Let’s start with the bad news. Change is hard. Whether it’s change you have initiated yourself or a change that has been thrust upon you, it’s still hard.
Perhaps you, like so many others, have set various New Year’s resolutions over the years that have never made it past January 15th. You picked an area of your life where you wanted to see real change, prepared yourself and your environment, enlisted your friend’s help and enthusiastically jumped into your new routine.
But somewhere between January 1st and January 16th something happened. You got distracted by other things, discouraged by the difficulty or disappointed in yourself because your motivation didn’t seem to last.
Change is hard. In fact, 75% of people who make a New Year’s resolution fail on their first attempt.
Organizational Psychologist William Howell developed the Four Phases of Learning model to us better understand what is going on.
Four Phases of Learning
Phase I – Unconscious Incompetence: At this phase, we don’t know what we don’t know. We are incompetent but don’t even know or care. For example, most Americans are extremely incompetent the first time they travel to Europe and have to drive on the left-hand side of the road. This may be true of you, but I’ll bet if it is you still went to sleep last night blissfully unconcerned.
Phase II – Conscious Incompetence: Here you try a new skill and fail. You suddenly realize what you didn’t know or can’t do. Imagine being teleported to Italy, given a brand new Porsche and being forced to drive downtown through rush hour traffic. It wouldn’t be pretty, would it?
Phase III – Conscious Competence: At last, in this phase you manage to execute your new skill. It takes time and a lot of focus, mistakes may be made, but with concentration you can pull it off. This would be similar to being allowed to drive your brand new Porsche through Italy on empty back roads at your own speed. It would be hard at first, but you could do it.
Phase IV – Unconscious Competence: Your new skill or habit now comes naturally, almost without thought. You no longer need to use your conscious mind to focus on it. This happens after you’ve been living in Italy for six months and without a thought daily jump into that beautiful car to head fearlessly downtown.
When you look at this model notice there are two phases when you feel really good. Obviously you feel great in Phase IV, once you have mastered your new skill. And you also felt great in Phase I before you ever cared about or initiated a change.
When Change Gets Hard
But in Phase II, ‘conscious incompetence,’ when you were just beginning to focus, rewire and retrain your brain, you actually felt worse than before you started.
It’s no wonder people are tempted to quit right at the beginning of any new change.
Knowing about the phases of change and what to expect can radically increase your staying power during a season of change. No wonder Scripture says,
Galatians 6:9 (The Message) So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.
Change is hard. But change is also easy, and you’ll see why when next time we get together.