Feeling awkward, stressed and frustrated in your business? You may just need this model

I settled in my chair in the airplane, flying from San Francisco to Mexico City for my sophomore year of college.

My classmates and I were headed to the ultimate destination of Morélia, Michoacán, to stay with host families for a few months before going to small villages for another family stay.

I opened my dictionary and translated some basic sentences, since I did not speak one word of Spanish.

I was excited and looking forward to meeting my new family. We took the bus from Mexico City to Morelia, and pulled in to the station.

It was not until I was introduced to my host family and couldn’t muster anything more than a big smile and “Hola, cómo está?” that I realized that not knowing how to speak one word of Spanish would be extremely difficult. I suddenly became conscious about what I didn’t know, and that made communicating really uncomfortable.

I was at the very first stage of the Conscious Competence Learning Model and it was hard.

Conscious Competence Learning Model

In my training and development studies at U.C. Berkeley, I learned about the Conscious Competence Learning Model (or Ladder) a model developed in the 1970s by Noel Burch, an employee of Gordon Learning. It applies to every challenging situation I work on with my clients.

Here is how it goes:

When you are learning something new, you go through four distinct phases:

Unconscious Incompetence

You are unaware of the skill and you lack proficiency

Otherwise known as blissful ignorance.

Conscious Incompetence

You are aware of the skill but are not yet proficient

Otherwise known as “OMG this is so awkward and uncomfortable and what was I thinking to try and do this?”

Conscious Competence

You are able to use the skill but only with effort

Otherwise known as “This is still a bit hard, but not so awful as before and I am actually seeing some results from it.”

Unconscious Competence

Performing the skill becomes automatic

Otherwise known as “I am in the flow and this is fun! I can’t believe this was so hard before.”

While we all want to grow our businesses and learn new things, most people (especially  smart and driven people) do not like the awkward and uncomfortable part of getting good at something.

They love the idea of expanding their network and building new partnerships, but lock up when having to write that awkward email introducing themselves.

They want to shift their live speaking business model to virtual speaking, but trip over technology and miss the energy of a crowd of smiling faces looking at them.

They want to write a book, but get locked up staring at an empty screen and getting used to writing “shitty first drafts” (tip to my favorite writing book of all time Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

It is not fun to stumble and bumble through something when you have a track record of being a stable and solid expert.

The problem is, sticking only with things you are good at will limit your opportunities, and ultimately make your life and work dimmer.

The only way is through

There is no way to progress through the Conscious Competence Learning Model besides study and practice.

The more times you practice a new skill, the better you will get.

And before you know it, you will say things like:

“It is so easy to send a quick intro email to someone I don’t know!”

“That virtual training session I just delivered was so awesome! And I got 300 new people on my email list!”

And the thing that two of my clients shared in the past couple of weeks:

“My book draft is DONE!”

Working through the Conscious Competence Learning Model is worth it!

As for my Spanish, spending six months in a loving home with my host family in Morelia, and later with another loving host family in La Colonia Benito Juarez, studying Spanish every day and speaking no English helped me to feel extremely comfortable and fluent in conversational Spanish by the end of my stay.

I am forever thankful for that experience, as speaking Spanish has opened up so many doors of friendship and partnership, of love for culture, and an emotional connection with Mexico that is deep and enduring.

My 85 year old Mom always reminds me that learning new things keeps your brain healthy and your memory sharp.

Lean into your discomfort with Conscious Incompetence and watch your life and business blossom.

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