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LIFE WITH CYNTHIA: Stages of learning ... friend or foe?

'We are all guilty of ignoring the stages of learning. Where are you? What parts of your life can be reviewed and rebuilt with ease?' asks columnist
Cynthia Breadner is shown with her daughter, Danielle.

Did you know there are stages to our learning process?

I was recently tested to teach someone about these stages, while being in them myself. For most of us, our ego gets in the way, and when we are unaware of these stages and opt to laugh at ourselves, we walk away, get angry or simply quit.

So, here they are, the stages of learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence.

Say the stages five times like a tongue twister and you have begun to understand them. To this day, I must always stop and think about them as I say or write them, even though, in knowing them and being unconsciously competent with them, they take some conscious competence.

On a serious note — why I was prompted to write this column — I decided to help a client in a way that is out of my normal purview, and yet falls squarely inside the work I do. This client has limitations based on their illness that impairs their ability to move their body.

The mind is clear; sound and cognition, wonderful. The body simply will not work. It is humbling and crashes me to the ground every time I work with this client, because I realize how much I take for granted. It is a spiritual care challenge because the spirit of this person needs support.

Back to the task at hand: stages of learning. They have a system that is leased, which is loaded with various software for their needs. Since this client cannot use their hands, the software must be managed by their head. A silver dot is placed on the forehead or on eyewear that allows for a camera to pick it up. Then the person moves the dot around and the cursor follows.

For an able-bodied person, this is challenging. I am learning the software alongside the client, and my frustrations come to the surface. This is where the stages of learning must be focused upon both for the client and for me.

It is at this point I teach the client about the stages of learning to help them grow their own compassion and care of self. This moment in time was critical both for me and for them. It was then I decided if we all had a basic lesson, it would make life easier.

Unconscious incompetence

Unconscious incompetence is when we are unaware we do not know how to do something. Until I ask you if you can drive a car with a standard transmission, you will not think about whether you can or cannot. Most will say, “no,” and go about their day because they do not need to know; it is irrelevant and unimportant, unless you are on The Amazing Race. So often, I watch and think to myself the first thing one needs to learn to be on this show is how to drive stick. So few do. Anyway, I digress. The point is you are unconscious about being competent until it is brought to your attention.

Conscious incompetence

So, you are faced with driving a car with a manual transmission. Where do you start? Do you become conscious you do not know how? You now realize your incompetence and begin the process of either learning or walking away. Many people get embarrassed learning, so they walk away.

Conscious competence

You decide you are going to learn and begin the journey. You understand the process, the why of it all, and the task at hand. You know you must sit in the seat, put on your seatbelt, push in the clutch, turn the key and start the engine. You must put it in first gear, ease out on the clutch while pressing on the gas, and — voila — the car moves forward. To stop, you push in the clutch, gear down and press the brake. Easy, right? So, why do you stall it? Because your ego or consciousness needs to think about every step before you do it. You are consciously moving through the steps and toggling between competence and incompetence as you learn.

Unconscious competence

You have now been driving a stick, a manual transmission, for years. You hop in, put on your seatbelt, push in the clutch, put it in first and peel out of the driveway with nary a hesitation. You are thinking about where you are going, not the act of changing gears or the synchronicity of your feet, hands and motor. You and the car are one. The unconscious mind has become the driving force of your action.

As I sat with this client, who cannot use a tissue to wipe their own tears, I ran through the four stages of learning with them. While their health limits are difficult, they can learn this technology and they can become competent to allow freedom during the day.

As I tossed my phone in my bag, threw on my coat, changed my glasses, picked up my purse, all without thought or attention, I was reminded how much of our daily living is unconsciously competent. We do it well. Whether for good or for ill, much of our life is lived unconsciously.

Where have you developed unconscious competence that needs to be uprooted and changed? What pieces of your life must be tended to and, like an overrun garden, be reassessed for vibrancy? Why do you do what you do? Who are you in your patterns? Are you unconsciously competent at treating your offspring like children?

Are you unconsciously competent at never seeing your partner for who they are today? Do you live in the past just because you are afraid to be awkward, or scared to death of the conscious incompetent stage?

We are all guilty of ignoring the stages of learning. Where are you? What parts of your life can be reviewed and rebuilt with ease? At 57 years old, I began covering longer distances on foot, cycling and swimming. At 58 years old, I learned how to live without alcohol. At 59 years old, I let go of dairy and animal products and went plant based.

At 60 years old, I began the journey as a senior. At 63 years old, I covered 25 kilometres in four hours and 30 minutes just this past weekend. Without an open mind to learn and the ability to laugh at myself, none of this would have happened. The stages of learning were relevant at every turn.

May you find places where you are curious to learn and may you laugh at your own awkwardness and gawky way of moving through the stages. May your spirit challenge you to be more than you can be.

Cynthia Breadner is a teacher, author, grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker, and offers specialized care in spiritually integrated therapies. She lives and works in the Bradford West Gwillimbury area as a long-term care chaplain assisting with end-of-life care for client and family. She is the mother part of the #DanCynAdventures duo and practises fitness, health and wellness. Her book, In Stillness: Short Stories from a Life Well Lived, is a compilation of her work and available from Nancy’s Nifty Nook and Health Food Store in downtown Bradford. She is available remotely by safe and secure video connections. If you have any questions, contact her today.

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Cynthia Breadner

About the Author: Cynthia Breadner

Writer Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker providing one-on-one support at
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