The Four Stages of Learning … anything!

The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice.

Brian Herbert

When I think about it, I realise that I was already engaging in four stages of learning – the C.R.A.P. version, repeatedly –

Completely clueless

Reality bit hard

Arduous beyond belief

Pulled the plug!

… or words to that effect …

Fortunately, I was introduced to the proper model and it has been a godsend – it hasn’t necessarily made all my learning easier, but gaining an understanding of the process has certainly helped me to avoid the pitfalls which, best of all, gives me a lot more staying power.  Although, honestly, my once held ambition to be nifty on the oboe will never, ever be realised … not ever.  Something to do with my lack of embouchure (lips, facial muscles and the like – do keep up …).

Although, it isn’t just the oboe, is it?  Self-improvement is darned hard.  Reaching the decision to try can be an exhausting endeavour, but it is nothing compared to the realisation of exactly how much you need to learn, coupled with that numbing moment when you comprehend just how much you didn’t know that you didn’t know!

It doesn’t matter what area of your life it is – understanding that you know nothing is really demotivating – it makes you feel completely and utterly inadequate.  I know ignorance is a blissful state, but inadequacy is a blasted state, and we don’t like it one little bit.

As unpleasant as this realisation is, it is a necessary part of learning and the first step in ‘The Four Stages of Learning’ – something I had heard vague mutterings about but had never really tried to understand until a few years ago.

After all, learning anything new – whether a positive habit, getting handy on the harp (or oboe …!) or a fitness regime – can be a difficult and emotional process, challenging you in ways you had never thought of, and discourage you when the going gets particularly tough.

Looking to see what others do and how they cope isn’t always the answer, because we are all so very different – not only in personality type, but in commitment to learning and the level of our strengths and weaknesses.  Which, in turn, means that we all face completely differing challenges once we start to learn new things.

So, if you use the four stages model, you will at least have an idea of what to expect at each stage of the learning curve, which will enable you to be far better placed to deal with obstacles as they arise and stand a much better chance of success.

Taking a closer look …

I haven’t the foggiest …


No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it – Albert Einstein

You may have a feeling that there is something not quite right with your life – but are not giving it the attention it needs, possibly due to denial, fear or just simply ignoring it.

Known as ‘Unconscious Incompetence’ – where you haven’t the first clue as to how incompetent you really are – and don’t get caught up on the word ‘incompetent’ – it merely means a lack of ability and not that you are completely useless.

On the plus side, of course, because there is no comprehension of what you don’t know, your confidence will far exceed your ability, and it is this confidence you will need to hold onto when reality arrives …

… and it will arrive, at the point we either decide to improve or someone points out to us that our ability is lacking.

It can be really discouraging to envisage that great vista of ‘I Know Nothingness’ stretching so far ahead, but it will be at this point you need to assess what you are lacking, utilising techniques such as a skills or strengths analysis to give you the spurt of enthusiasm and energy so you can move on to the second stage of learning.

 Now I know what I didn’t know what I didn’t know …

… and in all likelihood, you will wish you still didn’t!


Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets. – Leonardo Da Vinci

You are now aware of the task ahead and acknowledge that you need to get out of the rut you are in, but don’t yet know how to do that because you are lacking the confidence and knowledge required.

This is the ‘Conscious Incompetence’ stage where you are now fully aware of the road ahead, and specifically where you may encounter feelings of inadequacy as you find out exactly how far you must go in order to achieve your goal. This can be a time when you need to maintain energy levels and, possibly, overcome any negative comparisons with those who appear to know more than you or are more skilled.

I know I can, but it’s so darned hard …


Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Willing is not enough; we must do. – Goethe

The ‘Conscious Competence’ stage is all a bit tiring!  You know what you are doing, you can do it, but you still need to think about it. It probably still seems a bit awkward and clumsy and, of course, littered with mistakes but on the plus side the more you do it the easier it becomes.

This is the time that you need to work through uncomfortable feelings and grow your confidence even more, so that you feel increasingly sure in your ability.

A good tip is to remember where you once were and how far you have come – and rejoice in that!

Then comes the transformation …

I have no idea how I do, I just do

… and that’s what happens – skills and behaviours can be performed instinctively as you arrive at a state of ‘Unconscious Competence’ – you don’t need to think about what you do – it just comes naturally.

stage 4 3

You cannot explain how you do it – you just do it!

But it doesn’t end there, and there is certainly no room for resting on your laurels – you need to keep doing what you can now do so well!

Remember –

You can’t do it all today, but you can do it. Big goals can only be reached with patience, persistence, and actions in their direction, a little more every single day. – Doe Zantamata

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