“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.”
– Walter Elliot, Scottish Unionist Party Politician
“No,” said my son. “Absolutely not – we’ve talked about this!”
My son, Kyle and his partner, Lisa, had decided to purchase a new vehicle. Lisa had her heart set on a little foreign job with a manual transmission. Kyle was adamant that the car be automatic. He could still remember the driving lesson I provided him as a young man – the car lurching and stalling – he, declaring that he would never own a standard.
“It takes practice,” I had told him. “Anything worth learning takes time.”
There are four stages of learning we must pass through on the way to mastery. Learning to improve our self-esteem is no different. It takes practice, time and, above all, perseverance. Let’s break down those four stages and bring some understanding to the process.
The first stage is unconscious incompetence, which simply means you have no awareness of a skill, thus no idea that you are not performing it correctly. The second level is conscious incompetence, which means that you have awareness but do not yet have the skills or knowledge to succeed. Level three is conscious competence, which means that you can perform the skill efficiently, but only when you think about doing it consciously. The fourth and final stage is unconscious competence, which means that you have mastered the skill to the point where you can perform it accurately, efficiently and unconsciously. What was completely foreign is now entirely natural. The process has been taken over by your powerful unconscious/subconscious mind and has become second nature.
OK, let’s follow the process through using our manual transmission example.
Stage One: You have no idea that a manual transmission exists, let alone how to use it.
Stage Two: So that thing on the floor is called a stick shift. What does it do?
It should be noted that moving from stage two (awareness) to stage three (competency) will require instruction and a tremendous amount of effort. This is where perseverance comes into play. We must persevere in our learning and practice our new-found skill.
Stage Three: OK, if I focus and concentrate, I can do this! (More practice)
Stage Four: The effortless, flawless shifting of gears. (Mastery)
Here’s an interesting point to consider: if we become self-conscious and fearful in our thinking, we can bring behaviour that is unconsciously competent back to a lower level. Think of an activity you’ve performed thousands of times – let’s say, eating. Now imagine you’re dining with friends. For whatever reason, you feel the desperate need to impress someone in the group. You start to feel distressed and inadequate. You may soon find yourself knocking over glasses or spilling food on your outfit. The resulting embarrassment could move you even further down the scale to where you’re now consciously incompetent.
Any aspect of our life that seems to be out of control or is not being experienced to the degree that we would like suggests an unconscious incompetency. I believe those of us involved in expanding awareness of self-esteem are always on the lookout for insights into such states. We read books, watch movies, attend workshops and listen to speakers. We’re looking to uncover our unconscious incompetencies. An “aha” moment may be the acknowledgement of an unconscious incompetency moving into our conscious awareness.
“The man who moves mountains,” wrote Confucius, the Chinese teacher, politician and philosopher, “begins by carrying away small stones.”
Realize that whatever it is that you are learning, from driving a vehicle with a manual transmission to self-esteem and empowerment skills, it is going to take some time, sweat and persistence. As for Kyle, when Lisa sets her mind on something it usually happens.