There have been times in my life in which I have felt I needed to make a change. Whether that was to eat better or exercise more. The urge initially feels strong and I tackle the challenge with gusto and enthusiasm. Then over time that feeling of positivity starts to diminish, at first slowly then it falls off a cliff. I had a whiff of progress before a metaphorical wall is built that I cannot seem to scale. This used to happen with great regularity. You would think that I would take the hint a give up. Well I almost did until I came across an idea that changed my perception of change and habit forming. Something so strong that it gave me more control over my choices, it provided me with an insight that changed everything. What was this change I hear you ask? Well let me explain…
The four steps of learning
Step 1: Unconsciously incompetent
When we want to make a change we are have already moved along the steps of learning. It all begins with being unconsciously incompetent. This means when you have no idea that you can even do something to change what you are doing. For example, when you are a child and you a lying around and crawling a bit, you have no idea that walking is a possibility. You are quite content in how you are.
Step 2: Consciously incompetent (the moment you decide to change)
Then comes the next stage. The moment you realise you can walk. You can get up on your two legs and get around faster, more efficiently and like everyone else you see. This is you being consciously incompetent. You are now aware that things can be different but you have not yet learnt the skill. This is the moment you make a choice. I am going to learn to walk, eat better or take more time out. This is the moment of excitement, motivation and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Step 3: Consciously competent (The moment that stops most of us)
So you have now taken action to change your life. You are now on your feet, walking along, falling down a bit but with concentration you are making progress. As an adult, we may be making that extra effort to run every other morning but it starts to become harder. This is when you are running better but you are having to concentrate on doing it. It takes more effort after the initial excitement has worn off. This is when many, many people fail in their quest to habit change.
The key difference between my analogy of a child and you as an adult trying to make a change, is that a child is often encouraged by everyone around. If a child tries to walk around the room they are praised, encouraged and supported. However, as an adult we often berate ourselves and receive not so helpful words from colleagues or even friends. It can be super hard to keep that motivation up. This is when many people stop and fall back on old habits.
By being aware of this step you can anticipate it and take steps to overcome it. Build it into your plan. Remind yourself that lack of motivation is progress, you are going in the right direction. Just keep going.
Step 4: Unconsciously competent
This is when you have now become a master of your new skill or habit. You have done it so much it comes to you as second nature. It becomes effortless because you have now created a habit of it. You have succeeded in making that change.
Being aware of these steps can help you take the pressure off you when you are looking to make a change. Focus on the consciously competent step in order to stay aware of your progress. This is where most people fail. This knowledge will give you that edge to help you succeed.