From Incompetence to Competence

I’ve said many times before that our mind likes doing things that are familiar, hence how we often do something as a habit – without thinking about it. Well, now I’m going to guide you through the process of how to do things differently.

Before you decided you wanted to change your weight and eating habits, were you going along thinking there wasn’t really a problem with your weight and size? It’s likely that you were. There’s a stage before the change process called ‘Unconscious Incompetence’. This means you are really bad at doing something (in this case looking after your body) but you don’t yet realize it, or more likely don’t admit it.

Have you ever worked with someone who is hopeless at their job but who thinks they are great at it? That’s Unconscious Incompetence. (You only need to watch TV talent shows to see more examples of Unconscious Incompetence!) While you are at this stage, no changes can take place. Then comes a light bulb moment – perhaps you see an unflattering photograph of yourself and you suddenly realize you are bad at something (in this case looking after yourself), but you don’t know how to do things differently.

This is a moment of acute awareness called ‘Conscious Incompetence’ – you are bad at looking after your body, but now at least you know you are bad at it and you can admit it. This is a good stage to be at because it can be a springboard for change, as long as you want to change. In fact, without awareness of a need to change – change cannot happen.

At this point you need some intervention, some help or information that will tell you how and what to change. When you first learn new techniques, they don’t become automatic right away – your unconscious mind might even resist change and try to draw you back to what you know. If your unconscious thinks you are going to go on a diet and it has negative associations with past attempts this may be quite a strong pull back to old behaviours, that’s why it’s so important to create new associations.

This means that, at first, you must consciously make the changes – you must literally think about doing the new behaviours in place of the old ones. This stage is called ‘Conscious Competence’, which means you can do it, but only when you think about it. This stage feels different; some people say it’s hard and uncomfortable, but it’s not hard. It’s neither of those but it does feel different. But very soon (within a few weeks or less) you get used to the new behaviours.

All new behaviours eventually become automatic with repetition. When you reach this stage, you will automatically use the new behaviours instead of the old ones, without thinking consciously – this is called ‘Unconscious Competence’. You have now re-wired your thinking and changed your default setting.

Here are the stages:

Unconscious Incompetence = unaware of behaviours
Conscious Incompetence = aware of behaviours

New Skill, Information & Exercises

Conscious Competence = think to activate the new behaviours
Unconscious Competence = automatically do the new behaviours

A good example of this process takes place when we are learning to ride a bike: most of us learned with the help of an adult or stabilizers helping us to balance, but once we had experienced how to do it and created a physical map for which muscles to move and how to balance and pedal at the same time, we could do it with ease. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike for many years, once you get back on a few minutes of wobbling is all it takes to re-active the neurological map and re-mind you.

Doing It Without Thinking

How many times do you go and get something heavy and fattening to eat ‘without thinking?’ That’s Unconscious Incompetence.

The new thoughts and behaviours you generate right now in your conscious thinking will become automatic the more you exercise them. It’s not about willpower, it’s about will-full thinking and you get to choose your thoughts, so stop listening to the same old nonsense that is keeping you fat and unhealthy and start thinking consciously. Just knowing something isn’t enough to actually do it, though. After all, you already have a pretty good idea of what to eat, or what not to eat to lose weight, don’t you? So, no more ‘eating without thinking’.

Remember this: ‘Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.’ The thoughts you apply determine your behaviour.

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