May 6, 2014

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

Ever hear of this thing to the left? This is The Conscious Competence Learning Model. If you have ever worked with learners of any sort, you probably have heard of it.

I heard it first in college. In dental hygiene programs, this is one of the ways they explain to you how to process your feelings of frustration and anxiety while learning how to safely use very small--and very sharp--blades safely on very delicate oral tissues. And usually the first ones to experience your budding skills were your friends and classmates. This concept also applied to shaky, first-timer hands using long syringes loaded with anesthetic. Friends first!

Pretty nerve wracking.

What does this have to do with knitting? Everything.

Galaxy Quest had it right.
Knitting, along with any other skill you may be interested in trying and mastering, falls just fine into these learning stages.

Ever take a knitting class? Ever see that person in the room who just doesn't seem to "get it?" They huff and puff and get annoyed or irritated and sometimes they may even blame the instructor or their yarn or their needles for what they perceive to be "failure"...all in an effort to explain why they believe they "cannot" learn the skill they came to learn. Is it true they cannot perform the new skill? NO. In the vast majority of cases, YES, they can learn the skill

Think back to a time when you learned a skill. Riding a bike is a good place to start. Hardly anyone learned to ride a bike the first day they tried it. No. People often start with a trike, then a small bike with training wheels. At some point the training wheels come off and your dad helps you wobble crazily down the road while bending over awkwardly and trying desperately to hold on to the back of your seat.

You eventually fall down. Maybe you don't want to get back on that day. Or a few days. Or weeks. But you eventually get back on. Through trial and error, skinned knees or elbows, maybe even some social pressure from friends who are younger than you who are already proficient  in the mystical ways of bike riding (that was me, by the way), you get back on the bike again and again...and again...until you are riding like it's nothing. You no longer have to think about it so hard or at all. Soon, you no longer really consciously remember that you couldn't do it before because it has become so natural.
I took a Double Knitting class and it required a LOT of
concentration!! (And ripping out)

Why did you ride the bike? Because you were ashamed in front of your friends? That is only one of many possible motivators. You rode the bike because you allowed yourself to go ALL the way through the stages of learning.

And you didn't even know it.

I like how this particular website explains this model for the stages of learning:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence—We don't know what we don't know. The learner is unaware of his or her knowledge gap, misunderstanding, or lack of a particular skill.
  2. Conscious Incompetence—We become aware of our limitations and begin to learn. The learner now realizes the importance of a skill but fails in trying to apply that skill.
  3. Conscious Competence—We perform competently when we deliberately focus our attention on the task at hand. The learner, through practice, can now apply the skill but has to think about each step.
  4. Unconscious Competence—We naturally perform excellently, the skill becomes second nature. The learner can apply this skill effortlessly without conscious thought. The learner has mastered the skill as a result of many hours of practice.

I committed to learning on my own, so I tried a new and
sort of frustrating pattern on my own at home.
Sometimes we don't want to go through the stages--it is uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, especially if we feel others are "passing" us. Heck, read some of the above stage descriptions. Looks uncomfortable. And it is. We don't like some of the feelings associated with the learning experience. We want to skip right ahead to total success.

Something I learned going through the process of learning how to perform the delicate and sometimes admittedly difficult task of skillfully and knowledgeably cleaning (especially what some may know as "deep cleaning") teeth is that it is okay to be a beginnner and a learner. (I had a prof who repeatedly said to us frustrated students, "Calm down! You're leeeaarrrrnnningggg..." she'd drag the word out for emphasis and fluidly wave her hand sweepingly across the room) And no matter that it may take some of us longer to get to the end than others. We can get there.

My college experience, along with the fact the dental hygiene programs are very competitive and limited entry, gave me new insight and self-confidence. It opened my eyes to the fact that if I choose to go through the process, I can do many things. No, it is true, not every thing, but many things.

And I choose knitting as one of the things I am willing to work through.

Knitting is one of those endless worlds where everything unfolds farther and farther away from you as you go. You master the knit stitch, then there's the purl. You get that one down and here come increases and decreases.... and how many types! Before you know it, people around you are using words like seaming, then cabling and lace and double-knitting and *gasp* steeking. And don't even talk about understanding which fiber to use for what purpose.

Coffee pattern I downloaded
I quit knitting almost as soon as I started learning at 8 years old. While I now know why that happened, I still sometimes personally feel like I started knitting too late in life: there will now not be enough years in my life to accomplish everything I want to learn. That's just the nature of it. (Of course, I meet lots of knitters now and they all say that same thing, even if they have been knitting 40 years. I don't think that makes me feel better, exactly, but it is a fact of the skill.)

I have been knitting for 5 years now at 44 years old, and I know I have only scratched the surface. And I see that I go through the learning process, not only as one "big thing" for all of knitting, but every single time for every single new skill learned. I have resigned myself to the fact that each step will be frustrating and hard but I will make it through the steps.

There was a girl in one of my more challenging classes in high school. I noticed that every day she would stay after class for a minute and clarify assignments with the teacher, and clear up any misunderstandings she felt she had during the class. She was never afraid to ask questions. No one else did that, including me. Even if I understood all the concepts and ideas in the class better than she did, and she seemed to struggle, she still did better than I did in class. Why? She was okay with the feeling of being a "llleeaaarrrnnnerrrrrr...." I was not.

Why am I on this soapbox?  I don't want the frustrated knitter in the class to quit. I want people to know that they can succeed, even if it takes a little more time and frustration in payment. So get used to those initial feelings. Embrace the ripping back and ripping out. Pour yourself a glass of wine or cup of coffee and walk away for a moment, but not forever.

To anyone who ever felt like throwing down you needles: at least you are not stabbing them into your friend's delicate oral tissues and hoping you will still be friends after the ordeal is over.

Try again. It will be worth it.

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