Do you miss her, or do you miss how she made you feel?

Missing our former partner may be the most defining emotion we experience after the end of a relationship. It’s absolutely natural to miss someone, especially if that person played a large role in our lives. And it’s also natural for this feeling to come and go rather unexpectedly. The end of the relationship also means this person, who we are often still in love with, is absent from all the areas of our lives where we had grown so accustomed to their presence. Every time we are confronted with one of those areas, we are once again faced with the loss of that person. And one way in which loss manifests itself is in a feeling of missing the other person.

Although missing someone is both a natural and a common thing to experience after a relationship has come to an end there is more to this feeling than simply missing someone’s presence. As usual it’s helpful to drill down deeper into our emotions and find out what exactly what it is that we believe we’re missing.

Imagine we could wave a wand and make the person you miss appear right in front of you this very minute.

*Poof*.

The person you miss and probably still love is now here. But let’s also imagine that you do not feel loved and you do not feel fulfilled at all, even though they are right there with you.

Is this the situation you wanted? Is this what you were missing?

The answer is undoubtedly no. You don’t miss the person for the sake of the person. You miss the feelings that you have come to associate with their presence. You may miss feeling loved, feeling understood, feeling supported. It just so happens that you experienced those things with this one person so you’ve been conditioned to equate the person you miss with the feelings that you long for. This is normal. We are fundamentally driven by our emotional states. We just fall into the trap of attributing those emotional states to objects and people.

What feelings exactly do you miss?

Let’s go one step further.

Imagine the same scenario as before, where the person you miss is with you, but you feel unloved and unfulfilled. What scenario specifically do you need to imagine that makes you no longer miss them? Whatever that scenario may be, it tells us a lot about the needs that you have that lie underneath the surface-level feeling of “missing the person”. These are your unmet needs that you are projecting onto this person.

For the sake of this example, let’s assume you realize that you no longer miss your ex when you imagine them beside you showing you deep, loving affection. That brings us to the next question: How does them showing you deep, loving affection make you feel? What feeling is created inside of you that takes the place of the original feeling of missing them? 

In this example it might be that when you feel loved by them, then you no longer miss them. Okay, great! We’ve identified which feeling plays the central role here: it’s your feeling of being loved by someone else.

Let’s continue with the thought experiment. Let’s take that feeling you identified, a feeling of being loved by someone else. Imagine you could feel that feeling in the exact same way, but without the feeling being sparked by your ex, but by someone else instead. Are you able to imagine that?

Try not to think about who that person would need to be or where you would find or meet that person. Just focus on whether or not it’s possible that you could feel that same feeling. Again, are you able to imagine that?

If so, then ask yourself this: Do you miss your ex when you are imagining having this feeling? If the answer is no, then that’s another indication that what you are missing is not your ex as a person. Rather, you are missing how she made you feel. After all, when you imagine the feeling without the person, you no longer miss the person. And if you can imagine someone else making you feel the same way you did about your ex, you should (hopefully) realize that fundamentally these emotions you feel for this person aren’t tied to that person — they’re tied to you, and what you are missing is something inside of yourself.

If this isn’t really about them, then why does it always feel like it has everything to do with them?

In order to answer that question, there are a couple of things we may consider.

Reason 1: We don’t bother to drill down into our emotions

For one, it may feel like we miss them as a person simply because we haven’t bothered to investigate that emotion. If we don’t drill down into our emotions and question the beliefs they’re based on, we may find ourselves completely carried away, believing all kinds of things that are detached from any deeper, underlying truth.

For example, for a long time I believed I was lucky to have been born as a highly competitive person. That is, until I investigated my beliefs surrounding my competitiveness and I realized I was competing because at a very deep level I didn’t feel I would be good enough (and worthy of love) if I didn’t! If I never questioned my surface-level beliefs, I would never have learnt that this wasn’t how I was born, but something I internalized growing up.

If we believe our feelings of “missing them” indeed have to do with them, and we never bother to question that, then of course, the natural thing for us to do is to continue to believe our emotional experience has everything to do with that person.

Reason 2: Your ex — your brain’s go-to solution for the problem of feeling lonely

A second reason is that your relationship has come to represent a very strong and very recent association in your brain between pleasant feelings on the one hand, and the person you attribute those feelings to on the other. Throughout your relationship your brain has gotten used to associating those pleasant emotions with that person.

Take away the person, and in some sense you also take away the source of those pleasant emotions. Because this association exists, your brain knows it can restore those pleasant feelings by motivating you to pursue your partner.

Put differently, your brain’s go-to solution for the problem of ”not feeling loved“ is: your partner. And it’s a solution that works pretty well — that is, until you break up. That’s when it becomes painfully counterproductive. Even though it may be you brain’s go-to solution, it definitely doesn’t mean it’s the only solution — or even the best one — on offer. It just happens to be the solution your brain is the most used to bringing to your attention.

Reason 3: The evidence in your life paint a picture where love is rare

A third important reason may be your perception of alternatives. There may be many reasons why you may (incorrectly) perceive this person to be your only realistic chance at love. You may feel this way if, while growing up, you didn’t receive the affection you needed as a child. These feelings may be exacerbated if you haven’t had much success in the dating world, or by holding a belief that you are not attractive enough to find love again.

If you don’t have much evidence in your history that you are worthy of love you may believe — incorrectly —  that love is rare and any chance at it must be grabbed by both arms and held tightly. In a very real sense the love you felt with your ex feels like the love you’ve been waiting for your entire life. No wonder it feels impossible to let go! But feelings all too often disguise as truths and although they feel real — that doesn’t make them true.

We miss the feelings we experienced with our ex

The larger point here is that what we miss is not the person themselves, not the conversations themselves, not the company of the person themselves — what we miss is the emotional experience those things brought us. What we miss is the feeling of being loved, the feeling of being understood, the feeling of being cared for and the feeling of being desired.

In a relationship we become so accustomed to experiencing those pleasant emotions with our partners, we come to think of them as the only possible source for that emotional experience. We want to feel a sense of belonging, we want to feel loved and we want to feel understood. Since we felt those things most recently and most strongly with the person we were recently with, naturally we feel drawn to that person. Sadly, in our hopes of re-establishing those pleasant feelings we often turn a blind eye to all the negative aspects of the person and the relationship.

Why differentiate between the person and the emotions?

Drawing the distinction between missing the person and missing the emotions is not about making this person less special than they were to you. It’s more about being accurate about what we feel, and specifically about what lies at the root of those feelings. Reaching the root of our emotions also helps us decouple ourselves from this idea that we desperately need our exes. If we are able to imagine someone else meeting our emotional needs then we may realize our ex is not our only ticket to happiness.

“Do miss her, or do I just feel lonely?” and “Do I miss her, or do I miss the relationship?”

A final note about these questions, which are closely related to the main topic of this article. If you’re asking yourself a question like this, you probably sense that your surface-level feeling of missing this other person might not have everything to do with that other person. Although you’re correct to sense that — explanations suggesting you miss the relationship or that you are simply feeling lonely don’t go far enough.

Loneliness is a feeling which points to something else — something that’s missing. What are we missing when we feel lonely? When we experience loneliness we may be missing the feelings we associate with friendship, support, understanding or perhaps the joy of laughter.

When we feel we miss the relationship, we miss the emotions the relationship sparked within us. Possibly companionship, feeling loved, intimacy or adventure.

So again, we’re able to identify emotional experiences (feelings) which we’re missing, which lie underneath the surface experiences of, in this case, loneliness or missing the relationship.

Conclusion

When we miss someone we are missing the emotions we associated with them. This could be anything from companionship to joy, from understanding to feeling alive. If we’re able to imagine experiencing those emotions without this person, we can free ourselves from the limiting belief that this person, and this person alone, can cure our loneliness. It’s no easy task to separate the emotions you experienced from the person that sparked them inside of you, especially if they’re the only person you ever experienced those emotions with.

As if often the case, by taking the time to understand ourselves more deeply we’re able to find peace right now within ourselves while also finding reasons to be feel good about what’s to come.

Feelings aren’t truths

When we’re in love we feel amazing and we tend to think the person we’re in love with is uniquely suited to be with us. We believe they are irreplaceable.

It takes a failed relationship (or several) to realize that this absolutist mindset is a built-in feature of love. It’s part of the diagnosis. It’s part of Nature’s design of the emotion we call love.

It turns out that making two people feel amazing about a relationship and feel like their counterpart is absolutely unique and irreplaceable is a pretty good way to make sure these two people stay together and eventually reproduce.

Analogous to how hunger evolved to motivate us to get off of our asses long enough for us to find nourishment for our bodies, love evolved to make sure we find and stay with a mate long enough to produce offspring.

Love and hunger are human drives and they go hand in hand with their own sets of emotions. Hunger may lead to frustration, annoyance and even anger. Unreciprocated love may lead to a whole host of emotions such as sadness or despair.

Any of these accompanying emotions will follow a simple cycle. They will come and they will pass. Everything we feel always comes and passes. This is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism: impermanence. No feeling lasts forever.

It sounds so obvious and so simple, the problem is: we forget. When we feel sad, we forget that in a couple of hours we almost certainly will not feel sad. When we’re angry, we forget that in a couple of days we will probably not care.

When we are consumed by an emotion we are disconnected from the present moment. It is this disconnect that causes us to forget that the experience we are in does indeed have an ending. After all, they all do.

We’re not really aided by Nature here, as it’s more like a feature than it is a bug, for thoughts and emotions to take us out of the present moment.

Another way of looking at this is that you can either be:

  1. Inside the emotion where you forget about time and are unaware that you are in a transient experience, or,
  2. outside the emotion where you can be the observer to what you are feeling.

We get into traitorous territory when we are inside the emotion. When the emotion is bigger than we are, it consumes us and it fools us. We forget about time and we BELIEVE the thoughts that pass through our mind. This is the realm where “we are angry”.

When we can observe the emotion and hold it in our awareness by creating some space around it, our relationship to it, changes. We can remind ourselves of its impermanence and we can question whether any thoughts should be believed or not. This is the realm where we are not “angry” but “anger is here” or “I am feeling anger”

The same applies to the feeling of love. When inside the feeling of love, your ex becomes “the one” and you “cannot live without her” and you “will never find anyone like her.” When you hold your thoughts in awareness and become the observer she might “feel like she is the one” and it may “feel like you cannot live without her” or “feel like you will never find anyone like her.” The same emotion is felt, but when we’re the observer, we can simultaneously feel and realize that the emotion is transient and doesn’t represent a truth about reality.

When we fail to observe our thoughts and emotions we are prone to believing the stories they tell us. Psychologists call this tendency to reason based on how we feel emotional reasoning and it’s a tendency clinicians are often trained to help us overcome. Our emotions, are not facts, and if we treat them as such, they may lead us to suffer.

You may love someone that isn’t good for you for a myriad of reasons. If you choose to believe your emotions, which tell you they are the right person for you, you may be setting yourself up for unnecessary, repeated rejection and heartbreak.

Similarily your emotions may tell you someone is right for you that doesn’t love you back, or someone who is abusive towards you, or someone that simply isn’t committed to you.

If you treat your emotions as facts, you will keep pursuing a path even when it is detrimental to your own wellbeing.

Just because it FEELS right doesn’t make it right.

There’s value in listening to your emotions, but you should treat them more like a signal of what is going on inside of you, not as established facts.  The fact may be that your ex is romantically involved with someone else, that they’ve shown no indication that they still have feelings for you and that you have no indication that this might change.

You might still FEEL like she is the one and you might FEEL there is hope. But your feelings aren’t facts, and there may be no chance at all that you’re getting back together. Your feeling is simply a signal of what is going on inside of you: You are still in love, you long for her, you feel like you belong together and you crave being with her — but that doesn’t make those things true.

This also doesn’t mean that all your decision-making should be entirely fact-based and completely rational. Through activities such as self-inquiry, journaling and meditation you can become more aware of the different voices that manifest themselves within yourself. You can listen to the voice of your inner child, the voice of a wiser version of yourself or a strong gut feeling and let their wisdom guide you.

The key thing we are better off avoiding is treating our emotions (internal signals) as truths (external realities).

 

What to do with gifts?

I often get questions about what to do with gifts that were a present from the ex.

Throwing away seems too harsh, or nonsensical (in the case of, say, a fine watch).

Giving it back is a not a good idea because it can easily come across as being some type of statement. Plus it requires you to think through an interaction with your ex… Bad idea!

My advice is simple. Keep it simple.

Throw away the worthless stuff with no economical or emotional value. Put the rest in a box and give it a to a friend for safekeeping. Ask them to put in the their attic. And forget about. Consider the gifts thrown away.

This way you can remove these constant reminders of your ex from your immediate surroundings without having to initiate any type of interaction with your ex (which is what we want to avoid, remember?).

She dumped me saying she’s not over me cheating

We’ve been dating 3 years. I cheated a year ago. Thought we were past it. She dumped me a few days ago saying she’s not over it. Finally stopped being irrational and crazy emotional today but i’m just pissed that she would throw away the bond we had over one bad choice. I’m 25 and I thought maybe we would get married (and i know she wanted that too). I’m giving her space but idk how much space is too much. I keep thinking she’ll come back but then I also feel like it’s really over and I’m just so angry at myself and her. I know she still loves me but i thought our bond meant more than a mistake I made a year ago. She’s ended things for now but she still has us as a couple on Facebook. She hid her relationship status but hasn’t deleted it or me so I feel like that’s a sign of something. I just know if she comes back I really would do everything the right way because this experience has opened my eyes to how heartless I’ve been and all the things I need to improve on in my life.

Hey man,

Thanks for sharing. I don’t know of many couples that survive infidelity, if I’m honest, I think it’s unlikely that yours will.

You need to reach your tipping point so you can decide that staying in contact with her is not worth the pain anymore. Block her on every channel you can think of and go full no contact as you start putting the focus on yourself.

She’s not throwing your bond away based on 1 mistake, she’s also considering the possibility it may happen again. Forgiving is one thing, trusting again is another.

Grieving everyday losses

The authors of “The Grief Recovery Handbook” describe grief as the set of conflicting emotions that accompany a change in a familiar pattern.

That’s a broad definition, and they deliberately chose a broad definition.

Why? Because grief is everywhere. Our familiar patterns are broken all the time and as a result we may experience conflicting emotions. That’s what grief IS.

Why bring this up?

Because a failure to grieve leads to suffering. If we don’t acknowledge the emotions we’re feeling they get pent up inside of us and make their way to the surface in other ways.

If you apply for a job and don’t get it, it may trigger sadness. Absolutely normal.

If we don’t allow ourselves to BE sad however, and instead pretend to instantly believe “Ah well, I guess they weren’t a fit for me anyway”, we suppress our grief.

Suppressed grief will come to the surface sooner or later. We may mull over the lost opportunity for weeks to come. It may chip away at our confidence in applying for other jobs. It may make us increasingly apprehensive about our career.

If instead we allow ourselves to be sad when something sad happens, we can deal with the sadness of the event then and there. Allowing the sadness to, just, be…

Another example.

While I was travelling through South America on my motorcycle at some point my helmet was stolen. It was stolen right from underneath my head while I was sleeping.

When I noticed it was missing, I knew immediately it was stolen.

First, I felt sadness. So I decided to take the rest of the day to GRIEVE my motorcycle helmet.

I let the sadness be. And when I let it be I could feel more of it. I was sad because it was a good helmet. Other helmets had much more draft in them, but this one kept my head warm at all times.

I was also sad because I did not want to ride without a helmet.

Then I felt overwhelmed. Where the f*** was I going to find a new helmet? I was in the middle of Paraguay. No one even uses a helmet in Paraguay.

Then I became mad. Those damn thieves. Screw this country. Screw South America I thought.

“I’m sad and I’m mad and I hate these people” I said to myself. I said it only to acknowledge how I felt at the time. Now I don’t feel that way. But to pretend I didn’t at the time would be silly.

I let it all be, and it sucked. But it only sucked for the next couple of hours or so. By the next day I was once again at peace.

I had grieved the loss of my helmet.

I still think of it sometimes. But I smile, because it served me well.

If we’re not used to grieving and we’re hit with a big loss, like the loss of a relationship, we don’t know how to respond.

“There’s more fish in the sea” your friends might say. “Fuck her” some might say in an attempt to show you some support.

But my advice to you would be: Be sad if that’s what you feel. Be angry if that’s what you feel.

Just let it be.

And it may not just be the loss of your ex-girlfriend you feel grief about. You can grieve the loss of a future together. The loss of being in a relationship.

Any loss you can grieve (and probably should).

What recent loss would you like to grieve? Let me know in the comments below.

Are you living in a bubble of your own creation?

Meet Steven. Steven is in pain.

His girlfriend told him she needs space. She doesn’t like how he focuses on her flaws and not his own. She says she’s tried telling him, but he doesn’t change.

This definitely got his attention. He realizes something needs to be done (although he’s not sure what).

“She’s confused” he tells me, “I know she loves me, she’s just scared. I just need to give her some space.”

I’ve heard it so often before. I try to explain to him that “needing space” is often a prelude to the end of the relationship. It’s a softer way of telling someone you want out of the relationship.

He’s not ready to hear it.

“What’s your plan?” I ask him, “You give her space… and then? Until when? What happens after?”

“I need to work on myself” is his answer.

Probably true, but at this point he hasn’t defined what that means.

I can tell he feels like he’s the only one that understands the situation. “It’s complicated” he tells me.

But you know what? It rarely is.

If you want to be together, you try to BE together and you try to work out whatever is preventing you from doing that. If you need to work on yourself, you work on yourselves TOGETHER. You grow TOGETHER and TOWARDS EACH OTHER.

Sometimes you can’t be together. It hurts. It can be difficult. But it’s rarely complicated.

When you say it’s complicated it’s often because you yourself don’t understand and can’t explain what’s going on OR because you haven’t made a decision whether it’s worth fighting for or not.

You can’t understand what’s going on without looking honestly at things as they are. And often we don’t want to see things as they are because we want to hold on to an alternative reality that feels more pleasant.

We are not ready to accept that maybe this is the end of the relationship — because we weren’t expecting it to end. Not now. Not like this. Not this soon.

Our mind tricks us into keeping this alternate reality alive. It blocks out outside opinions by convincing us that no one understands. It tricks us into holding on by offering explanations for her behavior, after all “she’s just confused”, “not thinking straight” or “scared”.

We create a bubble for ourselves and make it impenetrable so that even our loved ones cannot pop it for us.

But, even though the people around us will not fully understand everything that’s going, they are able to give us little reality checks that can help us construct a more accurate view of our situation.

It’s only until after my relationship came to an end that my friends were in a position to tell me that they didn’t like the way my ex treated me or they didn’t like where the dynamic between us was going.

The first time I heard that, it came as a shock. But then, it slowly started to make sense. As time went by after breaking up I realized more and more about the alternate reality I had been living in.

Talk to the people around you, your friends, your family. They won’t have a full understanding of the situation — but they don’t need to to give you valuable advice. They don’t need to know everything to know that your relationship wasn’t healthy for you.

Even long after your breakup, you can still be living in a bubble that your relationship was great and your ex was perfect. The sooner your burst that bubble, the better you’ll feel! And the easiest way to do that is by getting feedback from people around you.

What alternate reality have you been living in? Let me know in the comments.

Let your friends ground you in reality

When my college girlfriend left me for another guy while we were on a break, I had isolated myself somewhat from my friends.

Looking back I think I sensed she didn’t mix well with my friends, so I was either with her or with my friends – never both at the same time. During the relationship, the balance shifted more and more towards spending time with her at the expense of spending time with my friends.

This is a common pattern leading up to a breakup by the way: Living in a bubble with your girlfriend isolated from your friends (and family).

When she suggested a ‘break’ and subsequently slept with another guy, I had nowhere to turn to but my friends.

Awesome as they are, they welcomed me with open arms and listened to my story.

I remember two distinct moments when this played out.

The first was when I told my buddy Tommy she had slept with another guy, but… we were on a break, so technically it wasn’t foul play.

(I was defending her actions, desperately finding a way to forgive her so as not to lose her.)

“That’s still a pretty shitty thing to do though”, Tommy said.

“What is?” I replied, for a moment not understanding what he was referring to.

“What she did… Sleeping with someone that quickly (1 week) after the ‘break’ – that’s a shitty thing to do”

I looked him in the eyes. I could see that the words he had chosen seemed obvious to him, yet to me they were not. It sounded foreign.

But they sank in.

This was the first time that it started to dawn on me that she had done something shitty to me.

My projection of her slowly started to change.

I was still madly in love with her, but this was no longer something trivial she had done. No, this was a shitty thing she did.

And it took my buddy Tommy telling me in my face to burst the bubble I was living in.

This is one of the benefits of talking to friends.

They’re not looking at the situation with all the emotional baggage that you are.

If you’re lucky, they know you and they can tell if you’re not thinking straight. They’ll pop your bubble, and that’s a GIFT.

One more example.

About a month ago after the breakup I was talking to my buddy Marty. The breakup came up in conversation – as it does – and he surprised me by what he said.

“You know man, I didn’t really like her that much.”

“What?” I replied. I was very surprised to hear that. Especially since I consider Marty one of my best friends.

“Yeah. Your ex. I didn’t like her that much. And I think if you ask your other friends, I think they’d tell you the same.”

I was speechless. My friends hadn’t liked my ex? How could I have been blind to this all along?

Sure enough when I did get round to asking my friends, none of them had liked my ex. Some had seriously questioned what I saw in her.

By isolating myself with her from my friends and I had shielded myself from this reality.

This is one of the most valuable lessons I learnt after this breakup.

Your friends can keep you grounded in reality and act as a benevolent “filter” for your choice in mate.

So in conclusion.

  1. Make sure you share your breakup story with family, friends, colleagues – whoever you have close to you. They can help you ground yourself in reality.
  2. Listen to what your friends say about your partner. They’re often able to see things that are difficult for you to see. If none of your friends like her, that’s a sign!

Dealing with obsessive thoughts

For many of us, our way of dealing with adversity is some form of thinking.

“Oh shit, X happened. What does that mean? What should I do?”

When faced with adversity we try to think our way out of our predicament.

By making sense of what’s going on, we somehow hope to gain control over our condition and escape whatever undesirable state we find ourselves in.

A breakup is a prime example. It’s very common for us to get caught in a mode of thinking.

We may think: “What went wrong? What could I have done? Why did she do this to me?”

It’s worth realizing that thinking is not the only approach to a coping with a sticky situation, but it’s a common one (not thinking aka meditation is often a helpful alternative).

Problem is…thinking doesn’t always work too well. And when it doesn’t, it can actually keep us stuck — or worse, pull us down.Continue Reading

Acknowledging your feelings

Throughout the aftermath of your breakup you will feel a wide range of emotions. Some will be more overwhelming than others and some will be less pleasant than others.

Our goal is to process these emotions and learn the lessons they are here to teach us. To accomplish that we must strive to acknowledge our emotions when they occur. It is far too easy to lose awareness, and get caught up in the emotions themselves or in our reactions to them.

When we forget or refuse to acknowledge an emotion, we create more suffering for ourselves.

If we refuse to acknowledge we are angry, our anger will not wane and we will remain angry for a longer time.

We must peal back all the layers of the emotional onion we are feeling.

During my most recent breakup, on multiple occasions I would feel anger swell up. I was aware of all the lessons and technique which I try to teach here, but still I managed to lose my awareness.

I was aware of the anger, but since I didn’t want to be angry, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be angry.

I only realized later that in doing so, I was making a value judgment towards the anger I was feeling. I felt it was a petty, primitive emotion that I shouldn’t be feeling.

I did not see this value judgment for what it was, another layer of emotion on top of the underlying anger. It caused me to suppress my anger and gave rise to a longer-term background level of frustration.

Only when I realized this, was I able to allow myself to feel angry but also allow myself to not want to feel angry at the same time.

Acknowledging your emotions becomes more difficult when there are multiple layers of emotions involved and they contradict one another.

Whenever you catch yourself feeling something, bring your awareness to it. What is it you’re feeling? What label can you put on this feeling? Is there any judgment attached to it? If so, always shine the light of your awareness on the judgment. What label can you put on it?

Awareness

A large part, if not the most part, of our behavior is guided by our unconsciousness. Who we are attracted to, when we get mad, what we think about something — we don’t get to *choose* to do any of those things. Even though we have some control over our thoughts, our default mode is an unconscious autopilot mode.

If I could impart on you one thing only, it would be the concept of awareness. Awareness, consciousness, mindfulness are all related terms and together form the paradigm that allows us to become self-correcting in our thoughts and behaviors.

If we want to self-correct, we need to know what it is that we want to correct. We need to be able to label our emotions, and for that, we need consciousness. We need to become *aware* of our emotions.

In the field of psychology a model that is widely used to characterize the states one must go through to learn a new behavior is referred to as the four stages of competence. This model is useful for us as well as it shows us where awareness becomes valuable. The stages are:

1. Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, and you don’t recognize the deficit.
2. Conscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, but you are able to recognize the deficit.
3. Conscious competence: You know how to do something, but there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
4. Unconscious competence: You know how to do something and it has become second nature.

On the path to learning any new skill or behavior we start as Unconsciously Incompetent. We are unaware of what we could be doing better and do not recognize the benefit of acquiring the skill to do so.

It is only by becoming aware of what you are doing and recognizing that you could be doing something differently, that you are able to make the step from unconscious incompetence to Conscious Incompetence. You still don’t know how to do something, but now you are aware that there is room for improvement.

This awareness allows you to focus on improving and self-correcting which can lead you to becoming more competent at the skill or behavior. In order to reach this level of competency, however, it is requires you to consciously think through every step as you take them. You have become Consciously Competent.

After enough practice the skill or behavior will slowly become second nature and you will be able to perform it without actively thinking about what you are doing. It is at this stage that you’ve become Unconsciously Competetent.

As long as you remain unconscious of an emotion or behavior, you will be powerless to change it. It is through awareness that we can change our behavior and grow.