The Curse of the Non-Beginner

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“I keep practising, but I’m getting worse!”

Sound familiar? This is the refrain of the early-stage intermediate at any medium-to-high skill activity.

It’ll usually set in after a few months of practice, when you’ve gotten sufficiently to grips with the basics to realise how much more of the proverbial iceberg was lurking below the waterline where you couldn’t see.

When you start doing anything first, you might be aware of, perhaps, 2 things you’re doing wrong. You can deal with that. 2 isn’t a terribly large number, so this is probably going to be quite manageable. You’ll likely be an expert in another 6 or so weeks.

Unfortunately, what was ACTUALLY happening on day 1 was that you were really doing 100 things wrong. You were only able to detect 2 of them with your current skill level. Your coach (if they had even half a functioning brain that day) wisely chose to ignore the other 98 things for now and just work on 2 of them with you.

So that was fine. Then later you get a bit better, and you started noticing an inconvenient 3rd thing…then a 4th. And they just kept piling up until you noticed 30.

While you might be able to rationalise this at an intellectual level, deep down you’re probably feeling something along the lines of:

“Screw this! I was only doing 2 things wrong 6 months ago and now I’m doing 30! This is bullshit! I suck / my coach sucks / CrossFit sucks / I’m going to the pub”

Sadly, your ability to detect errors increases much faster than your ability to correct errors. Nothing we can do about that.

You’ll certainly gain the ability to correct them over time, just like everyone else that puts enough work in, but you’re going to have to learn to live with not being an expert for a while before that happens.

This isn’t a new idea, in fact, it’s one of the stages of a thing called the Hierarchy of Competence. Which goes like this:

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence

Which is best described by the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know”. You’re doing everything wrong, but you don’t notice it. As far as you know, everything is fine.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence

This is the one that sucks the most. You’re now conscious of all the things you don’t know about your new activity, but you can’t quite do anything about it yet.

You might WANT to, and be trying really hard, but you just aren’t competent enough yet. The only way out of here is to have the bravery to keep sucking for a while.

Stage 3 – Concious Competence

Now we’re getting somewhere. When you concentrate REALLY REALLY HARD, and shut out everything else in your mind, you can hit some tasty clean & jerks, catch snatches like they do on Youtube, or flip over the pullup bar with the best of them. It’s a LOT of work…but you can pull it off…sometimes.

Stage 4 – Unconcious Competence

Finally, when you’ve had enough practise, things become second nature.

You’ve practised and re-inforced your motor pathways enough that you don’t have to think about them any more. They’re sufficiently ingrained that you can just be in the moment and do them, perhaps even while putting your attention on other things.

How hard do you currently have to think about tying your shoelaces? Of course, you don’t. You just zone out while your hands tie the laces more or less by themselves. One day, you will have to put about the same amount of thought into the barbell snatch…if you keep practicing.

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