The competence cycle


The joy of learning

I have a wee addiction to learning new things. While that may sound delightfully nerdy, it’s actually severely time-sucking and quite an annoying part of my existence. If I were brilliant or had even an inkling of study discipline, it would perhaps be a useful addiction, but I am not and have not. I am your average, garden-variety human being with a chaotic, insatiable appetite to scatter myself between a thousand and one learning activities like, today.

Within the past week, I’ve asked my Dutch teacher to up the ante on my lessons and sentenced myself to learning 10 new words a day. I’ve half-ass-dabbled in exactly 5 books non-fiction topics of various disciplines. I’ve read pages and pages of online course introductions in order to “feel” the lives of over a 1000 fellow course-takers, but I’ve yet to complete the exercises. I’ve done research on creating a new garden design, spent too much time trying figuring out WTF is going on in Syria, learned how to make 3 new raw food dishes (tasty, I might add), and on, and on.

The other day I had a Skype call with Aranya, my permaculture mentor who is guiding me through my permaculture diploma process. After fessing up that I had not updated my project plan, I lamented that my chaotic learning style was plaguing any chance of me attaining my diploma within the time span we’d established. It’s a self-learning journey, so no one is threatening to flunk me if I don’t do something by some date. In other words, it’s up to me to develop my own learning curriculum…hardy har har!

He introduced me to the four stages of competence, which I at least found helpful in assessing my learning patterns. I’ve snagged the descriptions from Wikipedia:

Unconscious incompetence
The individual does not know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit…The individual must recognize their own incompetence and the value of the new skill before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

I think I’m safely out of this phase, given I lie awake at night knowing that I don’t know this and that; or this, or that.

Conscious incompetence
Although the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. Making mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

Now, I fully comprehend the value of the new skill, in this case becoming a permaculturist, but making mistakes…eeh does that include being distracted by a million other things I could learn whilst trying to learn about permaculture??

Conscious competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

“Requires concentration”…uh, yeah…

Unconscious competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

Ah, fantasies. The stuff of life.


Dear Aranya,

I hereby dedicate myself to reduce the other learning activities in my life in order to pass through the above phases within the context of permaculture.


Related posts on permaculture.


  1. You are clearly on a quest for knowledge! Good luck.

  2. I’m like you, always wanting to lern a million things at once. I might get somewhere if I focus onnone at a time

    • I’m reading Getting Things Done by David Allen…I can really recommend it for *scattered* people like us! 😉 But I guess one of life’s beauties is reveling in its amazingness…so happy learning!

  3. Pingback: Woman: DO SOMETHING | evolution

  4. I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only “scattered” learner pursuing a Permaculture Diploma. There is so much to learn and explore and the self-diciplined approach is a killer for me as well – right now I should be writing a blog instead of reading blogs…oh well, such is my scattered life.

    Thanks for stopping by my site, I look forward to following your journey.

    • Hey permiechickie 🙂 thanks for iiir comment!

      I have learned to just accept my chaos and see it more as a journey of discovery – to really enjoy the learning process. Like nature, our wonderment of the world can (and maybe should be) wild in its growth, rather than structured and linear. Much like nature!

      Hope to explore our permie paths more – where are you in your diploma journey? I am still shuffling around with really beginning..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: