Charles Garfield, the author of Peak Performance, once coached the Russian Olympic weight-lifting team. Garfield noticed that when team members lifted to exhaustion, they would invariably grimace at the painful effort. In an experiment, he encouraged the athletes to smile when they got to that point of exhaustion. This seemingly minor difference enabled them to add 2-3 more reps to their performance.
No matter the task, when you grimace or frown while doing it, you are sending your brain the message, “This is really difficult. I should stop.” The brain then responds by sending stress chemicals into your bloodstream. And this creates a vicious circle: the more stressed you are, the more difficult the task becomes.
Conversely, when you smile, your brain gets the message, “It’s not so bad. I can do this!”
Learning and training in stages
Learners or trainees tend to begin at stage 1 – ‘unconscious incompetence’.
They pass through stage 2 – ‘conscious incompetence’, then through stage 3 – ‘conscious competence’.
And ideally end at stage 4 – ‘unconscious competence’.
Perhaps the simplest illustration of importance of appreciating the need for staged learning is that teachers and trainers can wrongly assume trainees to be at stage 2, and focus effort towards achieving stage 3, when often trainees are still at stage 1. Here the trainer assumes the trainee is aware of the skill existence, nature, relevance, deficiency, and that there will be a benefit from acquiring the new skill. Whereas trainees at stage 1 – unconscious incompetence – have none of these things in place, and will not be able to address achieving conscious competence until they’ve become consciously and fully aware of their own incompetence. This is a fundamental reason for the failure of a lot of training and teaching.
If the awareness of skill and deficiency is low or non-existent – ie., the learner is at the unconscious incompetence stage – the trainee or learner will simply not see the need for learning. It’s essential to establish awareness of a weakness or training need (conscious incompetence) prior to attempting to impart or arrange training or skills necessary to move trainees from stage 2 to 3. People only respond to training when they are aware of their own need for it, and the personal benefit they will derive from achieving it.
conscious competence matrix
|conscious||3 – conscious competence
||2 – conscious incompetence
|unconscious||4 – unconscious competence
||1 – unconscious incompetence