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Climbing the Four Stages of Competence

A popular theory about learning a new skill is The Four Stages of Competence model. The four stages are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
  2. Conscious Incompetence
  3. Conscious Competence
  4. Unconscious Competence

Before we delve into its implementation in Poker, let me explain this by an example: Learning how to play a Guitar.

Let's say you are interested in learning how to play Guitar.

You learn a few chords, and can strum a couple of songs. You think you've made it. Now you can go on making your own songs. This stage is unconscious incompetence.

Technically, you are not incompetent, but you don't have enough knowledge to actually make a great song. You don't know why those specific fret-string combinations make a chord and which one to use when. There is a lot you don't know that you don't know. This stage is thus unconscious incompetence.

Next, you subscribe to a Guitar lesson on Coursera. You are surprised by the many intricacies of making music. You realize there is a lot for you to learn. This awareness is conscious incompetence.

Then, you start laboring on finger exercises, strumming patterns, and much more. It is an effort for you. But, you know that you are learning and improving. Your understanding of the art of guitar playing increases. But, you still have to look and think before you pluck a string. This is the level of conscious competence.

After years of practice, you finally are able to play freely. The songs come to you naturally, you don't have to look at your fretboard to see where your fingers are striking. This is the level of unconscious competence.

You know how to play a song without thinking about it, but if someone asks you what pattern to follow, you really have to think about what you just did.

This path is common in most of the skills we learn. Driving a car, doing simple math multiplications, or Poker.

Most players when they start playing think that they know the rules, have some moves and are good enough to play. While that might be true, there is a lot they do not know. When I was a noob, I thought I could crush anyone and thought poker was a simple game. I was mistaken. And was unconsciously incompetent.

As I learnt more, I realized how little I knew. And I began studying a lot more. I became consciously incompetent.

With some progress, I learnt new things, was amazed by most of them, and achieved a decent level of competence. It still takes effort for me to make some advanced plays. I have achieved conscious competence.

The next step for me is to achieve unconscious competence, when I can make a high level play naturally and not feel skeptical about the outcome. It will take a lot more study and practice to get there. Only then can I or anyone else who follows this path can become a truly elite player.

So, wherever you are in your poker journey, be aware of the stage you are at, and work towards moving onto the next one.

For more information on this theory, this is the Wikipedia article on it.



Prashaste Sinha

Prashaste lives to eat and write. She's our very own homegrown poker sceptic who's gone on to enjoy her stint with poker and loves writing and interviewing people who are passionate about poker and life.