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What is Unconscious Competency?

What is Unconscious Competency?

Driving a car is complicated. Pedals and blinkers and mirrors and merging and blind spots. But when we drive to the grocery store, we hardly think about any of that. We just get in and go. It’s automatic.


The Levels of Competency

After years of driving, we’ve become unconsciously competent.


But we didn’t start out that way. The first time we got behind the wheel, we followed a checklist. The first time we merged onto a highway, our pulse raced.


We had to go through the four stages of competence before we could drive to the grocery store without thinking.

  1. Unconscious incompetence - I don’t know what I don’t know.

  2. Conscious incompetence - Okay, this is harder than it looks.

  3. Conscious competence - I can kind of do this now, but success requires constant attention and effort.

  4. Unconscious competence - I got this. And I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

Unless we’re prodigies, we don’t start at Stage 4. And when we’re learning a new skill, most of us quit at Stage 2. Most skills worth building are a lot harder than they look.


That’s why so many of us only know a few chords on the guitar. Or only a few words of a foreign language.


But millions of people can drive cars. And play the guitar. And speak a foreign language.


If we decide a skill is important, we can reach unconscious competence. It may require checklists and racing pulses and even a collision or two. But if we push through all that, we can get there.

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