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How To Become a Better Hairdresser - The Four Stages of Learning

Andrew Carruthers

Author Andrew Carruthers | Education Director for Sam Villa

Have you ever thought about how you learned a new skill? For the majority of us, the answer is no. Some people learn without much thought while others spend a lot of time and effort with the learning process including the what, why and how behind everything they are doing.

In the late 1960s, a man named Martin Broadwell developed a cycle of learning that is called the Four Stages of Learning. This is the process that each of us goes through when learning anything new, whether you are conscious or unconscious of it. Here’s how it works and why you need to understand this process to help you achieve success in the salon.

Unconscious Incompetence

In other words, you’'re not aware of how little you really know about what you are trying to learn. Example: You just entered hair school and you pick up your shears for the first time and your instructors tells you to take a horizontal section, elevate 90° and cut a straight line. At this point there are millions of thoughts going through your mind and none of them help you understand why you’'re doing what you'’re doing or how you even do it. You are basically unconsciously incompetent at this point.

Conscious Incompetence

For the majority of us, this stage is when you give up. During this stage, you become aware of how incompetent you actually are at whatever it is you are doing and that is when the doubt sets in. You might begin to feel frustrated, inadequate, unintelligent, like you don’t have enough talent, etc.… These are all excuses that we come up with to protect ourselves mentally and emotionally.

Your main objective during this stage is to become aware of your struggles and move past them to the next stage as quick as you possibly can! Do not get stuck in this stage or you will fail. Example: Imaging the first time you drove a standard car. You jump into the car, get behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, start the car, press on the clutch and shift into first gear - what happens next? You stall the car! At this time you have just realized (become conscious of) how incompetent you are at driving a car. You become frustrated as you jerk the car down the street, a few feet at a time, and begin to doubt yourself and if you’ll ever learn to drive a car.

Conscious Competence

At this stage, you become good at what you are doing. It's not easy to get to conscious competency as it requires properly repeated actions over a long period of time. Everyone can get to this stage with time, practice and patience.

Let’s go back to the example of driving a car: You’'re past the really bad stage where you don'’t know what you are doing and you can actually see a light at the end of the tunnel. You really want that drivers license and you put in the daily effort to practice and take more lessons until you get the hang of driving the car. Everything now comes easier; you begin to shift gears smoothly, apply perfect brake pressure, park without any problems and are completely aware of the mistakes you are making along with everything you are doing correct while driving the car. You’'re now mentally going through every step of the driving process, getting better each time you get behind the wheel. Progress!

Unconscious Competence

During this stage, you are doing something without even thinking about it. You get to this stage through repeated practice, consistency, skill and action. Back to the driving analogy: Flash forward 6 months. You'’ve been driving every day, using the clutch on hills, can parallel park, go the speed limit without looking at the speedometer, anticipate what other drivers are going to do and more. You are now a master behind the wheel! You'’re holding a hamburger in one hand, cell phone in the other, driving with your knees (none of which we condone), and suddenly you are on cruise control! Your mind has taken over and you have now become unconsciously competent.


How Does This Apply To You In The Salon

How does this learning process translate to hairdressers? It’s simple. We are all cautious about learning new tricks or techniques that are different from what we were first taught or might not have know. At first, we are completely unaware of how to cut or color hair. That soon changes once we make our first mistakes and we become aware of what we are doing wrong. We continue to practice the new technique and become conscious of the thoughts we are having and the results we are achieving. Remember, this is the stage where most people quit. Get out of this stage as quickly as possible! The next stage is where you will have success and your skill level will build greatly. Finally, after you have practiced and repeated the process over and over again, doing it the correct way, you will get to the point where you don'’t have to think about what you are doing anymore. You will have developed a new habit - something that is natural and becomes a part of you!

Now that you understand the Four Stages of Learning, comment below and tell us about a learning experience in the salon that you can relate to this learning cycle!

Build your haircutting skills in the salon! Check out this awesome video and learn how to cut layers into long hair!