way to say, you kept the status quo, and you don’t change.
A fixed mindset is fixed. It is limited, and it is limiting.
True growth cannot be done by other people for you.
You do the work, you take the hits, you learn from them.
if you are not willing to do the work, it will not be done
if you are not willing to actively learn in or from or after the experience, you will not get to the lesson.
if you are avoiding the fear by not making a choice, you are making a choice by choosing not to choose — and if you do not change the things you do, you will get the things you’ve always got.
It is the dying time of the year now–we’re so close to ending this one. And where something ends, something else begins. You can make changes in your life by taking steps to change — and keep taking steps, even if at first it feels painfully unfamiliar and wrong somehow.
Think of all the New Year’s Resolutions of your past. Nobody gets to a new ‘normal’ of their desired weight, or wealth, or better life, by doing the exact same thing that got them to the condition they’re in now. You want an “After?” We’ll, make now your “Before” and start planning. Take advantage of the holidays to focus on what you really want to change and focus on for next year, and start taking steps right now. There’s a ladder right next to you. Use that.
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