What is Conscious Incompetence?

Conscious incompetence is the point in time when you realize that there are some things that you just don’t know about your field or hobby. Suddenly with the realization that there is something that you don’t know, you finally see what everyone else has been talking about. This knowledge can come to anyone just by reading a book or watching someone performing said task. People in this stage will not necessarily want to learn it but they are suddenly aware of what needs to be done and who can teach them.

The time period in which a person remains consciously incompetent is variable and dependent on a number of factors. Those who have an above-average intelligence or motivation will remain at this level for a shorter amount of time. People that are forced into conscious incompetence by an outside source such as managers, teachers, etc… may stay here longer because they may not want to learn what they need to know.

Stages of Conscious Incompetence

Stage one is the initial stage also called Unconscious incompetence where. The people that stay in this stage the longest are those who choose to remain there by choice. This is usually seen with those who have a negative view of their field or topic and refuse to learn about it. They may not want to be bothered with it because they don’t like it (which is usually the case) or they may not want to know what they are missing out on.

Stage two is where you realize that there is something that you don’t know and you would like to learn it. This is the stage of conscious incompetence. This stage can last for a long period of time even though it may seem like one stays at this level forever because people do tend to stagnate here for a while before moving on to the next stage.

The third stage is the learning stage. Everyone is capable of moving into this stage and everyone will at some point in their life. It’s perfectly normal and expected for someone to be in this stage when they first start learning about or exploring a new hobby or topic. This may last months or years depending on the individual and why they are learning about it.

If a person has a positive attitude and sees the benefit in their field, they will remain here for as short of a time as possible before moving on to the next stage. People with this frame of mind may move quickly through these early stages or skip them altogether if they are self-motivated. If someone with a negative attitude engages in this stage, they will usually stagnate here for a while before moving on to the next level.

Stage four is the conscious competence stage when you have learned enough that you can do your hobby or field of interest with some degree of competency but not excel at it. A person may be able to play the guitar, draw, paint, program computers etc…and do it well enough to the point of getting a general idea across but not necessarily producing a work of art. This stage is usually characterized by the phrase, “I can make it work.”

At this level, you are capable of explaining your topic or hobby and demonstrating its basic functions. You may even be able to teach someone else who has never heard of it what they need to know in order to do the basics. A person at this stage can be an assistant or apprentice and may not want to advance any further even though they are capable of doing so.

How to deal with conscious incompetence

-Relax and enjoy the ride.

Conscious incompetence is a stage of learning and discovery that everyone must go through in order to get up to speed with their field or hobby. Enjoy the feeling of not knowing what you don’t know because it can make you feel like an infant when you finally grasp an elusive concept or idea. When this happens, it can be one of the most satisfying feelings in the world and is well worth any amount of trouble to get there.

-Remember that your time in this stage will come to an end.

Just because you may feel like you have been here forever does not mean that you won’t eventually move on. It’s not a race and there is no time limit. You will get there when you are good and ready so relax, slow down, and enjoy the ride!

-Accept what you don’t know, accept it with humour.

It can be difficult to deal with this conscious incompetence because one is usually embarrassed by their own ignorance in the matter. Try not to take yourself or your shortcomings very seriously because this will lead to an angry and frustrated state. This stage can be frustrating because you are not comfortable in your own skin yet but the only way out of it is through. Don’t fight it, just relax.

-Lastly, don’t compare yourself to others who seem much further ahead than you are at the moment.

Next time you’re conscious of this sense of inadequacy – take a look at your own skills and knowledge base. That constant feeling of being somehow inadequate isn’t coming from some flaw that’s inherent in your personality or genetic makeup. It’s just that there are things that you don’t know yet.

The second you realize that feeling of inadequacy is coming from not knowing something – and that this is a temporary state – it becomes much easier to bear with. You’re not an incomplete person; there are just some things you need to learn.

As soon as you acknowledge your own conscious incompetence, all of the power of your mind is there, ready to work for you. You can use that power to learn all the things that would make you feel like an expert once again.

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