Learning something is an emotional rollercoaster. But the map exists


Reading time: 3 mins

The Competence Ladder is a concept for understanding the process of gaining new skills. By getting a hold on how this process works, we can eliminate a lot of needless stress, waste of energy, and even quitting.

Noel Burch, from Gordon Training International, came up with the idea in 1970.

The core of this tool can be understood at a glance. You can visualize it as a ladder or steps. On the steps, you see the phases of acquiring a new skill, and the emotions you are going to encounter.

This one short concept is going to help you in a million ways.

Stage 1 – “How can you struggle with this? It’s so easy”

In this phase, you have much more confidence than skills. You are not aware yet of lacking a skill or skillset.

There is a danger of becoming ignorant, boasting and overconfident, lacking respect.

When you notice this stage on others, the worst thing you can do is to tell them off. Especially in front of everyone else.

Tell them in a supportive tone instead why it is important to learn these new skills.

Keep giving them positive feedback on the effort they put in, even if they screw up from time to time. Making mistakes is part of the process. Noone did it right the first time. Or all of the first 1000 times. Be patient, understanding, and keep cheering them to put their effort in learning.

Stage 2 – “This is impossible, I’ll quit”

Welcome to the emotional low point. We quit many times when we see other people doing amazingly well what we are just about to learn. We tend to think they are “just better than me” and then we don’t even try.

The fact is, everything can be learned with conscious practice.
But “repetition” alone is not the “the mother of learning”.
If you keep repeating with the same error, again and again, nothing will change.

What you need is repeated practicing, but with constant feedback from others. Armed with feedbacks it is good to change consciously the way you practice the skill.
See how the best in the field do the same thing. Study it, and then use their way as a benchmark.

Naturally, we fail many times while learning. This benchmark is not there for you to get demotivated, but to be able to see your progress towards the goal.

Be extremely conscious while dealing with other people in this phase. Even if you just want them to get better, you might not even notice that you are hurting their progress.
It is important how you do it. You have to take into account how we humans work.
Saying things like: “You are bad at this” “This is something you just can’t do” “I have already told you once how to do it properly” will make them quit practicing in a minute.

Do everything to keep them motivated. Cheer their successes, praise their effort to learn. Give them safe opportunities to practice. Share your own learning experiences, tell them about the hard times you had too.

3 – “I’m good, but please don’t disturb when I’m doing it”
You learned the new skill but still need energy and concentration to do it.

In this phase, you have to keep practicing consciously watching where you can improve.

If your colleagues are on level 3 don’t distract them, give them space for practicing.

4 – “I’m just good at this, I guess I was born this way. ”
The new skills is in your veins. You don’t need effort anymore to do it, it feels “natural”.

In this stage, you can become overconfident once again.
It is useful in this stage to focus on staying open minded consciously. This way you can avoid getting your skills outdated, or losing efficiency.

Be patient with new learners and teach this skill to them. This way you will keep your knowledge fresh, and systematic in your mind.
It is also pleasurable and rewarding to pass on knowledge.
Remember, it was a process for you too to get here.

When you meet people on level 4, avoid being jealous or angry with them even if they boast.
Ask them privately how they used to practice, how they are doing it now. Ask them to break it down for you. Ask about the systems they use.

This will give you an opportunity to learn from a master meanwhile, they will have the opportunity to reflect on their way of working and their journey there.

Do you remember a time when you almost quit something?

We would love to hear your stories in the comments below!


Cover Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

About the author

Peter Varnai
By Peter Varnai

Peter Varnai

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Heey, I'm Peter. Father of 2, filmmaker, solopreneur, and a helper of other solopreneurs and self-employed people. :) Feel free to reach out to me and let's have a virtual coffee. or Sign up for the newletter.