This sounds a little like you’re chasing the “golden’ fleece of fitness but habits when practiced consistently can, and will get you fit on autopilot.

It’s doesn’t matter if you are trying to learn a new exercise or change the way you eat. It all comes down to habits and skills.

If you want to learn how to swing a kettlebell you need to develop the right skills. If you want to improve what you eat you need to develop or change the right habits.

Even Aristotle had a view on habits:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

How do we change our habits or develop new skills?

Practice, of course, but that by itself can be misleading and even a little disheartening.

Whenever we start something new it can be difficult to stay interested if it takes a while to get good, and practicing at something when we suck is not much fun.

What if I told you that it was all part of the journey, that getting it wrong is an important step towards mastery. Pretty cool right? That means getting it “wrong” or “failing” is part of the admission price to earning mastery.

The four stages of mastery was something that was introduced to me by Chief Instructor Mark Reifkind during my recent Strength Matters Kettlebell Certification. Mark explained how every student had to move through each stage in order to gain mastery. Though this was aimed at teaching kettlebell techniques, these four stages apply to any new technique, skill or behaviour habit.


The Four Stages of Mastery

Stage #1 Unconscious Incompetence

You’re doing it wrong but you have no idea that you’re doing it wrong. Why? This can be down to a variety of different reasons. The most common is that you were never shown otherwise but it could also be down to not knowing or understanding the value of the skill or habit at fault.

Moving out of this stage is pretty simple, you just need to become aware of the fault and see the value in making change.


Stage #2 Conscious Incompetence

You’re still doing it wrong but you are aware that you’re doing it wrong. This might only look like a small change but it’s an essential one. Once you know something is wrong you can actually do something about it.

The biggest determining factor for moving to the next stage is VALUE. Do you see the value in making the needed improvements? Is it important to you and your goals? The higher the value, the more determination to change.

How long you spend at this stage depends on the perceived value of the skill/habit in question but it can also be affected by the the size or complexity of the skill/habit and the level of coaching you receive to learn the needed improvements.

This can be a tricky stage as it’s easy to get frustrated –  at the end of the day who wants to be doing things wrong! A lot of this frustration can be avoided by starting with less complicated habits or skills and getting the right support and guidance.


Stage #3 Conscious Competence

You’re now doing it right, but it’s taking a lot of concentration and effort to get it right.

It’s easy to get cocky at this stage and start making things harder or add on another new skill/habit but this is a mistake. Yes, you can do it correctly but you have not yet mastered it…you still need more practice before you move onto autopilot.

This happens both with exercise, skills and nutrition habits. With exercise, for example, a person can get to a point where they can do the exercise well but they really have to think about it. Adding more weight or increasing the number of reps would be tempting but inadvisable at this stage. Keep practicing.

It’s also important to mention at this point that these stages are fluid and you can drift between the two. For example ⅗ bodyweight squats look good but two still have some faults. Just keep your head down and keep practicing.


Stage #4 Unconscious Competence

You’re doing it right and doing it right as become second nature and can be done almost on autopilot. At this stage you are ready to increase the level of difficulty or move onto a new skill or habit.

Again I would remind you about the fluidity of these levels. One day you can be at Unconscious Competence then the next slip back into Conscious Competence. That’s perfectly normal and it’s going to happen…at first.

I read a great story about some old school eastern European powerlifters who had a brilliant way of looking at their personal records: it didn’t count unless they could do it on a bad day! They didn’t just want to do it once, instead they had to “own it” before they could call it their personal record!

I love that and it illustrates exactly what I’m talking about here. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about nailing the skill of a 200kg Deadlift or building the habit of drinking more water each day. I want you to “own it” before moving on.


How long does it takes you to move from stage #1 to stage #4?

This will vary depending on the skill or habit in question; it’s difficulty in relation to your ability; and its perceived value to you and your goals.

With a nutrition habit three weeks is normally about the time it takes to reach stage #4. Let’s look at something simple like drinking more water.

Week One: You keep a food journal and discover how little water you are drinking each day. You move from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Incompetence.

Week Two: You aim to drink 2 litres of water a day but it’s a bit hit and miss. You are now sitting between Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence.

Week Three: You’re getting into the grove and consistently drinking 2 litres of water pretty much every day. You move into Unconscious Competence.

This is just an example and it may look different for each new habit or skill, if it needs longer to master something, like kettlebells, take the time to do so. It’s not a race, it’s for life.

So there you have the four stages of mastery. Of course for most goals, be it weight loss, improved healthy and getting stronger, there will be a compilation of different habits and skills to master. This would best be served by breaking them down into individual components, rather than trying to attack them all at once.

Focus on one thing at a time and keep logging in the practice time.

If you would like to learn what habits or skills you need to develop and how to get started click here and come down for a coffee and a chat.

Hi, I'm Jamie. My mission is to help busy men and women like you discover that strong, fit and healthy person hidden within so you can grab life by the horns and live with confidence and a smile.
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