We are all creatures of habit. There is very little doubt about that. If we get a choice of doing what we know versus something we have to learn (especially if it includes any level of discomfort), we’re likely to get back to our old habits very quickly. Anyone who has ever tried quitting smoking (or watched someone trying to do so) can see that the nicotine withdrawal can be the “easier” part. The tough part can be to find a replacement for “holding onto the cigarette”.
The process of learning and changing is said to go through four distinct stages: 1) Unconscious Incompetence, 2) Conscious Incompetence (we know that we don’t know, 3) Conscious Competence, and 4) Unconscious Competence.
At first, we start out with not knowing that we need to change something. This is when others may be aware of our need to change but we are blissfully ignorant. People may be laughing at us but we’re happily unaware.
The next two stages are the tricky ones. Conscious Incompetence is when we realize that something isn’t right, that something needs to change, but we feel totally unable to effect the change. Say, someone realizes that their shyness is costing them potential opportunities. They are at a party and everything they say seems to get them nothing but strange looks. At this point, it is crucial to keep practicing but many people quit trying to change because they hate the clumsiness and potential embarrassment. Unfortunately, it is an unavoidable part of the process.
The next stage is when this person shows up at a party, painfully recalls all the right things to say, still feels awkward but now people are responding more positively. After a little more time of practice comes the last stage (over the top of that hill again). Now this same person is at the party, chats everyone up and can’t understand why some shy person is sitting in the corner. The “basic habit” of this person has shifted completely, to the extent they don’t consciously recollect that they were ever any different. The power of self-creation…