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You Aren’t Perfect; Learn Something New, Or Re-Learn What You Might Already “Know”

It’s So Easy, A Caveman Could Do It.

Has it occurred to you that if you’ve learned how to ride a bike, it is almost impossible to forget? When you are a kid, it’s a right of passage and freedom, especially once those training wheels are popped off. Throw a baseball card in the spokes, maybe some stickers, and even riding with 1 or no hands, it was one of the main attractions as an adolescent. But now, can you even remember the last time you religiously took the time and pedaled around the neighborhood? As our daily schedule filled through middle school and beyond, we exchange what we spend our time on, and it’s only when you dust it off from the depths of the shed you find the nostalgic feeling. So you go ahead and pump up the tires, grease the chain, and get ready for a sore butt. Not before long, you take your first pedal out of the driveway and think to yourself, “Man, I hope I can still do this”.

Nearly without fail, you will be able to just get on the bike and go without having a mini panic attack that you are going to tip over and cut up your knee (literally, the worst feeling ever as an 8-year-old). Woah! It is as if you didn’t even need to think about how to do it, your body just seemed to remember how to move to keep your balance instantly.

If you are able to remember things like riding a bike, snapping your fingers, or playing the guitar (well, if you already knew how), why can’t you with other skills too?

How We Develop Skillz

It would be wrong of me to try and elaborate on perishable and non-perishable skills without really shedding light on how our fancy brains and bodies learn skills in the first place!

At Cortland, I took a course focused on Motor Behavior, and it revolved around how we learned and developed many of our human traits. One of the methods of learning we learned about the Conscious Competence Model. The Conscious Competence Model can be imagined as a ladder; it provides a way to measure how we move through the physical and emotional stages or learning a new skill or ability. Our consciousness (awareness) associated with our level of acquisition (competence). The Four (4) stages of this model are:

Unconscious Incompetence

Conscious Incompetence

Conscious Competence

Unconscious Competence


Let me break them down to what each stage entails…


Unconscious Incompetence

This is where the skill looks and feels like gibberish. You do not even know what you don’t know, and you aren’t even aware that you lack the necessary skills required to complete the task (bummer). When something seems impossible or totally foreign to you, the chances are this is the stage you are in as far as acquiring that skill goes. You are unconsciously incompetent in any area that you have no experience in at all (meaning, you unknowingly don’t even know what the skill requires you to do); that’s a good one for the brain to try and figure out.

In a fitness realm, that could be like attempting a Single Leg Rotational Medicine Ball Throw. It encompasses the skills of balance, body awareness in space, rotational coordination, and manipulating an external object all at once. If you haven’t yet reached a higher learning stage of any of the necessary qualities before attempting this, then…

Conscious Incompetence

Alright, so in this stage, you have learned the premise of skill, enough where you recognize you don’t have the necessary prerequisites to execute. This can be through a sudden shock, or moment of reality, where the weak points of your armor show. This can be slightly uncomfortable, physically, mentally, but most heavily, on the ego. That discomfort can be attributed because you realize how little you actually knew (the transition from unconscious competence) and how much ‘work’ it will take to progress to the next stage (being consciously aware).

This is the moment where the flight or fight can kick in, and where many “exercise drop-out” decisions occur. This stage is a question of your being; are you ready to commit to the process? The process of developing skills and abilities which are not instantaneous or automatic, it will take some effort. You have begun to recognize that that vision you hold of yourself isn’t so perfect. Are you going to accept that? Or follow through with honoring the commitment to improving yourself? It could take a few weeks to advance, but it could just as easily take months or years. It is the moment to put the ego to rest and explore the possibilities to prepare yourself to grow.

Conscious Competence

Finally! At this point, we are FINALLY able to learn or execute the skill more efficiently, but it does require our undivided attention and concentration to accomplish. The more complex the skill is, the longer you might hang out at this stage. Conscious Competence consistently requires persistence (jeez, say that 5 times fast). It is still a long way to mastery, but largely because you are constantly adjusting, shifting, or re-learning how you are doing the skill.

Have you ever seen children go through tasks like tying shoes, writing cursive, or sentence formation? That is the most focused and determined mind in the room, and they have directed maximal effort and brain power to recall information, implement, and execute each step along the way. It hasn’t become second nature to just make the loop-de-loop and pull yet, but with enough persistence, it will.

Most commonly as a coach, I see this in the form of a deadlift. In my year of professional experience, I’ve seen some lumbar spine explosions waiting to happen. You aim to just bend over and simply, pick it up. When delivering coaching cues such as “keep your spine neutral,” “drive your hips back,” “show me your shirt logo,” or “spread the floor and pack your shoulders back“, It’s as if I am speaking the most absurd language they’ve ever heard, and their facial expression says it all.

To learn a little bit more about what a deadlift is, follow one of the links below to some of my previous articles

Preparing, Executing, and Smashing the Deadlift!

Sumo and Trap Bar Deadlift: Find Your Style

Bulletproof Your Back for Battle

Maximize Your Deadlift With One Simple Fix

You might be able to do a great hip bridge and hold a bent over row position, but your body and mind cannot yet connect the dots to cohesively execute a loaded hip hinge. Once the RE-learning process begins, you will be focused on each aspect of the movement, trying to maintain the best alignment and body tension possible while still remaining fluid and relaxed.

Unconscious Competence

This is the apex. You have successfully become so proficient at a skill that you are naturally competent, almost second nature. The ability to continue to improve is totally still in effect, but you will continuously use much less mental power and effort in order to achieve the outcome.

Quantity does not always overrule quality, and the contrary as well. So by now, it doesn’t require much mental focus to comprehend and go through that deadlift, awesome! But that just doesn’t mean your brain can head out to lunch while you aim to attempt a near maximal load deadlift. If you’ve ever asked an airplane pilot, they will run through their same checklist before every single flight, regardless if it is their 1st time in the cockpit or 1000th. Even if it feels automatic or, “so simple to remember, how could you ever forget it?” why provide an opportunity for a weak point in your armor to be exposed?

So for that ‘super simple deadlift, rather than just hoping the body can do everything it is supposed to, run through your body-scan checklist;

Chin tucked. Shoulders packed. Elbows long. Grip strength. Rib cage down. Hips are loaded back. Feet spreading the floor. Root into my feet. Glutes drive forward. Exhale and engage my core, Smile at the end 🙂

Just light climbing a real ladder, you can get stuck on one rung at times and it can be scary or frustrating. Most commonly, we can fit ourselves into all of these categories, depending on the task at hand. The conscious stages can be a bit tougher and uncomfortable, and that is where a large majority of our actions are. But it is important to not let that yuck and difficulty overrule the potential to become great or reap the benefits of completing it. It is important, to be honest, and real with yourself about your experience and proficiency. Ask for help when needed, take a step back and assess your dilemma, and don’t let the ego control your actions or attitudes. And as I always say in the face of adversity,
“To see true lifestyle changes, the secret is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. The hardest behaviors to break are the ones that limit the true potential to personal fulfillment.”

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