The four stages of competence and building a habit


One of the best ways to become productive is to invest your time in building habits. I’ve written about this a number of times. Today, I’ll show you (or, for some of you, give a reminder about) the four stages of competence. This model clearly describes how one can build a habit. Read on to learn more about this model.

Four stages of competence

I’ll start with a quote from Wikipedia. This will allow us to have the same understanding of the model.

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.

I’ll explain the model with the example of implementing a productivity system based on GTD.

Stage 1 – Unconscious incompetence

In short, this is the stage where you don’t know that you don’t know how to do something.

Using our example, here’s how this stage could look:
You work in your own way. You manage to do some tasks, some you don’t do. You feel overwhelmed by what is on your plate. It makes you frustrated on some occasions, and sometimes you think it would be nice to have a better system to work with.

Stage 2 – Conscious incompetence

You know that you don’t know how to do something, and it bothers you.

Following our example, this means that you have already heard about GTD. Maybe you attended a conference, saw your friend using it, or read about it in a book . You think that it sounds great and that it could help you solve your problem. You start using that methodology. It’s hard in the beginning, and you struggle to follow the process. Sometimes you make mistakes.

Stage 3 – Conscious competence

You know that you know how to something, but it takes effort.

You know how to work according to the GTD methodology. You know that when you follow its principles, it helps you to streamline your this. Sometimes you forget about it. It requires willpower to apply this new way of working to all your assignments. But you see its value and you want to continue to work like this.

Stage 4 – Unconscious competence

You know how to do something and it is second nature; you rock at it.

You subconsciously apply the GTD principles to all your tasks. It has become second nature . You event don’t think about it as following a certain methodology, you just do it.

The habit

When you read the Stage 4 description, does it ring a bell? For me, it sounds like the description of a habit . Something you do without even thinking about is a habit.

The above description of the stages of competence may inspire you in your journey to build habits. Are there any habits you want to build? Assess where you are in the implementation process of those habits right now. Then think about the strategies that will allow you to move to the next stage, and continue working at it until you reach Stage 4.


I really like what I learned from the book “The One Thing”:

Disciplined life is a lie. Discipline is needed until you have a habit.

You don’t need discipline when you are at Stage 4. When you don’t need to focus on a task, you are less tired and more efficient. That’s why building habits is the key to productivity.

Are you building a habit at the moment ? Apply what you’ve learned about the 4 stages of competence to help make your habit second nature.


0 0 votes
Article Rating

O autorze

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Recent Posts


About me

My name is Dominik Juszczyk. I’m a productivity geek and a Gallup Strengths Coach. I try to focus on my strengths and embrace the chaos of everyday life, using my time to the fullest and enjoying my early morning runs.

My top 5 themes

Individualization | Arranger | Learner | Empathy | Intellection