June 2017 Newsletter


Photograph of lush English countryside


Dear R&A Community,

If you’re lucky, you’ve had that discombobulating mix of excitement, transformation and terror while you are learning something new. All of a sudden the world shifts and the way you were doing something before now seems all wrong and the new way you want to do something now seems maddeningly unattainable. You start these internal negotiations to stay loyal to the comfort of the old paradigm, all the while being seduced by your curiosity towards a more enriched unknown.

While I was in Bristol, England last month training to be a trainer in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy with the incomparable and incredibly gracious Julie Hudson, a trainee in the audience gave voice to this daunting feeling, “Ugh, it’s so hard to see all the ways you want to change and can’t seem to do it – it’s conscious incompetence!”  Conscious incompetence?!  She went on to explain the full trajectory of learning from unconscious incompetence (ignorance is bliss) to conscious incompetence (#awkward) to conscious competence (focused effort and intention) and finally the majestic flow of unconscious competence…you just do it and don’t have to think about it.

I knew this phase of conscious incompetence first hand as I was right in the midst of experiencing it in that very moment standing in front of this group with a very experienced trainer and wise mentor to my right who was totally in her flow, in her unconscious competence, while I was well…not so much. Seeing someone masterful and in their flow was a really inspiring thing to bare witness to and also panic inducing because I felt so acutely at times my distance from it.

The concept of conscious incompetence really swam around my brain on the plane ride back home, while I was trying to go through my notes and wrap my head around all the things both subtle and profound that I had learned and watched my mentor do. I could feel my own nagging voices getting louder speculating on how or if I would be able to tackle this new set of learning and way of being.

However, I found what turned me around emotionally, what re-charged me to do battle with my own conscious incompetence was a Tim Ferriss podcast on learning “hacks”, a kind of compilation of meta-cognitive strategies he uses to learn all kinds of things from languages to sports to cooking. It is very concrete and does not pay so much attention to the emotional aspects of learning, but provided solid scaffolding for me to roll up my sleeves and start to think about the ways to master something I feel really passionately about.

Tim Ferriss (left) with with Charles Best, the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org Talking about Learning Strategies.The acronym Tim Ferriss uses for breaking down how to learn new things is called DiSSS (Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing and Stakes)

  • Deconstruction: How do you take a skill and break it into the smallest units possible? What are the minimal learnable units with which you should start?
  • Selection: The 80/20 principle or what 20% of those skills and learning units deliver 80% of the results?
  • Sequencing: In what order should you learn the blocks of information? What’s the logical progression of those 20%
  • Stakes: How do you set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee you follow the program? What’s your incentive?

I hope this example of a learning framework helps to lessen the discomfort of the conscious incompetence phase of whatever you might be working on to learn in your life at the moment. I really wish our entire community a restful and recharging summer in the pursuit of flow!

Courtney Rennicke, Ph.D.

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