7 Stages of Learning

These are the stages I experience as I go through when I learn a new subject or developing skills in a new special interest.

Stage 1: Curiosity and wonder

Primary question: What is possible?

At this stage, there’s the feeling of mystery, curiosity, and wonder. The possibilities seem endless. There’s excitement, but there can also be a hint of uncertainty and the unknown–which can be perceived as fear. It’s fun to be here, but as we stay in this stage too long, that fear can grow, especially if the subject or project is time sensitive and important.

I sometimes refer to this as yugen.

Example:

Martial arts seems like a fun thing to learn. I’ve seen it in movies before, and it seems like there are schools with philosophy involved with it as well, which is intruiging. I haven’t applied my rigor of thought that I typically apply to mental activities like programming to physical activities before. Would these work in this new arena as well?

Stage 2: Research and planning

Primary questions: What’s the goal? Is it worthwhile to proceed?

It’s time to get out of the unbound world of dreams and imagination and give ourselves some constraints so we can focus our energies for the rest of the process. We assess our assumptions, and we absorb information and data. Here, we define goals and understand the reasons for these goals.

Example:

Let me find out what schools there are. There’s tai chi, there’s karate, kung fu, krav maga, judo, aikido, muay thai, boxing, and plenty more. My friend attends a wingchun kung fu school in town, I’ll call him up to get his thoughts. Maybe I’ll peek into a class one day to see what it’s like.

I’ve realized it helps to have a class I can attend nearby. A good constraint.

My goal is to have a practice where I can work out anywhere I am in the world without equipment. Even if the class is limited to my physical location, my practice can be done anywhere I am. My first milestone is to complete the first form of wingchun.

Stage 3: Action, execution, and practice

Primary question: What am I doing right now?

Here, we take the researching and planning and bring it into action. We have the high level goals to keep us focused. We test our assumptions. We gather information and data while we’re executing. We get into the nitty gritty details of executing, and sometimes we don’t know why we’re doing so much yak shaving.

Example:

I go to class regularly and practice on each part of the first wingchun form. I am told to relax my shoulders constantly. This is an important thing I must do, but I don’t fully understand what it means. I don’t know how to relax my shoulders, and I don’t realize that they are not relaxed. I keep trying to relax them, and I practice punching with relaxed shoulders even when away from class to be able to do so without much effort.

Stage 4: Reflection and discovery

Primary questions: What did I discover? What do I see differently now?

In the course of execution and practice, we inevitably discover new things. Here, we look back and consider what we discovered. We analyze and assess what happened. What did we do that was expected? What was unexpected? How can we do better next time? New perspectives emerge in this stage.

Example:

My shoulders are not needed as much as I’d thought they were needed to throw a punch. Discovery: there are inefficiencies in the usage of my body that I didn’t previously realize existed.

Stage 5: Wisdom and application

Primary questions: What can I do with this new perspective?

We’ve gained a new superpower: a new perspective, a new skill, a new way of working with the world. Let’s try this new hammer on all the nails we see. Maybe there are other places this new power can be applied.

Example:

What other muscles can be un-used to reduce strain, injury, and inefficiencies in the day-to-day use of my body? How can I also relax other muscles that I don’t realize I’m over-using?

When pushing doors in my everyday life, I can now push them with my shoulders relaxed. I can do the same when I’m pushing grocery carts or anything where I need to push something forward with my arms.

Where else can I apply this idea of “removing the excess” in my life? 🤔

Stage 6: Celebration

Primary questions: How awesome am I? How will I celebrate this win?

We’ve achieved our goal! Wow! Personal growth achieved. Let’s anchor it with some good feelings. How about buying that gadget we’ve been lusting for but haven’t been able to press that buy button on yet? It’s time to reward ourselves for our hard work and anchor the learning process so we can have confidence in it when we go through it again next time.

Example:

I’ve finished learning the first wingchun form! In doing so, I’ve developed a regular practice of kung fu that I can do wherever I am, even in a hotel while traveling without equipment.

I’m feeling a lot more confident in my own body now, especially as I’ve come more into tune with how to coordinate its usage. I’m going to buy myself an expensive pair of jeans that make me look and feel good. I’m going to get a new backpack so I can use it as a feedback mechanism when I’m wearing it to feel when my shoulders are relaxed or not.

Stage 7: Giving and teaching

Primary question: Do I really grok this?

It’s one thing to teach ourselves, but in teaching others is where mastery can develop–as it requires us to break down our understanding and learning so that others can see your perspective as well. In giving to others, we also grow our own confidence in the path that we took . We can see what was unique to our own journey and what is shared with others.

Example:

I’m going to teach others in my class how to relax their shoulders. I had others tell me to just “relax my shoulders” but it was not always easy to do so. Maybe I can take the process I did in learning and make it easier for others. Focusing on my elbows and my lats helped me out: maybe I figure out how to communicate this. I also engage my core to help me take away dependency on my shoulders. Maybe that can help out too. For some, it makes total sense and helps, but for others it doesn’t. For those who don’t see it, how do I show them the door so they can walk through it?


This is one path from curiosity to mastery. And even in mastery, new questions, perspectives, and discoveries make themselves known. The journey of learning has its own ups and downs, but seen in the context of these stages, we can appreciate where we are and the steps we take along the way.

Go forth: learn something new and discover something new in the world and in your self.



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