S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Part 2 - The Four Stages of Learning

After you have read S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Part 1 - Goal-setting and reflected on your GOAL, we can dig a little deeper into the learning process and how it applies to reaching your goals.

Abraham Maslow mapped out the learning process into 4 stages of competence. As we go through these stages, specific things happen that can naturally leave us encouraged and discouraged during our journey towards meeting our end-game objective. Understanding and recognizing the stages can empower you keep pressing forward, regardless of any frustrations or setbacks you will likely encounter.

I like to use visualization to help me work through these stages and be more in-tune with the process of learning. I picture how it feels to be in each stage, and visualize myself performing drills or behaviors that get me closer to the next stage.

The first stage: Unconscious Incompetence

This is the stage of blissful ignorance before learning begins. You don't know that you don't know how to do something. An example of this might be watching someone perform an effortless muscleup or easily string together a set of 100 double unders for the first time. You've never tried it, but they make it look so easy. Your brain may tell you that by watching, you can easily repeat it. Until you try it, your brain cannot fathom the progressions that person has learned and mastered leading up to the end product. Your brain doesn't comprehend that your body doesn't know how to do a muscleup.

The second stage: Conscious Incompetence

This is the stage where you know you can't do something, and it bugs you. This is the most difficult stage, where learning begins, and it is also where the most judgements against self are formed. Warning (!): This is the time when most people want give up. Persistence is key during this time. I'll share a training mantra I like to use that is useful for during this stage: There are no good training days, there are no bad training days, there are only training days. Focus on and trust the process, and you will eventually move through this stage and onto the next...

The third stage: Conscious Competence

By now, you know that you know how to do something. You are excited about your new skill, but still a bit self-conscious or concerned about losing it. This stage of learning is a bit easier than the last. During this stage, focus on and celebrate small steps and successes. Each one is bringing you that much closer to reaching your goal. Envelope yourself in supportive people, behaviors and habits that reinforce this stage of learning.

The fourth and final stage: Unconscious Competence

Congratulations! Here, you have fully mastered your goal. You are aware that you have mastered the skill or behavior, and you perform it automatically without the conscious effort required in the last stage. It is now second nature, and you reap the rewards of all your efforts. You rock!


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