For those of you who drive, I’m sure you can recall a time when you have arrived safely at a destination and then realised you have turned corners, braked, varied the speed of travel and not noticed how you got there – quite a scary revelation. Now consider how it felt before you passed your driving test, sitting in the driving seat for the first time wondering how on earth you can possibly read road signs at the same time as changing gear, or remembering to look in the mirror, keeping an eye on the speed, never mind driving in a straight line. The contrast between the two those times in your life can show us a great deal about how we learn – both good and bad habits – good and undesired behaviours.
When you are in your early teens, you don’t know how to drive, you don’t need to know how to drive and unable to use manual gears, coordinate hands with feet, looking through the windscreen at the traffic and and and.. you are in the stage of unconscious incompetence. When you reach the magic age of 17 and start learning you realise how much is involved. Now you are at the stage of having to concentrate and think of ‘mirror, signal, maneuver.’ Keeping out of the gutter and not wondering over the white lines whilst listening to instructions is a big ask at this stage of learning. This is called conscious incompetence. Practicing driving over a few months, running the family errands with an accomplished driver and taking lessons bringing with it capability of handling the gears in a smooth fashion, knowing its time to put the windscreen wipers on without being all fingers and thumbs brings conscious competence. Finally, when you become a proficient driver and effortlessly change gears, and negotiate heavy traffic at peak hour, you are unconsciously competent.
It can then get dangerous. Do you drive with one hand on the gear stick periodically? Do you hold the car ‘on the clutch’ instead of using the hand brake? Are our braking distances as long as they were when we were very much aware of having to practice and know them? Not so sharp practices can creep in – quite unconsciously.
This is exactly how behaviours we are not comfortable with develop, if indeed we are aware of them. So coming back to yesterday..
“I’m depressed, I’m stressed, I’m anxious…etc.” Usual turn of phrase isn’t it? Ok, so now ask “How do you do depressed, how do you do stressed, how do you do anxious?”
These are behaviours we have learned.
By simply acknowledging this, we can start to let ourselves off the hook with the realization that if we learned them, we can unlearn too. Its how we can do that is the key, and oh boy the good news is YES WE CAN.