Perhaps you’ve seen or heard of the four stages of competence. It’s a basic model for considering the skills we develop.
First, we are unconsciously incompetent. We don’t know what we don’t know. Second, we become aware of what we don’t know. We still don’t have the skill. We are conscious about our incompetence. Third, we are consciously competent. We know enough to to use a skill with effort. Over time, it becomes more automatic. We’re unconsciously competent. We have developed a habit and skill.
Of course, the process isn’t completely linear. Without intention, we lose ground.
Consider gratitude. We might be thankful about a thing or two, but what about readily acknowledging gratitude? As we become more sensitive to the spontaneity and depth of our gratitude for even the smallest moments, the discipline we’ve developed drives us more than our efforts. The process is one of yielding.
In my opinion and experience, this process works best when the yielding focuses on God. It’s how I’ve experienced, in myself and others, authentic expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we try to express these on our own, we struggle to determine or keep the guidelines. We cannot always muster the strength. We excuse when we determine we shouldn’t express the qualities because someone isn’t deserving. Unconscious competency is another way of saying we’re wholeheartedly allowing God to work through us. It is only with his strength and wisdom that we can respond immediately and purely.
It’s why many of us stay in the conscious competency stage for so long, even in the areas we long most to develop—because humility and yielding are difficult, even when we trust it is best.
This process is also how we can get rid of what is unhealthy in our lives. Unlearning a habit is simultaneously replacing the habit with a healthier one. In the beginning, we don’t recognize the bad habit is unhealthy. We’re unconsciously incompetent. Arrogance, deception, pride, immorality, envy, greed, hatred. When we finally see the detriment of such qualities, we are conscious. Deciding to do something about it, wanting to weed such qualities out of our lives are a tipping point. Commonly, we try to get rid of them in some areas of our lives, but we keep pieces for our convenience and comfort.
How completely are we willing to pursue and guard the process? What do you want to change, nurture, replace?
This process isn’t about your yearly resolutions. It’s not a strategy to get rich and successful. But it invites intentional effort to grow and heal. Start with listening to God’s truth about himself, you, and the relationship between the two of you. He’ll set the priorities. He’ll time the process. But he wants your conscious willingness.