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You Don’t Even Know What You Don’t Know

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

It took me about 3 minutes to realize that I had no idea what I didn’t know.

When I first walked in the doors to the MMA gym, I thought I would be pretty good at it. Seriously. I’ve always been in decent shape and have done various work-outs through the years. I thought I would struggle for a few minutes, but then find my pace and get through the work-out fairly well. That’s actually a little embarrassing to write, now. 🙁

And then within about 3 minutes, reality set in and I was all, “Holy crap. This is totally beyond my skill level. How are these people doing this?”

Hell-lo Conscious Incompetence.

My work-out coach, Brian, was the first one to introduce me to the 4 Stages of Competence.

Unconscious Incompetence –> Conscious Incompetence –> Conscious Competence –> Unconscious Competence

Until you try to do something, you have no idea how difficult it is or how unskilled you are. Think about how easy golf looks …. just get that little ball into that little hole, right? …. easy. Until you try it. Congratulations, you just went from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence in one tiny step. It only takes about 3 minutes to get from Stage 1 to Stage 2.

However, it can take weeks, months, or even years to complete the next step; going from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence. I’ve been doing this new work-out for slightly more than 3 months now, and I am still very consciously incompetent.

When a guy first starts coaching with me, trying to improve his marriage and increase attraction, he typically starts with a certain level of Unconscious Incompetence. He knows that his wife isn’t attracted to him, but he has no idea why. As his coach, it’s my job to help him figure out what the blockages are to attraction and how to fix them. However, it’s his job to do the practice that actually helps him get better at the behaviors that attract his wife. The longer he practices, the better he gets.

Typically, what I see in coaching is that slightly more than half-way through, the guy gets tired and discouraged. Even though he’s made tremendous gains fairly quickly in the first half of coaching, he has started to realize how very difficult it is to change behaviors and achieve competence. “This is really haaaaaard,” is a common statement at this point. Yes. Yes, it is. It is very hard to change the behaviors of a lifetime and it takes a lot of practice. Moving from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence can be a frustrating process. This is the point where a huge part of the coaching involves encouragement and support in addition to training and correction.

“This doesn’t come naturally to me,” is something else I hear frequently. No. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t come naturally to you, but if you practice long enough, it does become second nature to you. You move from Conscious Competence to Unconscious Competence. This is the sweet spot where you no longer have to think about displaying leadership, you just do it.

It’s kind of like tying your shoes. Do you remember how hard it was when you first learned? The strings seemed awkward in your fingers and you were constantly needing advice on which string goes on top of which. But eventually, you learned to do it without even thinking about it. You haven’t consciously thought about how to tie your shoes in decades. Your fingers move without conscious volition.

Unconscious Competence. 

“What should we have for dinner,” your wife will ask, and without even thinking about it, you will tell her, “Let’s grill chicken. That sounds good.”

Unconscious Competence