How to master a skill in 4 steps – The Four Stages of Learning

The estimated reading time for this post is 2 minutes

When we work in creative industries, we often find ourselves trying to learn a bunch of new techniques and even new programs, sometimes all at once. More often than not the learning process gets messy. It does get frustrating when we eventually hit a wall. That wall tells us we know we know, but somehow we cannot achieve the results we desire. Our capabilities feel limited. That happens to everyone, and it’s normal. Once we understand the four stages, it makes challenging skills to learn enjoyable since we know what to expect of the process.

However judgmental we might be of our own capabilities, the reality is that we cannot expect professional looking results if we are just starting out on something new. When producing something new, instead of focusing on the bad feelings we get, we should focus on repetition.

That’s right, doing it over and over again.

You must break through the third stage to the fourth stage. Don’t quit where most people do.

I have recently talked to a few creatives over at Will Paterson’s Discord group, and over and over again I talked about the 4 stages of learning and mastering a skill. Understanding them helps deal with the “creative block” that comes when we hit the all. This concept has been widely discussed among top designers and business people, but it seems that very few actually know it exists at all.

This how it looks like in a nutshell:

1º stage: Unconscious incompetence, I call it discovery

The first contact, discovery and excitement. We are ignorant fools trying to learn something new and amazing. We often don’t know we don’t know how to do that particular task.

2º stage: Conscious incompetence, I call it learning

This is when we find out we have no idea to execute that particular task, but we are committed to figuring it out. This is when we ultimately go through a bunch of tutorials in a blissful and fulfilling randomness that entices us to learn everything at once. This is the stage your browser has 50 tabs open on the same subject.

3º stage: Conscious Competence, I call it the mighty wall

When we know the technical stuff necessary, but we don’t feel we are good enough yet. If previous step was uncomfortable, this one will be even more. That’s why I call the mighty wall. The key is to keep repeating and getting comfortable and messing around with the skill.

4º stage: Unconscious Competence, I call it mastery

We finally dominate the skill. This is when you don’t have to think too hard when executing simple tasks. Then it’s just practice, practice, practice.

The key to break the mighty wall is to achieve 50%, not 100%.** You get better as you practice, but if you quit, well, guess what, you learn nothing.

Some of my mentors, like Sean and Gary Vee, talk about this in their own ways. Sean and Gary talk about doing a massive load of work. Quality over quantity, while documenting your process. No matter what, you’ve gotta show up and do the work.

You will never master a skill if you don’t do the loads of work required to master that skill. There is no shortcut, just work, work, work. Tutorials are actually one way to cut corners, in a sense. Instead of spending hours and hours trying to figure something out, it’s smarter to find someone who already figured it out and learn it from them.