Six Steps to Positive Habits

There are stages to our learning that have been recognised by others. We start off being unconsciously incompetent. As a young child, for example, we don’t know we can’t ride a bike. Then we get on a bike and become consciously incompetent.

Then with somebody’s help, we become consciously competent, having to concentrate hard to stay balanced turning corners. Now, most of us are unconsciously competent and don’t give the process of riding a bike a second thought.

Breaking this process down even further and applying it to professionals, I think we can recognise the following stages to the personal learning and development process:

  1. We know something is important but don’t believe it relates to us (I’m doing ok – it’s the other partners that need to do that).
  2. We know we need to change our behaviour but still don’t do it (we lack conviction because it’s difficult, inconvenient, or we unconsciously judge the risks outweigh the benefits).
  3. We know we need to change and want to, but lack the skills to do it.
  4. We know we need to change and do it but inconsistently (we get lazy or forgetful or distracted).
  5. We know and do it consistently (we’ve formed a good behaviour that we consciously cultivate).
  6. We know how to do it and make it second nature (it’s become part of who we are and a good habit has been formed).

For example, when it comes to giving constructive feedback to staff, most professionals know they should do it (ie they have got past stage 1) but relatively very few have made it through to stage 6.

Many get stuck at stage 3. If they ever get past that, stage 4 isn’t much of a problem but stage 5 can become a sticking point.

Those of us providing learning and development workshops need to recognise the importance of:

  • putting action plans together at the end of programmes
  • encouraging participants to go for the foothills initially, rather than getting the crampons out and attempting Everest (it can be so dis-spiriting)
  • involving participants’ supervisors to provide interest and ongoing support, perhaps by having objectives set which are reviewed at appraisal time – this is so important

Without these additional  elements in place it’s hard developing new habits which become permanent.

For more on this theme, see



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