Straw Man Arguments: What They Are and How to Counter Them

Strawman argument

 

A straw man argument is a rhetoric technique where someone distorts their opponent’s argument, in order to make it easier to attack. By doing this, the person using the strawman pretends to refute their opponent’s argument, while in reality they refute a different argument, that does not accurately portray their opponent’s original stance.

For example, if person A were to say “we should improve the public healthcare system”, person B might reply with “I find the fact that you want to give a lot of money to large pharmaceutical corporations very suspicious”.

Because strawman arguments are so prevalent, it’s important to thoroughly understand them. In the following article, you will learn more about how strawman arguments work, and about how you can counter them, or use them yourself.

 

What is a strawman argument

Using a strawman argument is relatively simple, and usually consists of the following three stages:

  • First, person A states their position.
  • Then, person B presents a distorted version of person A’s original position, while pretending that there’s no difference between the two versions.
  • Finally, person B attacks the distorted version of person A’s position, and acts as if this invalidates person A’s original argument.

Essentially, instead of arguing against the original stance, person B creates a strawman, which is easier for them to attack. This means that there is a logical flaw with the premise of person B’s argument, and namely the fact that they are arguing against a distorted version of their opponent’s original argument.

As such, the strawman fallacy is considered to be a type of an informal logical fallacy, and specifically a type of a relevance fallacy, since the person using it is attacking a stance that is not directly relevant to the discussion at hand.

 

Example of a strawman argument

The following is a typical example of a strawman argument in political discourse:

Senator A: I think we should make medical marijuana more readily available for patients who need it.

Senator B: That’s a terrible idea. If we just let everyone do drugs whenever they want, crime rates will increase drastically.

In this example, Senator B uses a strawman argument, by misrepresenting Senator A’s stance on two key points:

  • Senator B argues against everyone having access to marijuana, while Senator A argued in favor of patients having access to it.
  • Senator B argues against drugs in general, while Senator discussed only medical marijuana.

In doing this, Senator B makes it much easier for himself to attack his opponent.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether Senator B’s overall claim is true or not (i.e. that if everyone had free access to drugs, then crime rates will increase drastically). It’s entirely possible for an argument to be logically fallacious, and still have a correct conclusion.

However, even if that was the case, it doesn’t change the fact that Senator B’s argument is a gross and fallacious misrepresentation of Senator A’s stance, which is why it should not have been used in the first place.

 

How to recognize strawman arguments

Strawman arguments are common in debates on various topics, and can appear in a wide range of forms, such as:

  • Oversimplifying, generalizing, or exaggerating an opponent’s argument, and then attacking the new, weaker version.
  • Focusing on one specific part of an opponent’s argument, while ignoring everything else that they say (a technique known as cherry picking).
  • Quoting parts of an original argument out of context in order to misrepresent them.
  • Arguing against fringe or extreme opinions which are sometimes used to support the opponent’s stance, but which the opponent didn’t use themself.
  • Similarly, if the opponent is part of a group, then it’s possible to focus on the weakest members of that group and refute their stance, while pretending that this is what the entire group believes.

In addition to these common ways of using strawman arguments, there are various other methods of distorting people’s arguments, ranging from minor distortions to outright fabrications. However, all of these techniques have the same thing in common: they involve someone distorting their opponent’s stance, in order to make it easier for them to attack.

As such, strawman arguments are relatively simple to recognize in discourse. Essentially, when you realize that there is a mismatch between someone’s stance and the stance that their opponent is attacking, it’s a clear sign that a strawman argument is being used.

 

How to counter strawman arguments

A good way to minimize your vulnerability to the strawman fallacy in the first place is to use clear and definite language, with as little room for misinterpretations as possible. This makes it more difficult for your opponent to distort your stance, and makes it easier for you to correct them if they attempt to do so.

However, while this reduces the risk of someone using a strawman argument against you, nothing can prevent someone from using this type of argument if they truly want to. Therefore, it’s important to know how to counter strawman arguments, which you can do using one of the following three methods:

  • Point out the straw man- call your opponent out on their use of a strawman, by explaining why their argument is fallacious, and how it distorts your original stance. You can put them on the defensive by asking them to justify why they believe that their distorted argument is the same as the original one; since the two arguments are different, they will either be forced to admit their use of a strawman, or they will try to justify it by using even more fallacious reasoning, which you can attack.
  • Ignore the strawman- you can choose to ignore the distorted version of your argument that your opponent presents, and continue to simply advocate for your original position. This can be effective in some cases, but if they continue to focus on the strawman, you may have to use one of the two other methods mentioned here.
  • Accept the strawman- in some cases, it might be necessary or preferable for you to accept a strawman when you’re defending your stance, meaning that instead of arguing in favor of your original stance, you now start defending the distorted version of your stance, as presented by your opponent. Keep in mind, however, that the longer you go down this route, the more difficult it will be to go back and point out your opponent’s fallacious reasoning, since by not saying anything against the strawman you appear to accept it as your own stance.

Overall, since a strawman argument is fallacious because it distorts the stance that it argues against, the logically correct way to counter it is to point out this distortion. This is also the most effective choice for countering the strawman in most cases, though the two other options, namely ignoring the strawman or accepting it, can also be helpful in some situations.

 

Accounting for crowds and perception

Often, strawman arguments are used in debates that are viewed by a group of people. This is important to take into consideration when countering a strawman, because it can affect the way you choose to react to the strawman.

Essentially, when arguing in front of a crowd, your focus is often on persuading the crowd, rather than persuading your opponent; this is why people often use the logically fallacious strawman arguments in the first place.

As such, when it comes time to choose which technique to use in order to counter the strawman, consider which technique will appeal the most to the appeal in the crowd, rather than just thinking about which technique will help you deal with your opponent.

 

Accounting for the unintentional use of strawman arguments

Keep in mind that the use of a strawman argument can sometimes be unintentional. This is because, in some cases, people distort their opponent’s stance because they misunderstand it, rather than because they want to make it easier to attack.

This is important to remember when it’s time to interpret your opponent’s arguments, and when you need to counter any strawman arguments that they make. Accordingly, you generally want to start by asking your opponent to justify their use of the strawman, instead of just attacking them for their fallacious reasoning.

Doing this is beneficial not only because it promotes more friendly discourse, but because it also increases the likelihood that the other person will see the problem with their reasoning and accept their mistake. Remember that if you simply attack a person for their opinion, they will often continue to support it, even if they realize that they were wrong all along.

 

Using strawman arguments yourself

First of all, remember that you might be using strawman arguments unintentionally. If you identify cases where this happens, and specifically instances where you distort your opponent’s view in order to make it easier for you to attack, try to highlight this distortion in your mind, and correct it before approaching their argument again.

One way to ensure that you’re not using a strawman is to try and re-express your opponent’s position, and then ask them whether they agree with your description before you start arguing against it. This is the best way to make sure that your opponent agrees with your formulation of their stance, and is the preferred way to engage in productive discourse.

There may be times where you might choose to use a strawman argument yourself, for whatever reason. However, keep in mind that while the use of the straw man technique is widespread, and while this technique can be persuasive in some cases, research suggests that using this type of argument is not always a beneficial strategy, aside from the obvious issues with using fallacious reasoning.

Specifically, a study on the topic showed that as a rhetorical technique, strawman arguments are useful only when the listeners have a low level of motivation to scrutinize the argument, meaning that they don’t care much about what’s being said. Conversely, when listeners are invested in the argument, the strawman technique is generally ineffective, and may even backfire by reducing the persuasiveness of the argument.

 

Variants of strawman arguments

Hollow-man arguments

hollow-man argument is a variant of the strawman, and involves inventing a weak fictitious position, and attributing it to a vaguely defined person or group who is supposed to represent the opposition, before knocking it down in an attempt to discredit your opponent.

A hollow-man argument can often be identified through the use of weasel words, which include phrases such as “some say that…”, that are not attributed to any specific person or group. This is because such phrases make the statement vague enough to be nearly impossible to refute, while absolving the speaker of any responsibility with regards to the truthfulness of their claims.

 

Iron-man arguments

An iron man argument is a variant of the strawman, and involves distorting your own stance in order to make it easier to defend. Essentially, an iron-man argument is used in the same way you would use a straw man (i.e. by misrepresenting an original stance), but this time it’s in order to strengthen your own stance, rather than to weaken your opponent’s stance.

One of the most prominent ways to do this is by using vague statements that are easy to agree with, even if they don’t have much to do with your actual point. For example, let’s consider Senator B, who’s arguing against legalizing medical marijuana for patients.

Instead of talking about the issue at hand directly, Senator B can say the following:

I just want what everybody wants: to do the right thing, and make life better for the American people. Following our moral compass takes courage in hard times, but only if we remain steadfast in our beliefs will we be able to prosper and grow strong together.

Senator B didn’t actually say anything that is directly related to the topic at hand. He didn’t discuss facts, and didn’t argue directly against anything his opponent said. Instead, he made abstract statements that almost anyone would agree with, and adopted this vague agenda as his stance.

This means that now, instead of arguing against a specific topic like the legalization of medical marijuana, he’s arguing in favor of “doing the right thing” and “following our moral compass”, which is much easier for him to defend.

 

Steel-man arguments

A steel-man argument is a variant of the strawman, and involves distorting your opponent’s argument in order to make it easier for them to defend, and more difficult for you to attack. Essentially, this means that you take your opponent’s original argument, and frame it in the best way possible before attacking it.

This is the suggested course of action under the principle of charity, which suggests that you should argue against the best possible interpretation of your opponent’s argument. In its ultimate version, doing this involves the following four steps, which were suggested by the famous philosopher Daniel Dennett, based on the work of psychologist Anatol Rapoport:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

– From “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Doing this has the similar benefits as giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether or not their use of a strawman was intentional. As we saw above, doing this can lead to more productive discussions, by making your opponent more receptive to criticism, and more likely to change their opinion.

Note: some scholars use the term ‘iron-man argument’ to refer to any argument which distorts the original position in order to improve it. However, the distinction between iron-man and steel-man arguments is important to make, since the goals of the two types of arguments are markedly different. Specifically, while iron-man arguments are used in order to make it easier for you to defend your own stance, steel-man arguments make it more difficult for you to attack your opponent’s stance, meaning that the two types of arguments are used for very different reasons.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • A straw man argument is a rhetoric technique where someone distorts their opponent argument, in order to make it easier to attack.
  • There are various ways in which one can distort their opponent’s argument. Some of the more common ones include generalizing, oversimplifying, or exaggerating the original argument, focusing only on specific details in the original argument, quoting things out of context, and arguing against extreme opinions which are sometimes used to support the opponent’s stance, but which the opponent didn’t actually use.
  • Once you are capable of recognizing people’s use of strawman arguments, you can try to counter them. The main way to do this is by pointing out the straw man and asking your opponent to justify why your original stance and their distorted stance are the same. However, you can also choose to ignore your opponent’s attempt at using a straw man, or to simply accept it and continue the discussion.
  • When countering a straw man, keep in mind the possibility that the person using it is doing so unintentionally, simply because they misunderstand their opponent’s position. Taking this into account and asking your opponent to explain why they believe that the stance which they presented accurately represents the original stance can help you counter the strawman successfully, and makes it more likely that the other person will accept their mistake.
  • A common variant of the strawman argument is the hollow-man argument, which involves inventing a fictitious position, and attributing it to a vaguely defined person who is meant to represent the opposition. Two other notable variants are iron-man arguments, which involve distorting your own stance in order to make it easier to defend, and steel-man arguments, which involve distorting your opponent’s stance in order to make it harder to attack.

 


How to Win at Arm Wrestling and Avoid Injury

How to Win at Arm Wrestling and Avoid Injury

 

Arm wrestling is often used as a trial of strength, which is meant to ‘prove’ how strong you are. However, while physical strength does matter, most people have no idea how to utilize it effectively, especially in this context. This means that by making a few simple modifications to your technique, you should easily be able to win at arm wrestling, even when fighting against a stronger opponent.

In the following article, you will learn about some basic guidelines and techniques that you can use in order to gain a significant advantage in arm wrestling and reduce the risk of being injured. Note that the more of these tips you follow, the greater your advantage will be. However, even following just a few of them can be highly beneficial, especially in terms of protecting yourself from injury.

 

Tips for winning in arm wrestling

Basic arm-wrestling technique

Most people mistakenly believe that arm wrestling is just about applying side pressure to the other person’s arm, and trying to push it downwards. In reality however, proper arm wrestling technique involves a significant pulling motion, which isolates your opponent’s arm, and places it in a position where you can easily pin it.

Essentially, what you are trying to do is make a strong pulling motion, using your back and shoulders in addition to your arm, in order to get your opponent’s arm close to you and away from their body. Then, rotate your shoulder and body in the direction that you want your opponent’s arm to go, and apply downward pressure in order to finish them.

 

Proper body positioning and posture

To ensure that you use the right technique, you first want to make sure that your body is properly positioned. This involves doing the following things:

  • Stand so that your forward leg is on the same side as your competing hand. For example, if you’re competing with your right arm, then you should stand with your right foot forward.
  • Stand with your hip close to the table, so that your arm is near your body. This will help you use your whole body when making the pulling motion, rather than just your arm.
  • Once the contest is about to start, engage your core muscles and keep them ‘tight’. Doing this will help with the pulling motion, and will give you a minor boost in strength.

 

Advantageous hand position

In addition to positioning your body properly, you also want to get your hand to a position which gives you leverage over your opponent. This involves the following things:

  • Try to get your hand into a toproll position. This involves rotating your hand over your opponent’s, so that your forearm is in prone position, while simultaneously twisting your wrist towards your own body.
  • You can sort of ‘climb’ with your hand over your opponent’s hand by loosening your hold a bit, and then moving your fingers forward and gripping tightly again once you’ve advanced.
  • To help strengthen your grip, you can curl your thumb and try to get it underneath your own fingers.
  • Make sure to keep a tight grip throughout the match, but don’t overdo it so much that you tire out your hand. Your goal is to keep your muscles engaged and in control, but not to try and crush your opponent’s hand.

 

The mental aspect

If you and your opponent are closely matched in terms of strength and technique, then the winner could simply be the one who refuses to give up, which a lot of people do prematurely when they think that they’re about to lose, even if that’s not the case. As such, as long as you still have strength left, try to hang on, and keep the match going.

Remember that if you’re feeling tired, your opponent is likely feeling the same. This is where mind games come into play in arm wrestling. Essentially, you want to appear as confident as possible, even if you don’t feel confident in reality.

Your opponent likely won’t know how tired you are, but will probably assume that you can easily tell how tired they are. This occurs due to a cognitive bias which is known as the illusion of transparency, that causes people to think that their feelings are more obvious to others than they are in reality.

Overall, remember that feeling and looking confident can play a huge role in beating your opponent. At the same time, you should also hang on, and not give up prematurely, before you’ve actually been defeated.

 

The role of strength in arm wrestling

Strength does matter in arm wrestling, and when there is a big enough difference in terms of strength, no amount of technique could help you win. To take an extreme example, a professional adult bodybuilder is going to beat a 5-year-old kid at arm wrestling, no matter how good the kid’s technique is.

However, most situations won’t be as extreme as this one, and in most cases, the difference in strength between you and your opponent should be one that you can overcome by properly using the technical tips that you saw above.

 

Avoiding injuries in arm wrestling (the break arm position)

Unfortunately, like other sports, arm wrestling can lead to all sorts of injuries. The most common arm wrestling injury involves a humeral fracture, which essentially means that the bone in your upper arm snaps in half; you can see what that looks like in the picture below.

 

An x-ray of a humerus that broke during an arm-wrestling match.

 

The obvious and most effective way to avoid the risk of this happening is to not arm wrestle in the first place. However, if you do choose to arm wrestle with someone, you can reduce the risk of injury by avoiding the ‘break arm’ position.

To avoid this position, you need to keep your arm in line with your shoulder, and perpendicular to your chest. This means that you should be able to look directly at your hand as it moves during the match.

In the picture below, the person on the left is in the dangerous break arm position, since his arm is rotated behind his shoulder, and is parallel to his chest, which is facing forward. Conversely, the person on the right is at the appropriate position, since his arm in line with his shoulder and perpendicular to his chest, which minimizes the risk of injury.

Accordingly, you can see that the person on the right (who is maintaining a good position) is looking straight at his hand, while the person on the left (who is at the dangerous break arm position) cannot maintain direct eye contact with his hand.

 

The dangerous 'break arm' position in an arm-wrestling match.

 

Maintaining the appropriate position is so important to protecting yourself from injury, that in some professional matches, the referee might stop the match if one of the contestants strays too far from this position, and gets too close to the break arm position.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Strength is important in arm wrestling, but using proper technique can make a huge difference, and allow you to beat an opponent who is significantly stronger than you.
  • In terms of technique, the main thing you should focus on during the match is on making a pulling motion using your arm, shoulder, and back, in order to get your opponent’s hand away from his body in order to isolate it. Once their arm is sufficiently isolated and you’ve gained enough leverage, you can apply downward pressure on their hand in order to finish the match.
  • In terms of body position, you want to stand with the same foot forward as the hand that you’re competing with, while keeping your hip close to the table, so that your arm is near your body. In addition, make sure to engage your core muscles and keep them tense throughout the contest.
  • In terms of hand position, try to rotate your hand over your opponent’s hand, while twisting your wrist towards your own body. Make sure to maintain a tight grip throughout the match, but don’t crush your opponent’s hand so hard that you end up tiring out quickly.
  • To reduce the risk of injury while arm wrestling, avoid the ‘break arm’ position by keeping your arm in line with your shoulder and perpendicular to your body. If you’re in a good position, you should be able to look straight ahead at your arm, without twisting your head.

 


The Stages of Learning: How You Slowly Become More Competent at New Skills

The four stages of skill learning (based on level of competence).

 

When you learn a new skill, the beginning tends to be the most frustrating part. Often, you’re not sure what you should be doing exactly, or how you should be doing it. This applies to everything from when you start playing a new sport to when you try speaking a new foreign language.

Luckily, the process of becoming better at new skills is relatively predictable, and can be broken down into different stages. Once you understand how this process works, you will understand why the beginning is so hard, and you will be able to identify your ‘position’ in the learning process. This will make you more aware of your abilities and more conscious of your learning, and will help you learn new skills better and with more motivation.

 

The stages of learning and levels of competence

Research on the topic of human learning identifies four main stages to the acquisition of new skills, each of which represents a different level of competence:

  • Unconscious incompetence- this is considered the beginner stage, which you start at when you first encounter a new skill that you want to learn. This stage is characterized by the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. As such, you’re not entirely aware of what the new skill entails, or what your goals should be, meaning that you end up making a lot of mistakes, without realizing that you’re making them.
  • Conscious incompetence- this is considered the intermediate stage, which you reach after developing some familiarity with the new skill that you’re learning. At this stage, there’s still a lot that you don’t know, but you can now recognize what you don’t know, and what you need to learn in order to improve. As such, you still make a lot of mistakes, but now you’re at least aware that you’re making them.
  • Conscious competence- this is considered the proficient stage, which you reach after reaching a strong proficiency at the skill that you’re learning. At this stage, you already have a good grasp of the skill and of what it entails, so that you make only a small amount of mistakes while practicing. However, performing at a high level still requires a significant and conscious effort on your part, and a lot of things that the skill entails still aren’t intuitive to you.
  • Unconscious competence- this is considered the mastery stage, which you reach once you develop a very high level of proficiency in the skill. At this stage, you make very few mistakes, and have an in-depth understanding of the skill and of what it entails. The biggest difference between this stage and the previous one is that performing at a high level is now much more intuitive, and no longer requires as much conscious effort.

These stages are often mentioned in various discussions of learning theorySome researchers also propose a fifth stage, called unconscious supercompetence, which is similar to unconscious competence, but at a higher and more effortless level, where the practitioner is aware of their ability to perform the skill easily and without conscious effort.

However, this stage is less clearly defined than the other stages, and is less commonly referenced in the research literature on the topic. In reality, whether or not this distinction exists isn’t truly crucial for most people learning a skill, since, if it does exist, then it applies only to the highest levels of skill proficiency.

Historical note: this theory of learning is attributed to different people in the various sources that mention it. Some studies attribute it to Abraham Maslow, who developed the hierarchy of needs, while other studies attribute it to various other people, with the most notable one being William S. Howell, whose 1982 book is cited as a resource in a large number of research papers on the topic. One possibility for why the source of this theory is unclear, is that several people came up with similar conceptualizations of the model independently from one another. However, this distinction is not crucial, as it doesn’t have any effect on how the theory is applied today.

 

Applying this theory to your learning

The main benefit of understanding this theory is that you will now have a better understanding of how your learning process works when you’re acquiring a new skill. This is valuable, because it can help you identify the stage you’re at, in terms of competence, which will allow you to figure out what your biggest weaknesses are, and where you need to improve, all without feeling discouraged.

In the sections below, you will briefly read about specific areas where you can implement your understanding of this learning theory, together with a few additional pieces of advice which will help you implement this knowledge as effectively as possible.

 

Why the beginning is so hard

As we saw earlier, the first stage of learning a new skill is the unconscious incompetence stage, where you essentially have no idea what you’re doing, or what you need to focus on. While this stage is inherently frustrating, it’s also a completely natural part of the learning process.

It’s important to recognize this fact, since a lot of people assume that the fact that they struggle at first means that they have no chance of successfully learning the skill. By realizing that this initial struggle is perfectly natural, you should be able to stay motivated, and keep working until you manage to successfully improve your abilities.

 

Why sometimes, the more practice you get, the more you feel like you’re getting worse

Sometimes, when you practice a skill that you’re trying to improve, you might feel like you’re actually getting worse over time, instead of better. A common reason why this happens is because you’ve advanced from the first stage of learning, unconscious incompetence, to the second stage, conscious incompetence.

This means that you might start feeling like you’re suddenly making a lot of mistakes. The reality, however, is that you were likely making those same mistakes before. The difference is that you’re now good enough to actually realize when you’re making these mistakes, whereas earlier you simply didn’t have the necessary proficiency which is required in order to be able to notice it.

Note that there are other reasons why, as your proficiency improves, you might feel like you’re getting worse. The main one is the fact that the more you know, the more factors you have to consider. For example, if you are playing a sport where at first you only thought about your offensive abilities, then advancing to a stage where you also have to start taking defense into account is likely going to reduce your overall performance in the short term, since you’re now paying attention to a lot more things at the same time.

While this might make you feel like you’re getting worse, since your performance on specific tasks is going to be worse in the short term, in reality this change in performance signifies your growing competence, and your newfound ability to understand the skill on a deeper level.

 

Different subskills can be at different levels of competence

When you’re developing a skill, it’s perfectly natural for the different subskills that it contains to be at different stages, in terms of competence. For example, if you’re learning a new language, it’s possible that your reading will be at a higher level than your writing, or that you’ll be better at understanding what people are saying compared to saying those things yourself.

This variability is something that you should normally expect to see it in your learning process. If you recognize this happening, don’t let it frustrate you, and simply keep working on the weaker subskills until you get them up to a sufficient level.

 

Give people feedback based on the stage of learning that they are at

Understanding the stages of learning can also help you give more effective feedback to other people, when you’re trying to help them learn a new skill, because it allows you to tailor your feedback to their proficiency level.

Specifically, people at different levels of competence are going to benefit more from different types of feedback. For example, at the earlier stages of acquisition people are generally less capable of handling large amounts of feedback, or feedback that is too complex, because they simply don’t have the necessary abilities in order to deal with such feedback. Conversely, at the higher levels of competence, people are often going to prefer more specific details, that will help them build upon the basic skills that they have already acquired.

Overall, there isn’t a single method for giving feedback that will apply to everyone. Rather, the important thing is to assess people’s proficiency level, and take it into account when giving them feedback, so that they can receive the feedback that will benefit them the most.

 

Final words

The psychological model that you saw here is meant to give you a rough idea of the levels of competence that people go through as they learn a new skill. You can use it to recognize where you are in the learning process, and how you can improve.

Most importantly, remember that feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing in the beginning is perfectly fine. When you eventually start realizing that you’re making tons of mistakes, that’s not a bad thing either. Instead, these are both predictable and necessary stages of learning, that you go through as you slowly improve your abilities.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • When learning a new skill, you go through several stages, each of which signifies a different level of competence.
  • The first stage is unconscious incompetence, where you don’t know much, and you’re also not sure what you don’t know. The stage after that is conscious incompetence, where you still struggle, but where you can start identifying what you need to do in order to improve. Next is the stage of conscious competence, where you’re fairly proficient in the skill, though performing at a high level requires a significant amount of effort. The final stage is unconscious competence, where you’ve mastered the skill, and can perform at a very high level, while relying mostly on your intuition.
  • The main thing to understand, based on these stages, is that it’s perfectly natural to feel clueless when you first start learning a skill. This simply signifies that you’re at the unconscious incompetence stage, which you can advance from if you’re willing to put in the necessary work.
  • In addition, it’s also important to understand that it’s natural to sometimes feel like you’re getting worse instead of better. This is often the result of your improvement, and most commonly of the jump from the unconscious incompetence stage to the conscious incompetence stage, which means that you now have the necessary proficiency in order to identify the mistakes that you have always been making.
  • Keep in mind that different subskills might be at different levels of competence, so that if, for example, you’re learning a new language, you might find that your speaking is at a higher level than your writing. This is natural, and you can work to close this gap as you improve your overall proficiency in the skill.