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In our knowledge-based economy, information and technology can easily become outdated. Life-long learning is essential for you to succeed and prosper as a sales professional. So why are some people reluctant to embrace the concept of life-long learning?

The answer is that the learning process itself involves some measure of risk and uncertainty. To understand why and to overcome this reluctance to learn, you need to study the learning process.

Abraham Maslow, one of the predominant minds in the field of psychology during the 20th century, described a four-stage process that people go through when learning something new. These four stages are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
  2. Conscious Incompetence
  3. Conscious Competence
  4. Unconscious Competence

The initial stage of the learning cycle is called unconscious incompetence. This takes place when you don't know that you don't know. At this point, you have yet to realize that there is something more that you need to learn.

The second stage is conscious incompetence, when you realize how much you need to know. This stage often involves the pain of having so much to learn, as well as the fear that your income and self-worth might be affected.

It is during the conscious incompetence stage that you must cope with the urge to turn back. You are trying to learn something new, something that you are not yet proficient in. This means that your results may be less than you hope for, which causes you great stress and produces emotional pressure to go back to what was comfortable. The conscious incompetence stage is the point in the learning cycle where people are most likely to give up.

The third stage of the learning cycle is known as conscious competence. You know what you know. You have begun acquiring a new knowledge but are still conscious of the learning process. The pain of learning is leaving you.

The fourth and final stage of the learning cycle is unconscious competence, when you are no longer conscious of the skills or knowledge you have absorbed. At this stage, you have become so skilled at a particular task that you operate on instinct in performing it.

By the time you reach the unconscious competence stage, you have successfully integrated into your life habits that you were seeking to learn. You are benefiting from your expanded knowledge and skills base. But don't let yourself become too comfortable. If you are committed to continuous improvement, you will soon find yourself at the stage of conscious incompetence once again, as you discover there is still something more you can learn.

Continuous improvement and life-long learning are essential to your success in sales. When you understand the four stages of Maslow's learning cycle, you can eliminate some of the discomfort due to inherent risk and uncertainty in the learning process.

Note: (Applicable to Not Just Sales Personnel)

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