Almost 100% of people who learn any skill automatically drift into the ‘comfort zone’ of what psychologists call unconscious competence about two weeks after mastering it. It’s a dangerous place to be, and it’s the way the world largely functions – which has to be the best news ever. Allow me to explain…
As humans, or apex predators, we have to learn everything we do – and I mean everything – largely from a series of mimicked, copycat behaviors. Let’s use the example of learning to drive, although this applies to any learned behavior, where we begin, as with all learning tasks, in the position of unconscious incompetence (I don’t know/what I don’t know). As a child, even if your legs could reach the pedals, you still couldn’t drive – it’s a complex mechanical process after all.
When we begin to kick start the process of learning to drive at a slightly older age – our brain begins to grasp and figure out the necessary skills process – and with some practice and perseverance this enables us climb a rung of the learning pyramid into the more mindful state of conscious incompetence (I know what I don’t know).
Here whilst we are busy furiously coding the actions needed to master the skill, by no means do we have a full grasp of how to drive properly. We stall the engine, or grate the gearbox a lot, but eventually it all ‘clicks’ and the process falls into place. Next, when whoever is teaching you to drive feels you’ve reached an appropriate level… we go on to take the driving test itself.
Remember how nervous you were that day? ‘Do I have all the necessary skills to pass’ you wondered? In truth, the driving test is no more than a measure of you proving that you’ve actually mastered all the skills necessary – and when you do so, you get rewarded with a license (which feels fantastic at that precise moment) as we’ve successfully and visibly demonstrated that we’ve hit the next stage; of conscious competence (I know what I know!)
So why won’t the insurance companies give you the world’s best deal the day you pass your driving test?
Because they understand the human psyche all too well. Sure, you’re conscious and competent for a while after taking the test – you’re doing it by the book: stopping at stop streets, indicating when you want to make a turn and even pulling up the handbrake at traffic intersections – but only in truth, for about two weeks after we pass. Sadly after this we automatically drift into the next, and natural, human state of unconscious competence(I don’t know what I know).
This is where we automatically spend the balance of our future after the learning process stops.
Very few of us go on to the ultimate pinnacle of the learning pyramid: conscious excellence (I’m superb at what I know, and do) which in the case of driving would mean to become become a world class professional racing driver.
Let me prove my point. Remember how good it felt the day you passed your driving test? Did you feel as excited and happy as the day you passed your driving test when last got behind the wheel?
It’s the same set of circumstances which apply to the day you signed your employment contract? Another red-letter day. Did you wake up feeling like that about your job this morning? Umm… No.
Unconscious competence is what drives us to ‘switch off’ and address the next learning task we require, as we just quit any of the thought processes required for any particular skill mastery. Using your mobile while driving and texting? Fairly common right? Even that you can do in your sleep!
99.9% of humans naturally behave like this even though it’s the most dangerous place in the world to live. Experts have pointed out that it takes around 12 000 hours of continuous improvement in the learning process to become a master of anything; yet most of us merely ‘give up’ after a couple of weeks, defaulting instead to ‘unconscious competence’ all the time.
Yet there is very good news here. Your competitors are in default unconscious mode, as is everyone driving past you right now outside (unless they’ve had their license 2 weeks or less or are still driving on a learner permit). Your suppliers, channel partners and customers are in default unconscious mode. Hell, the whole damn global population operates in this mode, all the time. Once folks have ‘learned their stuff’… it’s default mode… and it’s precisely from here where you can steal any market you want.
You’ll never make change happen in unconscious mode… and you certainly don’t need another few thousand hours to reach the ultimate position in your field – all you need to do is switch back to being conscious. To see things with fresh eyes again. To wake up in reality and realize that doing things consciously is what makes a difference.
Try an experiment. Change hands with your toothbrush and clean your teeth with the other hand next time you brush. It’ll feel weird. Not right. Your brain will automatically instruct you to revert to what you know. Resist the impulse and persevere. You’ll actually clean your teeth better because you’re now thinking about it. Try keep doing it for about ten days – and it’ll soon feel ‘normal’.
Retraining your brain is easy. But it requires conscious thought and action. Consciously. Want to make more changes or impact? Stop doing the automatically unconscious stuff and challenge yourself to wake up. It really is as simple as that.