Unconscious Competence

Getting to Unconscious Competence.

In my preparations for the possibilty to become a captain on the fire department I have been reading up on ways to improve my learning abilities and also understand what it takes to learn so I can apply it to training when I am the instructor. When it comes to anything it is important to know how something works that way your knowledge of a subject can be much deeper.

Experts say that there are “four stages of learning”.This  is a model to pay attention to when you are learning about everything from training to nutrition and lifestyle choices. For matters of ease we can change it to the “three stages of learning”. They are (1), conscious incompetence; (2), conscious competence; and (3), unconscious competence. No sense in worrying about unconscious incompetence, that person is basically clueless!

Only a few amount of people really reach  “unconscious competence”, it should be everyone’s goal  to reach this level. It is truly a process and can take years. You need to be patient! If you have valid concepts to share in training, diet or lifestyle choices, you will ultimately witness in yourself the three stages of learning listed above.


The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn. – Wikipedia

Training example: Someone is learning to squat. They are not getting depth and really just want to get on with a metabolic conditioning workout because they need to get “sweaty”. They don’t put any value into getting stronger and therefore do not put the effort into perfecting the lift. They cannot see that without strength and muscle mass they will be unable to make significant changes in their body composition.

Nutrition example: Someone proudly expresses their new found interest in nutrition and communicates that they have started eating Ezekiel bread and have cut out fats. They have recognized the importance of nutrition, but are misguided in their food quality selections.

Lifestyle example: Your client says they are getting 8 hours of sleep, and tells you they slept from 2 am to 11 am; they are very proud of that. They feel good with the amount of sleep, but need to get the timing of the rest correct in order to take full advantage of the rest, meaning early to bed, early to rise.


The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill. – Wikipedia

Training example: A person is squatting and really knows the importance of getting strong, but is so focused on getting the movement correct, that they move through it too slowly, and need constant cues to keep them moving fluidly.

Nutrition example: Someone is eating a low-inflammatory diet, but are mortified to find out that the Nori they are eating is cooked in soy oil.

Lifestyle example: A person is eating well, training appropriately, and getting to bed early! But they work all day and have little quiet time, they need to constantly be reminded  about integrating it into their busy life.


The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned. – Wikipedia

Training example: A person has the squat wired, they know how to do it, when to do it, and how to teach it. They can perform the lift perfectly without much thought; it comes automatically. They can monitor loads and coach others with every aspect of the skill.

Nutrition example: Someone has come up with a new recipe for burgers, with pasture fed meat and pineapple in the middle and avocado on top. They never mention a bun any more.

Lifestyle example: Somebody is skipping training because they traveled the day before and didn’t eat because the food was so atrocious. They realize they are not prepared to be productive,  they have come to this conclusion on their own.

Of course these examples are very idealistic, but in one aspect or another, you have all the pieces put together on what the learning model is.


One thought on “Unconscious Competence

  1. Pingback: Learning while you work | KXW Blog

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