Unconscious Incompetence

“Sure, I can do that!”

These are the words of someone who believes that they are competent enough to accomplish a task or set of tasks.  Whether or not their confidence is based upon personal experience or if it is wishful thinking will need to be determined by the performance and outcome of the person.

I recently experienced this dilemma in my own life.

I love to cook.  Over the years I have become fairly proficient in doing so in my kitchen.  Give me the recipe and the tools I will need and I believe I can approximate the desired outcome most of the time.chef

So, of course, working in a restaurant should be a natural next step;  a piece of cake!

When I found a restaurant that was willing to give me a chance I leaped at the opportunity, ready to go.

Wow!  Was I surprised!

Rather, I discovered that the Swedish Chef and I had a great deal in common!  In the swedish-chefprocess of struggling to remember stuff it was easy to become flustered, helping me realize that it is one thing to rapid-slice cucumbers for a salad for two people and quite another matter when  prepping massive quantities using someone else’s recipe in someone else’s kitchen!  The tasks required a completely different set of skills that I had not fully appreciated…until I tried to do it.

It reminded me of the four stages of competence that come with learning a new skill as referenced via Wikipaedia:


  1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.[2] The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.[3]
  2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.[4]
  3. Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.[3]
  4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

The key is being persistent until stage 4 is achieved.

Here is the point.  The biggest room in anyone’s personal house is the room for improvement.  When one of those ‘rooms’ is discovered, it is important that there may be a learning curve that begins with an uninformed sense of competency that is, in actuality, an unconscious incompetence.  Whether it is simple areas of learning such as the skills involved in being thoughtful and courteous all the way to fundamental communication skills to deal with conflict….

There is always a learning curve to be conquered, a skill to be mastered, a task to perform.  The speed at which people can more through these four stages of competence depends upon many things.   At times there may be great advantages to learning a new skill by employing the service of a Marriage and Family Therapist who can assess the interpersonal needs, help people devise a strategy for accomplishing their task, and move quickly to the goal, stage 4, unconscious competence.


Family Time

FamilyVacationAs summer begins to make way for the fall a whole host of challenges open up for many families.  Preparing for school and all of the activities associated with sports and other special opportunities present all kinds of scheduling challenges.

During the month of August many families squeeze in their vacations and special activities and events before the rigors of the new school year’s demands begin.  As the end of summer breaks approach there are a few things to keep in mind that might be helpful.

  1. Quantity versus Quality – Family quality time often happens spontaneously and  unexpectedly.  So, quantity time makes quality time more likely to occur any time, not just during summer vacations.
  2. Communication Is Critical – It is impossible to not communicate.  Therefore, it is important to be consciously intentional of what we are communicating to increase the likelihood that people are hearing the messages we are wanting to send.  This is especially true as family members work to navigate through times of transition.conflict-in-family
  3. Golden Rule Rules – Treating family members as we wish to be treated will go a long way towards fostering considerate behaviors.  Power moves such as raised voices, belittling comments and other forms of intimidation may bring immediate compliance; but, the long-term consequences are often less desirable.
  4. Loving Listening – In all of the hustle-bustle at this time of year a listening ear can go a long way towards helping family members work through their own difficulties on their own.  Just listening to ourselves out loud can help strengthen our reasoning abilities and self-governing behaviors that will internalize over time.  In an age of instant messaging and electronic noise, we all need a good listener who will take the needed time to actively hear what we are trying to say.

These simple guidelines may help make this hectic time of year less trying as everyone works together to make the new school year the best ever.

Family Care: The Value of the First Call

As ‘problems’ go most of us move through a wide variety of them daily without much fanfare.  Who is going to pick up the kids after practice and when do they need to be there?  What to toss into the crock pot for dinner tonight or checking the bank account balance before picking up the laundry.  Squeezing in a workout while trying to decide whatmeworrywhere to eat between work and soccer practice for the kids.

Problems come and problems go.  Then again, there are those problems that linger.  Nagging resentments, annoyingly repetitive behaviors, bad habits, frustrating neighbors, overbearing bosses.  These problems nag at us; but, in general, we learn to live with them.  We must learn to live with them because more important things overshadow the urgency of addressing these things.

Then there are those significant problems that pound on the door for our attention.  These challenges don’t care about whether or not their timing is convenient, nor do they pay attention to whether or not you are ready for them.  They are here.  You must deal with them. You cannot ignore them.  Deal with them, NOW!

This is not to say that we do not try to put them off for a more convenient time or when we feel that we are ready to address them.  We workaround them, change our behavior patterns, elephant_in_the_roomseek out new relationships or drop old ones.  The problem becomes the elephant in the room that we have walked around, ignored, avoided and refused to talk about; but, it is still there, growing, devouring our resources, smelling, making more messes and behaving rudely.

Sometimes delaying action on problems is wise. Indeed, Aaron Burr is credited for contrasting the maxim ‘Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today’ with ‘Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow.’  While often used derogatorily in reference to the procrastinator’s excuse, his logic was that premature action may cause regret when a better option may have materialized by delay.  There is wisdom for timing the intervention.

Nonetheless, in the end, there comes a time when we must deal with our challenges and there are times when we need help.  It’s ok.  Oftentimes, it is that first dialing of the number of a trusted friend or family member, pastor or counselor that truly indicates that you are moving in the direction of resolution.  That first phone call or the first conversation about the problem can be among the healthiest signs of all.



So, You’re Getting Married?

By now many will have picked the setting for the wedding, worked out the invitations and the mailing list, chosen the reception and honeymoon locations and taken care of many of the details in between.  Now it is just a matter of planning for and going through the wedding itself.

With the time, energy and expense that goes into preparing for a wedding might I suggest that one expense worth considering is pre-marital counseling.  Usually 4-6 sessions can encourage thoughtful conversations before the knot is tied rather than risk potentially explosive confrontations later.

More importantly, there are times when certain insights and new understandings before tying the knot can enrich our lives afterwards.  Especially when it comes to communication skills, conflict resolution coaching to help couples push through tough issues constructively can be priceless.  The skills needed to produce more win/win situations can make all of the difference in contrast to the win/lose scenarios that can be so destructive.


Evil, Innocence & Traffic

traffic jamDriving through Detroit recently I was impressed by how much we all depend upon everyone else obeying the rules of traffic.  For example, anyone who has been through driver’s training knows that the rules of the road are to obey the speed limits, use your turn signal when changing lanes, keep proper distance between your car and the one in front of you, slow down in construction zones, etc.

When people obey the rules it is often appreciated by other rule-abiders who are grateful for simple things like predictability, a shared commitment to minimizing dangerous situations, thoughtfulness and consideration on the road.  When accidents occur among rule-abiders, it is easy to believe the best and assume the fault was due to a malfunction of the car, an unanticipated road hazard or some health issue such as a heart attack, sudden kidney stone or some other natural, unpredictable event.

Others who appreciate those who obey the rules are those who do not have regard for the rules.  While they share some of the same values such as an aversion to pain from serious accidents, they are also grateful for people who keep a safe distance from the car in front of them so they can weave back and forth through traffic.  Also venerated are law abiding people who choose to obey the speed limit and stay in the right lanes except to pass.  This honorable practice gives freedom to the anarchical motorist allowing wide-open left lanes for traveling at excessive speeds, knowing that if a legalist wishes to change lanes he or she will use the turn signal giving the speeder time to quickly accelerate and race by before the car’s lane change begins.

This tongue-in-cheek perspective on traffic rules leads me to a more serious reality that involves the fingerprint of evil.  Enamored by those who assume shared core values for life, personal responsibility, deference to others and respect for the individual, the person consumed by evil intentions perceives these behaviors to be weaknesses upon which they choose to capitalize.  Surrounded by people who choose to trust, believing the best in others, evil people see opportunities for doing as they wish in spite of the rules with one governing principle: don’t get caught.  These people laugh in the face of victims and sneer at law enforcement personnel, marvel at their own ingenuity for beating the system and covering their tracks, leaving behind little more than circumstantial evidence…and, of course, the victims of their crimes.

In Psalm 36:1-4, David writes:

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;  they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

The point is that a the total disregard for others begins many times in the small things done in secret.  We first note it as a twinge of conscience that informs that what we are about to do is wrong and we choose to blow past our own internal warnings to stop.  As James observes in James 1:13-15,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

CainByLovisCorinth copy
“Cain” by Lovis Corinth

This is not to say that minor infractions of our consciences will make us into mass murderers.  I am simply observing that the inkling for doing good or evil begins somewhere among the little choices we make every day and the fruit of those decisions impacts our own inner compass as well as the lives of those around us.

As God told Cain shortly before he decided to murder his brother, Abel, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

It seems to me that the nature of man’s struggle with God has not changed very much: it still comes down to those little choices we make every day.

Marriage and Family Therapy

In April 2014 we closed the Trenton office in the southeast part of Michigan to move to Saint Joseph on the southwestern part of the state.  Since July 2014 I have been working as the Lead Minister of the Church of Christ of Saint Joseph, settling in to become better acquainted with God’s people here and the community around us.  My goal has been to discern God’s leading and how my private practice will fit into my ministerial responsibilities.

This year I began seeing clients at the church building and I have found it to be well suited to my needs as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Therefore, I am now taking appointments with individuals, couples and families, dedicated to “Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential” according to the principles of brief, solution-focused marriage and family therapy.


Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy sexual abuse should be a title that betrays an obvious oxymoron.  Too often it is not.  As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is presently serving a small congregation as their Lead Minister, I know that two things are true.

First, the way clergy has been viewed in the past–sometimes just this side of sainthood–makes it vulnerable for attracting people who lust for adoring people who give them–what they perceive as–command, power and control.  Second, traits of predators lure them towards the clergy because of the perceived adoration of people and command, power and control that is often associated with their calling and profession.  These traits are described in a recent article entitled, “5 Indicators of an Evil and Wicked Heart”.  Listed briefly, they are:

1. Evil hearts are experts at creating confusion and contention.

2. Evil hearts are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech and flattering words.

3. Evil hearts crave and demand control, and their highest authority is their own self-reference.

4. Evil hearts play on the sympathies of good-willed people, often trumping the grace card.

5. Evil hearts have no conscience, no remorse.

If you just read this list and all of a sudden faces, names or situations shocked back into your memory may I suggest that you find a reliable confidant to whom you voice your sudden awareness. Particularly if they are among professionals in law enforcement, social work or the counseling field, they can advise you about whether or not to take action on your sudden hints or insights.  You will also find helpful resources and links at the website for The Hope of Survivors and on their Facebook Page.

As a witness to the poison that clergy can inject into the body of Christ and trusting families because of their behavior coupled with churches that fail to address the predator decisively, this is one of those absolute zero tolerance matters.  The priorities?  First, protecting the victims and recognizing the damage that has been done so that the balm of Gilead can begin to bring about healing and growth.  Be aware, this can take a very long time.  Second, removing the predator from anything and everything related to the victim and his/her family while striving to see that help is administered.  Be  aware that the best potential for healing and reduced recidivism may include criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

This is one of those situations where the decisive action of a congregation to suspected clergy sexual abuse may speak more about God’s grace and forgiveness than expected.  Conversely, how tragic for God’s people to suffer prosecution for not having taken the threat of clergy sexual abuse more seriously.

Catch and Release Update

Au Sable Fly Fishing near Grayling, MI.

“Catch and Release” is one of those bittersweet expressions that is common in the fishing community.  Careful to remove the barb from the flies used in trout fishing, among other regulations, the whole point is that the pleasure of the sport is in catching the ‘big one’ and leaving it for another to enjoy.  The bitter part is the temptation to bag the whopper you just caught in order to drop it in the black skillet for dinner.  It’s almost too much to bear.  Yet, to allow someone else to enjoy the sweetness of the singing reel means carefully removing the fly with hands pre-wetted in stream water and releasing the trout back into the water with minimal trauma.

When we first came to Trenton back in the summer of 1999 our intention was to leave the barb in the hook and bag this one to take us home.  Looking back, it was important for us to learn the lesson of the ‘catch and release’ principle.  In truth, I have learned that the journeys of life rarely leave you where you ‘entered the stream’.  Taking the metaphor a little further, things that enter the Lord’s streams and stay in the same place for very long are often inanimate…things like deadwood and boulders.

For several years the Lord has been guiding us through a journey that has reminded us that His stream is ever flowing.  While He takes us as we are, He never leaves us there as He shapes and molds us into His image.  First, however, He must break us to prepare us for the journey because a necessary ingredient to being a faithful disciple is wholly selling out to His leadership, His will, His discipline…and, when the time is right, He will open the door to move us to where He wants us.

It is in these times of transition that ‘catch and release’ takes on a new meaning more associated with Jesus’ words about the plowman who is always looking back to see where he has been instead of looking forward to where he is headed in Luke 9:26.  I like the way the message paraphrases the verse: “Jesus said, ‘No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.’”  In this case we look back to catch our bearings and then set our sites on a door that is opening before us and release ourselves into His leading.

Stated clearly, at the end of June Pamela and I will once again join together in ministry at the St. Joseph Church of Christ in St. Joseph, Michigan.  We trust that we have caught the leading of the Lord as he as gently guides us to this new beginning.  Consequently, Southshore Counseling, LLC, my private practice here in Trenton, will be closing at the end of June.


Fortunately, after losing my last provider I was able to maintain my email address and website.  Also, I will continue to provide counseling services at my Trenton office until the end of June.



decideLife if filled with opportunities to learn new coping skills.  From the simplest adjustments of growing up to the normal transitions of adolescence into young adulthood we begin a very personal process of learning how to deal with life’s challenges and opportunities.

On the anvil of personal and interpersonal stressors we hone our coping skills by learning and adaptation based upon a wide spectrum of circumstances.  Factors such as the degree of pain we feel, the double-bind of no-win scenarios, our moods, our personal values and principles, past or present traumas and injustices are just a sample of the possibilities that we are called upon to adjust.

Under pressure,  we forge many of our virtues like patience, tenacity, integrity and honesty, compassion, and so forth.  Conversely, our choices also include their opposite such as impatience, weakness, deceitfulness, dishonesty, callousness, etc.  Across the prism of our own unique makeup and experiences we become both who we are today and who we will become tomorrow by the coping choices we make along the way.

In more relaxed times we have opportunities to reflect upon our past experiences and choices as well as the consequences that have unfolded from those dynamic elements of life.  The hope is that our past will provide learning opportunities for our present and future decisions and how we will cope with them.

The Compass

To the extent we make our choices in advance, clarified by our principles and values, we can anticipate times when decisions have to be compassmade with decisiveness and inner peace.  Life presents times when we must navigate our way through surprises, catastrophes, challenges and opportunities where our past and present meet to give us direction based upon those times of reflection and experience.  It is at those times that we choose to either react impulsively based upon the emotions we feel or we act proactively based upon who we are combined with the person we have chosen to become.

Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping clients clarify their principles and values, weigh interpersonal alternatives and consider the potential consequences in their relational systems.  Many times it is the coping systems themselves that require modification to meet new challenges and opportunities.  At other times new coping skills must be learned to move people forward towards their potential as family members, working together to overcome obstacles and manage transitions.


Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach potentials.