Unconsciously Competent

Acquiring skills for riding or driving

As we start to learn a new physical and technical skill such as driving or riding a motorcycle we go through several stages of understanding and ability to perform the new skill. We adapt. See more here

  • Unconscious Incompetent
    • We don’t know what we don’t know!
  • Conscious Incompetent
    • Now we do know what we don’t know. It can seem a large hill to climb.
  • Conscious Competent
    • We have to work hard at doing what we now know is correct. Our brain power is being used to perform the skill, less for outside of our little mental bubble.
  • Unconscious Competent
    • We don’t have to think about the performing the skill any more as it becomes muscle memory. We can start to focus on the world outside.


Our brain is like a computer that can learn. We have several programmes that run within it:

Driving test pass

Inborn skills: Skills we can just do!

Very inflexible, not easy to change.

Acquired: Over time we adapt and learn new skills (like walking).

Automated: Acquired skills which when mastered can’t be un-learnt easily. (Like riding a bike). You ability to perform it may drop or become ‘rusty’ but the skill is still there.


Issues with learning and how it effects us as drivers or riders

We learn from experience. If we have a good experience then we learn to do it again. Small positive changes can increase our ability.

The problem as a driver or rider is that can give us a sense of ‘false security’. For example; we come to a junction at the end of our road and it is clear. We do that multiplied by many more occasions and we start assuming and acting as if it will be clear.

We have limited brain power. If we are learning a new skill (driving or riding) or learning to change habits, this takes concentration.

We only have a finite amount of thinking power. We can get overloaded; Did you just miss that road sign because you saw a car break ahead and needed to react?

Spontaneous Action. We swerve because we see something moving in our peripheral vision. Having more brain processing power and anticipation as well as automatic skills will help reduce this type of reaction.

Fear. When we get frightened we start to physically react. Our body can start to go into ‘fight or flight’, which is a way of our primitive mind being able to focus on only the immediate potential danger. The problem with this is, if it is a new skill we are learning, we can stop remembering how to do it very easily!

Junction Hazard Procedure



Information taken from:

DIA, 2018. The Psychology of Riding. Driving Instructor, Issue 8 2018, 35,36,37.


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