I thought there was a great parallel to draw between this theory of how one learns new skills and the world of dating. Because the fact of the matter is, dating and connecting with people, whether out on actual dates or in various dating world scenarios, is a SKILL. It’s something you become better at over time and with practice. Within your dating life, there are all sorts of personal “skills” to master: mindfulness, flirting, the art of conversation, styling/wardrobe, empathy, compassionate communication, honoring and using your voice, impulse control, and so on and so forth.
People sometimes think these types of skills should come naturally or just be easy. But like most things in life, you have to practice in order to get to a place where it just “flows.”
Here’s what the four stages look like as one moves through the journey of mastering a skill with my added thoughts on how I see the stages factoring into your dating life.
The Four Stages of Competence
- Unconscious incompetence
“I don’t know what I don’t know.”
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
When it comes to your dating life, this stage might be described as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results (also see: the definition of insanity). Often times, until a person owns up to the fact that whatever they’re doing in their dating life just isn’t working, they will continue on in the same direction, completely unconscious of their habits, patterns, and fears. (NOTE: incompetence may come off as a harsh word to some, but it’s not meant in the pejorative sense; more in the sense of someone who is genuinely unaware or even willfully unaware.)
- Conscious incompetence
“I know what I don’t know.”
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
In the dating world, this is where most of the people I end up working with start from. They are starting to develop an awareness of the fact that maybe they need help, that going it alone isn’t getting them to where they want to be or helping them become who they want to be. They have finally recognized and appreciated the fact that they need help and that it’s OK to ask for help (that asking is a sign of strength not weakness). They reach out to me knowing that they have knowledge or awareness gaps when it comes to their dating/love lives and hope that I might be able to coach them and teach them the skills that will empower them to create what they want to create in their lives. It’s an uncomfortable stage to be in; it may seem daunting or overwhelming (even better, then, that they have me by their side), But people in this stage are also full of hope and desires and goals. They stop looking at dating as a burden, as something that they “suck at” but as something at which they can become better and more natural. Just as with stage 1, a person might hang out in stage 2 for a while. A woman may know what she doesn’t know when it comes to dating and relationships but not be motivated enough to make changes. The duration of how long you stay in stage 2 thus depends on your motivation, your desire, your investment, and your determination.
- Conscious competence
“I grow and know and it starts to show.”
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
As I work with my clients, this is where the real adventures begin. Engaging in experiences in your life with purpose and an open mind and that these experiences and your conscious effort will help you grow in a variety of ways. Clients start practicing certain things while they are in dating situations, which helps them to grow more confident in their abilities and developing skills. But they also are told that learning how to connect and communicate with people in their dating lives doesn’t come without concentration and continued, dedicated practice. You don’t change your life or old habits or old ways of thinking overnight. Your love life is a lifelong journey, even after you’ve found that special someone. This stage can go on for years as you practice/experiment, reflect, have setbacks, and practice/experiment some more.
- Unconscious competence
“I simply go because of what I know.”
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
At this point in a person’s dating life, they have really started to become natural in the way they connect with people in their dating life; things just flow. Engaging and connecting doesn’t take much effort. It feels good and right. They don’t have to think so pointedly about their thinking and their actions, because those things have become their default way of thinking and behaving.
Some of history’s most notorious seducers, who were considered naturals at attracting and charming others, only arrived at that masterly place through continued practice and dedication. Take Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, a notoriously ugly man who was barely 5’0” tall, nearly blind in one eye, and had seemingly poor personal hygiene but who developed an ease with women, thereby leading to a stable of many lovers.
So…what are you waiting for? Do you want help getting on the path to becoming unconsciously competent in your dating life? Check out my Coaching Packages page for my various services!