Getting Stuck…..

Getting Stuck.....

Hello everyone – thanks for your kind words and messages over the past two weeks.

While away, I have been thinking a lot about life, the universe and everything.  Yes, I am a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan – and that started me thinking about the best advice that galactic travel book had on its cover.  Two words in big print: DON’T PANIC

And that started me thinking about how often we allow our panic ABOUT fear to stop us from dealing with it.

I meet people all the time who know stuff, have learned stuff – and yet when they have the time to go out and practice it – don’t!

And I see this in all areas of life  I have friends who want to be artists – who don’t draw.  People who want to be better riders – who won’t take lessons.  People who want to know more about horses and have a better relationship – but won’t go on courses.  And people who DO go on courses, do well – and then come home and just can’t get out there to do it.

Sound familiar?

Well, I do it too!  I spent much time studying Equine Podiatry and Equine Touch – and yet have done neither for a long time.  It was only when I was asked to think about why people don’t practice what they learn that I started looking at myself and this subject a bit more, with the help of some clients and students, which has led to some interesting discoveries.

Even when no body is watching, we are scared of getting it wrong

We think that not doing it perfectly is a terrible thing – so we don’t do it at all

We don’t want to break our horses

We are not sure we know exactly what to do, so it’s safer not to try

What we ARE doing isn’t leading to what we THOUGHT would be the outcome – so we stop doing it

WE do it, but it feels so uncomfortable – we stop doing it after a while

I am sure most of you know the learning cycle.  When you learn something new, or just a new angle on something – most of us go through these four stages.

1.  Unconscious Incompetence:  otherwise known as “Blissfully ignorant”

This was me as a child with horses – I really had no idea what I was doing, but didn’t realise it – and so was blissfully happy in my ignorance.    A loss of confidence can make us aware of just how incompetent we are as we realise we don’t know why something happened, or how to stop it happening again

This leads to:

2. Conscious Incompetence: often referred to as the “What on EARTH do I think I am doing?” stage

When we realise how little we know, or how unskilled we are, we tend to feel pretty terrible.  We see our incompetence, and, being human, start judging ourselves for BEING incompetent.

Interestingly, when we send our children to school we expect them to come across this stage every lesson, and just accept it as part of growing up.  Then when we, as grown-ups, come across a situation where we don’t know enough yet, instead of saying to ourselves “hmm, of course, I don’t know enough – let me calmly go out and find out how to learn more” – we turn against ourselves and beat ourselves up for now knowing things we never learned in the first place.

Crazy, huh?

Being grown up doesn’t always mean we are smart – or even kind to ourselves.

Let’s be logical for a moment:  if no one has taught you, explained to you, or shown you – then how can you be expected to know?

And if they have only taught you or shown you once, then you are also not expected to be perfect at it yet!

I remember when I started drawing – I think I went straight to this stage.  After all, it’s pretty obvious when your daffodil looks like dalek.  So I did what most of us do:  I stopped drawing!

After all, when I drew something, then looked at it – I felt pretty bad – so my unconscious stepped right in there to do its job of keeping me safe – and kept me VERY safe from the disappointment of not being an instant artistic genius – -by making sure I didn’t have time to draw, or had too many other things to do

Which, when you think about it – is pretty daft.  After all, I am certainly not going to get any better by NOT drawing!

I am still trying to work out why, as a grown up, I expect to be instantly good at everything.  When I was a child I was happy to play with a game for hours to get the hang of it, why should it be any different just because I am some years older?

A friend of mine is a professional artist – she has a gallery and makes her living from her paintings which are usually of scenery, landscapes and flowers.

A few years ago she decided to do wildlife – -she used to do this at college but had stopped.

Within the year she had a wonderful exhibition at her gallery, full of stunning paintings of wildlife.

I went to see it – and she took me aside to her studio at the back and showed me a stack of books.  These were her sketch books for the first six months of that “wildlife year”

She opened the first one – I was amazed – the drawings were so BAD!  Seriously, her tigers looked like slightly squashed house cats, and her wolves were not even recognisable as canines.

That is why she had shown them to me.  Over the six months I could see her drawings getting better and better as she practiced and learned from each and every one.

“Just because I can draw and paint landscapes doesn’t mean I can draw wildlife without practice!” she said with a smile.

I thought for a moment – then asked “Don’t you find it frustrating?  To do so many BAD pictures?  How do you keep going?”

She laughed and said “I tell myself that before I can consistently draw a GOOD tiger, I will have to draw a thousand BAD tigers – that way when another bad tiger drawing shows up I can just say “Thank goodness, one more bad tiger drawing out of the way! One drawing closer to a good one!””

Using this thinking, Sue was able to survive the transition period between Conscious Incompetence and stage 3: Conscious Competence.

This transition period is where most of us get stuck: in those loops of feeling bad about what we do, so not doing it again –

Try Sue’s approach:  each time it DOESN’T work, is one time closer to when it DOES work –

Also, do something for a few days before deciding if it works or not.

Some of you may know I am starting classical in-hand work with my Chestnut Mare, Gracie.  The first day, it felt clumsy, slow and I was sure I was doing everything wrong – so I said “great, one time closer to doing it well!” and just did five minutes, trying out all the things I was learning.

The next day I did it again.  Still bad!

Then on the third day something happened – something WORKED!

And that felt SO good – -it inspired me to keep going.

Generally, when I am coaching someone on confidence, I say “do something for at least 4, maybe 7 sessions before you stop and think about it….”

In almost every case, by session 5 people are seeing changes and improvement that then motivates them to keep going.

One last tip for getting through this transition period:

Instead of thinking how far away from perfect you are – think about where you are NOW compared with where you started….much better!

3. Conscious Competence:  “oh wow, I can DO this!”

This is the exciting phase – when we realise we CAN do the task the skill – sure, we have to think about it, and it is a bit clumsy and slow – but we are doing it!

Once we feel competent, practicing becomes intrinsically rewarding…..

And then this leads to

4.  Unconscious Competence “you’re a natural!”

I was on a course once, and this was said to me.  Of course the person saying it didn’t know about the hours of practice it had taken for me to look that natural.  Whether it’s drawing an antelope, or coiling up my 45ft lariat – it’s the hours of practice that make it look natural, that’s all.

And the more I practice, the more natural it gets….

So when we look at learning – whether it’s about art, horses, confidence – ANYTHING where we need to know more, understand more and DO more – we can see that the “sticky step” is that period when we KNOW we are incompetent – but don’t really believe we can ever become competent….

I have shared three strategies for getting through this stage successfully – and of course, there is the big one I shared at the start of this post:  DON’T PANIC!

What strategies and ideas do YOU have?

Yours, in Confidence



4 thoughts on “Getting Stuck…..

  1. Always difficult to accept less than perfection in ourselves, too easy just to not do it, but then we miss out on some really awesome opportunities! Thank you for the reminder…

  2. Fabulous post again Cathy – the learning process is always a sources of wonder, frustration and endorphin-releasing-ecstasy for me…..all at the same time and never at once! The comfort I find in learning something new is, from experience I now know, that the thing that causes me to feel frustration today will become the very thing that brings me comfort next week ….
    Knowing this and having some very supportive friends around me is my personal little learning strategy. And faith in a fab coach always helps!!! Much love xxxxxx

  3. Mmmmm this has given me food for thought. I had totally forgotten the four learning stages. I used to deal with these all the time when I was in work training people.

    I also remember when I was at work having to learn new things, like new interviewing techniques, I used to practice and practice until it became natural to me.

    Well, I now know I can do things. I just need to practice and I will get better and hopefully it will become natural to me.

    I feel quite inspired now. Thanks Cathy. Its amazing what you forget.

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