November 2010

Lisa Kind - Editor

Off the Top | by Kimberly Johnson


The Learning Cycle

I strongly believe individuals who empower themselves possess the capability to be their best as technicians, owners, parents, friends or partners.

Many situations in life cause us to raise our defenses. The faster we become comfortable with lowering these barriers, the sooner we can enjoy the situation and ourselves.

I have had the good fortune to observe the behavior of excited cosmetology students entering into this industry. When a student arrives at school, they are open to being taught and even critiqued. The student does not have fear to block them from learning necessary lessons so, their minds and attitudes are wide open and positive.

However, over a period of time, our personal fears can creep in and shut down our learning process. This interferes with our learning to the point where we become unable to see the small, yet critical lessons that cross our paths everyday. Imagine the self-empowerment gained if you could keep your fear barrier at a low level.

It is important to keep an open mind and to be positive and it will all work out. In fact, most of us actually feel that we live these mottos and are positive and open-minded people in specific situations. But we have all experienced being self-righteous at one time or another only to realize hours, days, or even months later that we were wrong. Imagine the self-empowerment gained if you could control these self-righteous outbursts.

I was taught a key lesson early in my career that has helped me keep my fear barrier and self-righteousness in check. It is so effective that it has been implemented within our school and in my personal life. This tool, called the learning cycle, is widely credited to psychologist Abraham Maslow and has four stages:

Stage 1: Unconsciously Incompetent - I don’t even know that I don’t know.

Example: Getting a driver’s license at fifteen. The perception is that driving is going to be easy and I look GOOD behind the wheel.

Stage 2: Consciously Incompetent - Wakeup call. I now KNOW that I do not know.

Example: I try to merge onto the freeway, I freak out, Dad is yelling, and I press on the brake instead of the gas. This was a big failure, and definitely not as easy as I thought.

Stage 3: Consciously Competent - I am consciously working on the muscles that need to be improved. I think about it, I practice it. I think about it, I practice it.

Example: I adjust all mirrors and get my mind in the game. I have Mom in the backseat spotting for upcoming cars, and I begin my merge on the freeway. I succeed, I practice it again, I succeed, and I practice it again.

Stage 4: Unconsciously Competent- I have mastered it. I no longer think and practice, think and practice. I just do and it happens.

Example: I have my license. I can now turn on autopilot. In fact, I drive home after a long day at work and do not remember how I got home.

All of us at one point or another are in one of these four stages of the learning cycle. The key to success is recognizing which stage we are currently in, as well as recognizing the fear or self-righteous barriers that may be present in each stage and learning how to overcome those barriers in order to advance to the next stage.

Try to apply these four stages throughout your day. With focus and practice, you will be able to move through the stages with ease and less self-doubt, gaining knowledge and skills everyday. I hope this becomes a new tool for your own self-empowerment.

Kimberly Johnson is a successful Cosmetology School owner in Portland, Oregon.  In addition, she serves as Director of Business Development, overseeing a local 12 million dollar salon spa operation with 250 employees with four locations.  To reach Kimberly email her at



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