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March 28, 2024

Why Do We Struggle to Learn?

...and why do we then fall back into old habits?

It is astounding how many people struggle when learning new things, specifically in a training seminar.

They are often in the right mindset when they start to learn something new and are open to it and then suddenly, as if someone has flicked the switch, they turn off and become resistant to what they are learning and yet are not even aware that this has happened.

I have often seen a trainer enthusiastically getting people involved in the training, yet when these people leave, they fall back into their old habits very quickly.

They will often complain that the training was not that good, they couldn’t see the relevance of it and they don’t know how they could adapt it for their own use.

Many of us are sometimes in this frame of mind when it comes to learning new things.

We kid ourselves saying that we are open, but the moment learning something new becomes difficult, we shut down.

I would like to give you some insights into why this happens and some strategies to help to stop this. And if you understand this, it will also provide clues about your belief systems and why you find it difficult to change.

You may have heard of the 4 stages to learning.

The 4 stages of learning provide a framework for understanding how individuals acquire new skills or knowledge:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence. At this stage, individuals lack awareness of their incompetence in a particular skill or area of knowledge. They don't know what they don't know. It's like being oblivious to the existence of a skill or not recognizing its importance.

  2. Conscious Incompetence. In this stage, individuals become aware of their lack of proficiency in a certain skill or area. They recognize that there is something they don't know or can't do, and they may feel a sense of frustration or inadequacy. However, this awareness is essential for progress because it motivates them to seek learning and improvement.

  3. Conscious Competence. As individuals progress, they start to develop competence in the skill or area they are learning. However, their proficiency requires conscious effort, concentration, and practice. They are able to perform the skill, but they need to focus and think about each step or element involved.

  4. Unconscious Competence. At the final stage, individuals have mastered the skill to the point where it becomes almost automatic. They can perform the skill effortlessly and without conscious thought. It's like second nature to them. They have internalized the knowledge or skill, and it has become ingrained in their behavior.


These stages are not necessarily linear, and individuals may move back and forth between them depending on various factors such as the complexity of the skill, the amount of practice, and individual differences in learning styles. Understanding these stages can help learners and educators tailor their approaches to maximize learning effectiveness.

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