Skip to content ↓

Conscious Competence Model of Change

When we are looking to change or learn new skills, or even help someone else to do the same, it is really helpful to understand that there are always steps to take in order to make change possible.

Having a model to refer to is always helpful.

A model I really like and find beneficial when I think about personal change or I see others trying to implement change is the ‘Conscious Competence’ model.  Although the origins of this model are disputed, it is thought that this model was developed in the 1970s by a student on a training programme.

The model focuses on these four clear stages and the interplay between them:

  • Unconscious incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence   

So, this is a very brief profile of the model which hopefully you will find useful.

The model begins with unconscious incompetence – an unknowingly and blissfully ignorant stage – where we do not know what we do not know.  However, as we progress in life we might begin to realise that there are certain patterns that are not helpful or not working for us, or we realise we must learn a new skill in order to progress in life.  This realisation can feel quite uncomfortable especially if it is a behaviour we recognise that we would like to or need to change.  We may be or feel quite vulnerable at this stage as we realise we need to change or develop.  A good practical example of this might be learning to drive.  We do not appreciate what we do not know until we are about to start learning to drive; then we begin to think of all that we need to know in order to learn to drive a car safely and that can be a challenging time.  

A part of the change process that helps us to move forward is acceptance; being in a state of ‘knowing’ and ‘accepting’ that we need to change, learn or do things differently.

So, then we move forward into the conscious incompetence stage.  Here we will be aware that change is necessary and becoming more aware of what we need to do to make that change happen.  Although the old behaviours/patterns are still there, and this are still the automatic path taken or the path of least resistance.

Through a process of repetition and commitment, we have achieved this state of recognising our need to change or learn, and now we need to commit to doing whatever needs to be done.  Repeating and practising until the change becomes second nature, we are then in the state of conscious competence; we commit to the new ‘way of being’, but we still at times have to remind ourselves of that choice.

We now come to the final state known as unconscious competence; we have changed, or learnt the new skill, we automatically behave differently, and incorporate this new behaviour, attitude and/or value as unconsciously part of who we are (these now just seem natural to us and easy).

This model is certainly helpful as a simple structure around which we can assess where we are in a change process; and it is also helpful to remember that change takes times and effort.  We need to make a conscious commitment towards whatever it is we wish to change, develop or learn, in order for this to become our reality.