Overcoming Complacency

Noel Burch introduced a model in the 1970s outlining the stages of competency. In it he describes the stages of learning that all of us go through when we start a new role;

  • Unconsciously incompetent - we aren't very good in our role and don't know it therefore aren't alert to risk.
  • Consciously incompetent - we are aware that we aren't very good at our role therefore are guarded to risk.
  • Consciously competent - we are familiar with the role, reasonably good at it, therefore are guarded to risk.
  • Unconsciously competent - we are so good at our role we are doing it without much thought therefore aren't alert to risk.

Accidents and mistakes tend to happen at stages one and four, it is the unconscious state where danger lies. Furthermore, at stage four we become complacent and our mind wanders off onto other things. It is also where our unconscious bias creeps in, things appear to us to be a certain way when they are not.

We have spoken previously about the difference between a routine and ritual, a routine is where we go about our day in an unthinking fashion whereas in a ritual we are doing the very same things and fully alert.

Science tells us that our brains are working harder than they've ever done so before. Baby boomers have between 50 to 70,000 thoughts a day, generation-X have over 90,000 thoughts. We are now overthinking and over worrying way too much. We need to take back control of our wandering mind.

There is a simple technique to remain alert across your entire day, it is used frequently by the military when out on patrol for days and weeks on end. Every so often they stop, look around, and focus on likely areas of risk and danger. They may even say inside their heads "What's different, what's changed, where's the danger?"

Additionally, after they have rested, soldiers refocus their attention by determining what they are going to achieve for the next period and how they going to achieve it. The greatest risk in the workplace is becoming complacent after a break. Those who follow the game of cricket will know that there is a high likelihood of a batter going out immediately following a break.

By employing two simple techniques; 1) Remaining alert - being consciously competent and 2) Refocusing - looking ahead to what you want to achieve following a break, we will reduce overthinking, over worrying, and control our unnecessary thoughts. We will also reduce the risk of harm to ourselves or to others.

Two further techniques you may want to consider adding to your day;

  1. Start your day the way you want it to go - if you are running late and rushing into work, have you noticed how you tend to run all day and never seem to catch up? Set your alarm clock 15 minutes ahead of when you think you should rise in the morning to allow for contingencies so that you won't be running late for work.
  2. Plan and end your day with a briefing/debrief - when you arrive at work, plan out as much as possible what you want to achieve in your day. At the end of your day look back and see what you achieved and ask yourself "What went well, what could I have done better?"

Employing simple techniques helps us to remain alert, aware of danger, makes our day seemed to go much faster and assists us to achieve more. Mindfulness, who would have thought?

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