By Ryan Humphries
"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” The first time I heard this, it came from the mouth of Coach Williams, my fifth grade PE teacher and a man I considered to be a grade-A asshole. Looking back, I’m sure he was a good dude and he was probably just trying to inspire some team building BS. Regardless of his intent, what I heard was “Ryan, you’re the weakest link.”
Earlier that year, as part of my elementary PE test, we had to run a mile. Until that day, I never really thought about my fitness level. I mean I knew I wasn’t the fastest kid on the playground and definitely wasn’t the tallest, but I was a pretty active kid. My parents used to say that I was part monkey as I spent a good deal of my childhood climbing trees. I rode my bike a lot and I could pogo stick like a boss! But running…. Running was apparently something that I just never did. This was made very apparent about half way through the mile run test, when I collapsed on the field from an asthma attack. Until that moment, I didn’t know that I couldn’t run a mile.
In the 1970s a model was put forth at Gordon Training International by a man by the name of Noel Burch*. As Burch would say, when it came to running the mile, I was in a state of unconscious incompetence. Another way to say this is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. You may have heard of this model as "The 4 stages of competence" also known as “The 4 stages of learning any new skill”. In my case, the skill was running a mile. Here’s how we can break it down:
Stage 1) Unconscious incompetence:
When you are unaware that you can’t perform the skill. In my case, I had no idea that I couldn’t run a mile without having an asthma attack.
Stage 2) Conscious incompetence:
When you are aware that you can’t perform the skill. This happened half way through my run as I wasn’t able to pull any more oxygen from the air and I collapsed on the field. Fun fact, I was helped off the field by one of the prettiest girls in sixth grade. Talk about a boost of confidence…
Stage 3) Conscious competence:
When you can perform the skill, but you really have to think about every move. This was where I was during Navy Bootcamp. We ran everywhere and although I could do it, I had to focus on my breathing and my footwork for every step.
Stage 4) Unconscious competence:
When you are able to perform the skill without even thinking about it. Every now and then, I actually feel like I’ve hit this level, but then I learn a new technique from someone like Marshall Thompson and I start back at Stage 2 or 3. Damn running coaches with their efficiency.
Since that embarrassing 5th grade incident, I’ve gone through Maslow’s model over and over and I can now run a mile with little to no issues. If you’ve ever stepped foot in Axistence Athletics (or any CrossFit™ gym for that matter), then you’ve definitely gone through this model multiple times with multiple movements. Think about it. Before your first class, chances are you didn’t know about muscle-ups, double unders, toes to bar or any of the other jargon on the whiteboard.
I realize there are still plenty of things that I don't know that I don't know. For me, the CrossFit Open is a chance for me to find those blindspots and learn from them. Albert Einstein once said “Once we stop learning, we start dying,” and since I’m a pretty big fan of living, I think I’d like to continue learning.
"Once we stop learning, we start dying."
– Albert Einstein
For the last 4 years I have signed up for the CrossFit Open so I can continue to learn. I do this, not because I think I have a chance to be the fittest man on earth (Yeah, yeah, not with THAT attitude right!?) But instead, to test myself and see exactly where I am on Maslow’s model. I also like to see if I am indeed improving based on my training. Thus far, every year I have improved from years past. And although I’m not necessarily competing with anyone other than myself, it’s kind of cool to see where I stack up against 300,000 other humans. I can honestly say that I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in my life. This is due to consistent smart training at Axistence and listening to my body.
Although Axistence Athletics is no longer a CrossFit affiliate, I personally plan on signing up for the Open for as long as I’m physically capable. I really believe that the best education lies in what you don’t know that you don’t know. That’s the stuff that will take you to the next level. And who knows, if I continue to improve over the next 17 years, when I turn 55 and hit the Masters category maybe I’ll be ready for the CrossFit Games?
Cheers to learning,
*In a previous blog article we credited Abraham Maslow with the "four stages of competence" model. Although Maslow has been attributed with creating this model, it was actually first described in 1969 buy management trainer Martin M. Broadwell as "the four levels of teaching". Noel Burch then later used it in the 1970s and called it the "four stages of learning any new skill".
Curious about your own blind spots? About what's stopping you from leveling up? Wondering what it is that you don't know that you don't know? Set up a complimentary strategy session with an Axistence Coach.
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