Unconscious Competence

Sometimes it seems so hard to change. The “lower nature” returns to haunt us, we easily slip back into bad habits, and annoying desires (which we thought were dead and buried) somehow reappear. It’s frustrating and disappointing when one falls short of the spiritual ideals they seek. They know where they want to be, but it seems a far and distant reality. Will I ever come to the standard of purity I earnestly seek? Are these descriptions of the perfect character simply utopian ideals? How do I progress to perfection?

Lucky for us, the Bhagavad-gita is a book of supreme optimism. Even when faced with the disappointment of failure, there is still reason to take heart and smile. How so? At the lowest stage of “unconscious incompetence,” one’s deficient character, destructive desires and wayward habits aren’t even a cause of concern. Only when one progresses to the stage of “conscious incompetence,” however, do they become aware of their defects and consciously feel the need to improve. That’s quite a jump indeed. Even if one’s behavior hasn’t changed, the change of values is itself a great sign of progress.

Yet that should eventually mature into a change of character. From the stage of ‘conscious incompetence’, one next embraces the platform of “conscious competence.” Here, one makes a concerted effort to act in the proper way; often mechanically and forcibly, one trains themselves in a way of living that mirrors their aspiration. Even though it may feel mechanical and artificial, one is learning to be natural. Finally, in deep spiritual maturity, the proper behavior and attitude becomes manifest from within, and one lives their ideals spontaneously, effortlessly and joyously. This perfected stage is known as “unconscious competence.”