How to be a guppy again.

For any profession, there are different levels of mastery. The conscious competence learning model suggests four levels of learning, from incompetence to competence. The four levels follow with my fish analogies in parenthesis. They are unconscious incompetence (guppy), conscious incompetence (minnow), conscious competence (shark), and unconscious competence (orca). Throughout our careers, we become different types of fish inhabiting different types and bodies of water as we swim into mastery and eventually become the apex predator. We all have individual preferences, but most of us want to be a shark or an orca. However, is there ever an endpoint to learning? Once we reach the level we want to achieve, is there value in shifting course and becoming a guppy again?

Shoshin is a term in Zen Buddhism that means “beginner’s mind.” As Shunryū Suzuki once stated, in the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” So what are the advantages of being an absolute beginner again?

Benefits of lifelong learning.

We do not live in a stagnant world, and we are not dormant beings. On the contrary, as humans, one thing we are wired for in our primitive brains is the ability to adapt, especially when change is forced upon us. I am sure most of us have at least one story of how we have faced a moment of adversity and, to move beyond it, had to learn something new. My term for this type of learning is “fight or flight mode.” But what about learning for the sake of learning, being a conscious learner?

Learning is good for the brain and the body, and we all have the capacity to be lifelong learners. Our ability to learn is not fixed; our magnificent brains have the plasticity and 86 billion neurons and chemical messengers that can create new learning pathways and form new habits. Research has shown that lifelong learning has health benefits such as improved cognition. It also provides a feeling of having an increased connection with others and a sense of accomplishment which is correlated to better mental health and happiness. Cultivating your lifelong learning muscle can also enhance your career opportunities and make you more agile in the workplace.

Lifelong learning can be both formal and informal.

The clarity in purpose and a commitment to having a growth mindset is a great way to begin a learning journey. Acquiring new knowledge can be approached in formal and informal ways. You can take instructor-led courses or engage in self-directed learning. There is no right or wrong approach to learning. Moving outside your comfort zone is the key because that is where growth exists. You can learn a new language, teach yourself how to sew or take a yoga class. The possibilities are endless, and the choice is yours. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Embrace the spirit of being unconsciously incompetent and be a guppy again. The beauty of your life is that you have the power to add or subtract to your brilliance!

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2 Responses

  1. I love the focus on moving outside of your comfort zone. It is extremely easy to reject anything that makes us uncomfortable, but it is extremely beneficial when we acknowledge this and fight through it on the path to growth.

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