Tonight I had the honor of hosting a Healing Story Circle for some of the wonderful moms in my life. One of the things that came up that really stood out to me was how deeply these moms wanted to have this parenting thing all figured out for their kids. I hear that, and I honor that. There’s no harder place to be than looking at where you want to be and knowing just how far away you are, and not knowing if you can ever get there.
I want to share a concept that completely changed the way I look at acquiring a new skill, whether that skill is parenting, or learning to cook, or ride a bike, or read – we’re all, even our kids, somewhere on the spectrum of competence in every skill.
The spectrum of competence is a continuum of level of mastery. At one end, we have unconscious incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know. Then we have conscious incompetence – what you know you don’t know. Next is conscious competence – what you know you know, and last is unconscious competence – what you don’t know you know. So what does this look like in practice?
Let’s say you’re a parent. So far, let’s say you’ve been spanking your kids, or yelling at them, or bribing them. Maybe things weren’t feeling great in your relationships with them, but you didn’t know it could be any other way. Then maybe you read an article, or a book, or talked to a friend and found out that there are other ways to discipline and guide your children, and those ways sounded a lot more gentle and connecting. So you decided you’re going to stop spanking, or yelling, or bribing. That goes great for a few days, or a few weeks, and then one day your child does something that just makes you absolutely crazy, and WHAM. Before you even register what you’re doing, you’ve spanked them, or yelled at them, or offered to buy them a toy if they just stop it! And now, I’m guessing you don’t feel too great about it. Maybe you had a cry, or called a friend and vented about it, or started googling and ended up here. Welcome to conscious incompetence, my friend.
Conscious incompetence sucks. It feels awful to know what you want to do and yet fail at it. And not just once! Over and over again. Here’s the thing though. Conscious incompetence is progress. Stay with me here – I know, it doesn’t feel like it. But here’s the thing – you can’t learn a new skill without passing through conscious incompetence. Let me repeat that – you cannot learn a new skill – reading, riding a bike, cooking, or parenting consciously, without first finding out that you don’t yet have that skill.
I wish I could tell you that next week you’ll be happily applying new skills, and never be in this place again, but the path from conscious incompetence to conscious competence isn’t linear. It’s messy, deep, challenging work. You’ll go back and forth between them, depending on how much sleep you’ve had, whether your needs are being met, and what else is going on in your life. Some days you’ll be amazed that you handled something with grace that would have sent you over the edge a few months earlier. Other days you’ll want to crawl back in bed and start over.
Eventually, with a lot of practice (and fortunately, our kids provide us with plenty of opportunities for that!), it will become second nature to respond intentionally, most of the time, in ways that feel connecting. You may not even realize how far you’ve come. So I want you to take a note right now of where you are on the spectrum of competence. Then dive into learning about consciously parenting and doing the personal work, applying it in your family. Come back to that note in a year, and check in again with the spectrum of competence. I’m betting you’ll be amazed at the growth in yourself and your relationships!