Cultivating Competence

My dad has 3 brothers, and they can all juggle. As a kid, that was majorly impressive. As an adult, it’s still really cool.

When I was 13 I decided to become a juggler, and when learning a new skill, there are 4 stages to the learning curve. I can describe each stage from personal experience.

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this stage, you don’t know what you don’t know. You just don’t know how bad you truly are. It’s the wild west of ineptitude. Nothing works, everything is incredibly difficult, and there’s no end in sight.

When it comes to juggling, it involves a lot of bending over and picking up whatever you’re -dropping- juggling.

That’s why I advise learning to juggle over a bed; you don’t have as far to reach when you’re picking up your bean bags.

2. Conscious Incompetence

Here, you’ve learned just how little skill you have at your new hobby. You’re aware everything is going wrong, and you’re starting to recognize areas that could use improvement. You’re starting to develop an understanding of the mistakes you’re making, and how they impact your effectiveness.

I can feel the throw is bad as I release it. I know my timing is off and there’s going to be a mid-air collision. I’m fully aware I’m throwing bean bags from both hands simultaneously, but can’t seem to get my hands to stop doing it.

You have to throw the second bean bag as the first bean bag is at the apex of its trajectory, thus freeing up your hand to catch the first bean bag. It’s a distinct one. two. pattern. If you throw both bean bags at the same time as a onetwo, they meet at the top of their path. 

Try counting out loud to slow the release of the second bean bag.

3. Conscious Competence

You’re starting to get the hang of it. It requires full concentration, and it’s still pretty difficult to maintain focus for long periods of time. You can do each part of the process separately, but still need work on integrating the whole sequence.

My initial throws might be wobbly and I have to run to catch each throw, but I’ve managed to complete a total of 3 or 4 cascade cycles.

One of the most common hurdles is overcoming “Joggling”. This is where you’re not comfortable throwing in a flat plane, but instead, throw each bean bag a little in front so as to avoid hitting the other bean bag that’s already in the air. This results in you having to reach a little farther and farther to catch each throw until you wind up running to catch each throw. It’s a good way to get exercise, but it’s bad juggling. Again, practicing in front of a bed will prevent this from happening.

4. Unconscious Competence

Now you can do it in your sleep. It’s second nature, and it’s now embedded in your brain. You have full mastery of the skill, and you might even be able to perform another task at the same time.

I can now sustain a cascade, do tricks, and maybe even hoola-hoop while I’m juggling.

The process of advancing through the four stages of cultivating competence depends on your innate aptitude for the skill you’re building, how much you work at it, and how intricate the skill you’re learning.

When I was learning to juggle I went from not being able to juggle at all, to performing tricks in a couple days. In a couple weeks I was juggling pins (which presented its own set of challenges.), and within a couple months I was juggling fire.

I was under professional supervision the whole time.

Being able to juggle fire seemed superhuman before I learned to juggle, but with consistent practice I progressed, step-by-step, until I achieved my goal of being a juggler.

The important thing to remember when learning any new skill is it’s a process that takes work. You can’t teleport from Point A to Point B, you have to take the journey one step at a time.

If you’re feeling discouraged along the way, just remind yourself where you are in the process, and know that there is always progress. Never compare yourself to someone else’s ability. Measure yourself against your own progress. When you think about how far you have yet to go, you’ll see how far you’ve come.

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