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Dr. Dirk Farrell

The Stages of Competence Applied to Food

If you are not familiar with the hierarchy of competence, this will be new and useful to you. If you are familiar with the hierarchy of competence this review, applied to food, may help you get to a new level.

The Hierarchy of Competence has four levels. From lowest level to highest, these are:

     Unconscious Incompetence

     Conscious Incompetence

     Conscious Competence

     Unconscious Competence

I like to describe levels of competence in terms of driving. For example, let’s use a fourteen year old's driving abilities: A young teen may be CERTAIN (long before they get behind the wheel of a car) that they would be a very capable driver. They have, after all, been riding in cars for years! Then one day, they decide to take the car for a spin, only to back the car down the driveway and into a tree. Prior to this experience, the teen was "Unconsciously Incompetent". They didn’t know that they didn’t know how to drive.

In the moment of this driving mistake, he became Consciously Incompetent. He now knew that he wasn’t a good driver. And so he remained Consciously Incompetent until he took driver’s ed, learned the rules of the road, and gained skills behind the wheel of a car under the tutelage of a trained driver.

Once he became capable of driving safely and with focused attention, he became a Consciously Competent driver. And so he stays as long as he drives on a somewhat regular basis and stays focused. UNTIL…

One day, arriving home after driving there from work, he realizes that he was so busy thinking about work and his life calendar that he doesn’t even remember what route he drove home and what really happened along the way. He is now Unconsciously Competent. Even without paying close attention, he is capable of driving safely and competently.

Now, let’s apply this to food and start with the fact that we are all Unconsciously Competent at food. We are already at the highest level of competence. Let’s face it, we get stuff in our mouths as we choose to (more or less) any time we need to or want to and we probably don’t think that much about our choices. What do we like? What would taste good right now? What’s available? Through these and many other questions we end up with food in our bellies.

At the same time that a person is Unconsciously Competent at food, they are also (likely) Unconsciously Incompetent when it comes to healthy food choices. They don’t know what they don’t know about eating healthy and making better food decisions.

They remain Unconsciously Incompetent until something sparks their need to get involved in what they put in their mouth. Whether this is through a health concern that arises or a new friend that introduces them to some new ideas about food being a key part of overall health, they somehow find healthy food choices important and want to do something about it. Now they know that they are Consciously Incompetent when it comes to healthy food.

The next step is to learn about food and health in order to become Consciously Competent. So, they start to read the Align Wellness blogs on Nourishing Your Body. After studying the articles and references, they start to buy and prepare more of their own foods. Over time they get better at making smart choices and even cooking many of them personally. Now they are Consciously Competent - with some thought and attention, what they make to eat will be good for them and, hopefully, tasty too.

Because this food thing made a big difference in their life, they pursued it regularly and they became a master of recipes and food shopping. Now they buy a range of fresh and healthy foods that they take home and use to whip up dinner. Their friends think they’re a genius because all of this was whipped up in no time flat with no recipes and all of it fits into the category of healthy (including being low carb!)

They have now become Unconsciously Competent in many aspects of food.

If that process sounds daunting, take heart! The simple approach to achieving Unconscious Competence with healthy food is this: pick a couple of healthy keto recipes (read the blog on healthy keto for more info) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and master them. Make them frequently enough that you get to the point where you can make them and buy ingredients for them without referring to a recipe.

Master these recipes first and then expand your list of recipes and you will find, before too many months have passed, that you are Unconsciously Competent at healthy food!

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