As we wrap up our #ReadySetThink! series, I find myself asking more questions than we started with and definitely more questions than I have answers for. Can a person actually change the way she thinks? How much control do we have over how we process information? What would it look like for us to think in new ways?
These questions remind me of something psychologists call “the four stages of competence” which describe the process that human beings go through as we learn a new skill or a new way of thinking.
1. Unconscious incompetence: We don’t know what we don’t know so we end up doing the wrong things. Further, we don’t even know that they are wrong or harmful.
2. Conscious incompetence: We mentally understand that the way we’re thinking or acting is wrong and we see benefit in learning a new way, but we haven’t yet figured out how to do it.
3. Conscious competence: We’ve learned new ways of thinking and know what to do, but it takes conscious effort to think and act in new ways.
4. Unconscious competence: We know what to do and can do it effortlessly, even without thinking about it. We intuitively do and think the right things.
Obviously, learning anything new can’t be reduced to four easy steps. We are holistic beings who learn as much through our heart and bodies as our minds. But I think these four stages help us make sense of where we are on the road to change.
Maybe the #ReadySetThink! Series helped you become aware of ways that your thinking has been shaped by larger forces. Maybe this series moved you from stage 1 to stage 2. Maybe today, you understand how your thinking is oppositional (rather than paradoxical). Maybe you see the effects of group think on your decisions (did you buy the coat?) or maybe you’ve just gained a bit of charity for your ideological opponents recognizing that they reach their opinions in varied, complicated ways.
Congratulations! These are all steps in the right direction, and they are not small. But like any new skill, learning to think in robust ways will take time and effort. It will happen over the long term, bit by bit. But the fact that it is happening at all should encourage you.
Consider this: About eighteen months ago, I started going to a gym to work out. When I started, I couldn’t hold a plank, could barely make it through the session, and looked a lot like Gumby with arms and legs flailing everywhere. Over time, however, my form improved. I did modified exercise until I could do the “real” ones, and slowly, my body–not just my brain–learned.
I’m by no means a fitness buff, but I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m no smaller or leaner than I was when I started, but I’m stronger and have much more control over my body.
And this process of slow, steady growth has also given me a bit of hope.
You see, in the past, I would never have imagined myself going to a gym on a regular basis. I’d think, “That’s just not me” or “I’m not that kind of person.” And to be honest, I wasn’t. To be honest, I’m still not. And yet, here I am planking and doing
pushups a pushup.
Through this process of growth, I’ve gained a great deal of confidence–not because I’m a fitness guru but because I’ve experienced change. I’ve learned that I can learn. I’ve learned that change is possible.
I think this is something of what Paul is getting at in Philippians 1:6 when he writes that he’s confident that “he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” His confidence is rooted in God’s power, yes, but it’s also rooted in the changes he’s already seen.
Because when we experience even the smallest amount of growth, it’s a pretty good indication that we have the potential for growth and that it will continue.
I don’t know where you find yourself on this journey of thinking in robust, creative ways, but I want to encourage you that simply being on the journey is a good first step. Simply learning what you don’t know and wanting to know more is a good indication that you’ll eventually get there.