Artist development

The 4 stages of mastering a new skill

It takes roundabout 10.000 hours of intensive training to attain mastery in a given discipline. Haven´t we all heard of this famous quote made popular by Malcolm Gladway?

Well, while this  hypothesis might be true, I think we need to break things down a bit to gain more clarity.

“Beginning” is the easiest part for most people usually. We have lots of dopamine to drive us and are oftentimes a bit naive, wearing our rose-colored glasses and feeling excited to explore new territory. However, most of us, tend to hit a wall at some point and that´s when we start questioning whether we actually have what it takes.

The good news is that this mental block is totally normal. And with a little bit of faith, commitment and motivation you will learn to push through!

I recently came across a great analysis about various stages we pass through in the learning process. I read about those stages in a book called “The idea in you” The authors basically talk about the following four stages:

Unconscious Incompetece, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence.

Let´s take a closer look at those.

Unconscious Incompetence

Welcome to stage one. You´re at the beginning of a new journey and excited to commit yourself to acquiring a new skill. With a beginner´s mind and a hopeful heart you jump into a new field of interest, e.g. learning to play a new instrument. You might buy a fancy guitar, research tons of Youtube videos or order sheet music and books. You might even feel like you´re learning first lessons really fast, maybe by trial and error and tapping into the new field with ease. Quick successes are crucial to keep you engaged. What you do not know is that you really know nothing yet 😉

Conscious Incompetence

Here you are. Entering stage 2. The trailer music has faded, and you took off your rose-colored glasses. You have done your research and can now see all things you have yet to learn. All your to do´s are spread out in front of you in a timetable and you are starting to feel nautious. In this stage a lot of people give up and decide to not move forward. They gain an understanding of what it takes to acquire said skill and are not ready to invest the time and effort. What drives people to quit here is probably a weird phenomenon that we´ll just call the “self-awareness phenomenon”. Now, that we are aware of where we are in our journey and having gained a deeper understanding of the matter, we also come to realize how massively incapable we still are. Our friends and family are no longer there to cheer us on like they used to, just because we managed to play a simple tune. Now, we can see the full landscape of possibilities and simultaneously also the insignificance of our initial “milestones”. Sometimes we even think we might have gotten worse at doing what we do (compared to how we thought we did when starting out, when everyone told us we were talented). This is simply due to the fact that we now consciously observe and judge ourselves. A good place to be at, as painful as it can get! If YOU are still feeling committed and courageous enough to stay on track, then you´ll eventually get to the next stage….

Conscious Competence

Ready for stage 3? Great! This is a tough one! In fact, right now, you might feel a certain kind of frustration. You´ve been practising and learning for so long, but you still feel very insecure and “unable” to perform things with ease. This stage is one that leads to people quitting and feeling super frustrated and like a failure. They were already so invested and didn´t manage to improve. I really want you to stick around in this stage. You are closer to your goal than you might think. This is a phase that´s a bit boring, because all you need to do is repeat repeat repeat! You are now in a stage, where you can already perform certain skills, but you have to concentrate a lot and you still make mistakes. You are aware of every step. This is a necessary part of the process though! Keep practicing and eventually you´ll  start building muscle memory. Make sure to find ways to track your progress, because in this stage, you´re moving in tiny steps which can feel like you´re not moving at all. But you are in fact moving! Trust me! If you can keep going for a bit longer, I´ll meet you in stage 4;)

Unconscious Competence

You´ve made it! This is stage 4 and in this stage you are basically already mastering your new skill. You can always keep improving, but by now, your new skill or ability has become an automatic process. You no longer have to think about what you´re doing while you´re doing it! You are confident and self-assured. This is when all the hard work finally paid off.

Ready to get started?

Being aware of the various steps and steppin stones in the learning process is helpful in staying commited. It is normal to feel frustrated, fearful and impatient. Just honor the stage you are in and keep pushing through! There´s a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully you´ll follow yours!

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