Doing Things You Don’t Want To Do!

Let’s talk about how you can turn the things that make you feel uncomfortable, into things that are just naturally normal everyday things!

In my therapy clinic in Hertfordshire, we often hear from young people who have difficulties in transitioning from a world where your parents take a great deal of responsibility for doing things for you, to a place where you have to start doing more of that stuff for yourself! For example, once upon a time when you were little, if you went to a restaurant with your parents, they would order your food for you. However, now you may be reaching a point in your life where you’re expected to do that for yourself.

In the same way, once upon a time, you used to go to the shops and if you wanted something your parents would have paid for it. Perhaps now, you’re reaching that point where you’re expected to go up to the counter and ask for stuff yourself. Perhaps now you need to figure out the money needed and then make sure that you’ve got the right change afterwards. Whilst they seem like natural, normal everyday things that adults just crack on and do, actually transitioning into doing them it can be a real challenge.

The good news is that you are able to develop the confidence that you require and the self-esteem that you need, to be able to do some of those more mature, adult activities.

First of all, let me just remind you that once upon a time, you quite possibly, didn’t much like the idea of brushing your teeth. Now, hopefully, this is something that you’ve got your head around and there isn’t a parent having to do it for you. It is now just part of your normal, daily routine. You may have had some resistance in the very beginning and even learning to walk wasn’t something that was simple and straightforward. It may have taken a lot of time, perseverance and effort on your part, to get where you are now.

It might now, feel like a million years ago, that there was even a time when your parents were perhaps having to do all these things for you or even just help you with it, but all of those things were part of your journey. The only difference between then and now is that now, you’re much more conscious of the things that you cannot do. So, when we go through a process of learning something, there are actually only four stages to it.

The first stage is that you have what’s called ‘unconscious incompetence. The word ‘unconscious’ simply means that you’re not aware of it, you didn’t even know it was a thing that you were supposed to be doing. The word ‘incompetence’ means that you can’t do it. For example, take brushing your teeth. Once upon a time, you didn’t know that you had to do it – and you didn’t care anyway – so that was unconscious incompetence, you didn’t know-how, and you didn’t care then.

At the second stage, we move to the state of ‘conscious incompetence. That means that you know what you’re supposed to be doing, but you have not yet got the skills to be able to do it. And, that’s quite possibly where you are with some other aspects of your life now. For example, being able to order your own food in a restaurant. You know that you should be doing it, but you don’t feel like the skills are quite there to be able to go ahead and actually order.

The next stage that we move to is, ‘conscious competence’. That means you know what you’re supposed to be doing, so you’re conscious of it, and, ‘competence’ just means that you have got the skills. So what we’re saying is, you’re aware of what you need to do and you’ve got the skills to do it, but you have to think to make it happen. It’s not just happening naturally or automatically for you yet. You’ve got to consciously think about it and put in the work to make it happen – and this is the next stage that you move to; where you are really starting to expand your skills and embed them so that they can become natural, easy, and automatic for you.

What I see happening sometimes in my therapy clinic in Hertfordshire, is that people get stuck at the level of ‘conscious competence’. The reason they get stuck there is because they’re just thinking about the thing far too much. If you think about something too much, it’s like it becomes a point of focus. Then you can perhaps get a bit anxious about it and that’s where we can really start to feel uncomfortable about continuing to develop the skill. The good news is, out of the four stages of learning, this is already staged three – you’re only one step away from being able to do this, in a natural, normal, easy-going style.

The final step is when you’ve got to the stage where it’s just something that you do,  without even having to think about it. This is ‘unconscious competence’. It’s called ‘unconscious’ not because you’re asleep or you’re locked out in some way. It just means that you’re doing it without having to think about the effort that’s required.

When you go to sleep at night, you breathe unconsciously – because you don’t have to think about breathing, you can do it whilst you’re sleeping, it just happens.

‘Unconscious competence’ means that you can do it without having to think about what it means, or how you do it. Once you have got that ability to do it, without thinking about it, that’s when the anxiety around doing it begins to vanish – and the really good news is, to get from stage three to stage four, there is just one thing that you have to do, practice!

You have to keep putting yourself in those uncomfortable positions so that they become more natural, more automatic for you.

What I see happening even into adulthood, is that sometimes people get so hung up on that stage where they’re having to think about what they’re doing – and they don’t really want to have to do it – they wish someone else would swoop in and take away all the discomfort and do it for them.

Then we end up in the position, that sadly, people really begin to hold themselves back. Rather than pushing through the discomfort, and practising, they instead avoid the situation completely. Rather than stretching their skills to be able to go and order that food themselves, or pay for that item themselves in the shop, they just get their friend to do it, or get a parent to do it, or, just don’t even bother going to the shops altogether. They let the anxiety get the better of them. They use it as a reason to avoid those situations, but because of that, it means they may never develop this skill. They never put in the practice to get themselves to that final step, which is being able to do it, without thinking about it at all, and simply just doing it – naturally and automatically.

Here is my challenge for you for the next few weeks:

If there is something that you know other people are able to do – adults are able to do or young people are able to do – that they do naturally, easily and automatically, but you feel you are not quite there with it yet, then I want you to put yourself in the position where you keep practising. Keep putting yourself in front of that scenario, so that you can start to develop the muscles that you need in your brain, to be able to do it with ‘unconscious competence’. Practice, believe and practice again…you’re already on the way to doing it –  easily, naturally and automatically. Good luck!

By Gemma Bailey

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