2012 has turned into a big year of learning for me. It’s true that every year involves learning… However this year I have taken a few huge leaps out of my comfort zone and back into the role of student.
It began with taking my Laughter Yoga Leader Certification in February (more details about this in a future newsletter… however, if you have not tried this yet, DO IT! Laughter Yoga is so fun!!!) and more recently being accepted into the Kripalu School of Ayurveda for their 200-Hour Foundations of Ayurveda Course.
Years ago I remember being introduced to Maslow’s Four Stages of Learning by a student, and it really resonated with me. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Abraham Maslow, he was one of the founders of humanistic psychology, which focuses on the positive aspects of mental health (peak experiences, potentiality, and self-actualization) in the 1950s. He is most well known for his theory on the “hierarchy of needs” (his theory of human motivation). I’m a Maslow fan 🙂
After a very honest conversation about the challenges of learning at Yoga Teacher Training last weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about being a student, and remembered the Four Stages of Learning.
Maslow’s Four Stages of Learning are:
- Unconscious Incompetent
- Conscious Incompetent
- Conscious Competent
- Unconscious Competent
Stage One: Unconscious Incompetent
In the first stage, Unconscious Incompetence, we don’t know that we don’t know. We might not even be seeking any learning or training or skills, because we haven’t yet figured out there’s something we need/want that we cannot healthily acquire based on a lack of skillfulness. In my case, there were many decades where I had no idea that Ayurveda even existed – I didn’t know!
The transition from stage one to stage two can happen at anytime. Maybe we hear a conversation about something, read a book, or see a youTube clip. It happens when we realize there’s more to learn. Using Ayurveda School as an example, I was first introduced to the basic concepts of Ayurveda in my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training course by my teacher Vishva. I suddenly realized there was a whole other world out there that I didn’t know about.
Stage Two: Conscious Incompetent
This stage is marked by the realization that we don’t know… Now we know that we don’t know. I become aware that I am lacking in knowledge, skills and understanding.
The hallmark of this stage is practice, practice, practice (starting to sound like yoga, right?). The only way to make progress in this process is through action… doing the work to develop the skills, acquire knowledge and develop understanding.
This might involve reading books, taking courses, and trying things out – it’s where the rubber hits the road! Continuing with the Ayurveda school example, this is unfolding attending the in person courses and webinars, reading the assigned books, and doing the homework. The homework part is where it’s really integrating for me… again applying the theories and concepts is where so much learning happens! My Ayurveda homework includes daily sadhana (Ayurvedic Yoga Practices of asana, dhyana, pranayama), a pulse journal, cooking with Ayurvedic herbs, and applying the concepts of Ayurvedic Health (known as “swastha“, in samskrita) to my own body to see how it works.
I was telling a friend about the four stages and she suggested that there might even be sub-stages at this level. At first it’s exciting while a whole new world opens up to us (so much to learn!), then it can become mundane as we get into the days after days of practice.
In my experience this is also the stage that can be the most discombobulating for me. I love to learn and get excited; yet I also love to “know” (or to think I do). When the amount of new information starts to come so fast that I cannot take it in, then I can get frustrated or overwhelmed with all the information flying around me. I know I’m not the only one in this boat.
Over the years (and this fall in particular) I’m working to use all sorts of great yoga tools at this stage. My dedication to my practice helps me to dedicate to the new teachings (go tapas!). Being able to create space gives me the room to use BRFWA (breath, relax, feel, watch and allow), which is a great technique to use in any moment where it feels like too much. And my favorite, “right foot, left foot, inhale, exhale” seems to apply everywhere all the time to keep me moving – sometimes backwards, sideways or towards my goals and onto the next stage… because this stage too shall pass, and ironically, we might miss being here when it does 😉
Stage Three: Conscious Competent
Moving into this stage is when we realize that the practice, practice, and practice of stage two pays off 🙂 We begin to see that our practice is making us more skillful in this new area of study. We’re getting it, and it gets a little easier. We know what we set out to learn.
For many, this stage is far enough and serves their intended purpose. You have the skill if you need it, your knowledge and understanding have increased; yet you need to be present and still pay attention to what you are doing. A great example is learning to speak a new language in order to travel. You’ll learn some of the key words, some phrases, and learn to recognize some of the words… however you wouldn’t consider yourself fluent yet (like me with samskrita!).
Moving from stage three to stage four requires repetition, repetition, and repetition. I had a dance teacher who once said to me “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Wise words 🙂
Stage Four: Unconscious Competent (aka Mastery)
This is the stage where the skill-knowledge-understanding has become second nature – it’s in your bones – and there is a level of mastery. I liken this stage to yoga – full skillfulness in application and use. It is a deep integration and experienced understanding of something.
At this stage, those performing their skill make it look easy… Which after the 10,000 hours it takes to develop mastery (loose estimate), it probably becomes that way. Yet it remains important to use the skill in order to maintain the skillfulness. It’s thought that at stage four you will likely not forget the skill, however you could get rusty and end up back at stage 3 for a while.
I really appreciate this learning model because I see it all the time. New students come to the mat and have no idea what yoga is (stage 1: I don’t know what I don’t know). They take their first few classes and realize that there’s more to it than they thought (stage 2: I know that I don’t know). Then practice, practice, practice… until one day it starts to flow and you can do it with ease (stage 3: I know something!). Then finally it becomes second nature, you get it, you’re living it – it’s a part of you (stage 4: mastery). In my world, after people reach stage 4 as students they sign up for Yoga Teacher Training… then we land right back at stage 1 because we’re looking at the whole thing through a new lens.
The great news is, everything you’ve learned in your life you get to keep. As they say in the Bhagavad Gita “no practice is ever lost”. And this learned knowledge will support all your future learning.
Enjoy your stages of learning and the newfound skillfulness it grants you! When you can, don’t forget to share it with those who a few stages behind you on the path 😉
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),