Are you feeling crippled with overwhelm?


Overwhelm is a word I hear a lot from clients and other business owners who are grappling with the business of running their business.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot to learn, a lot to do, lots to get to grips with. Everyone’s journey in business is different. We have different skills and abilities. We deal with things differently and we have different emotions. So, to feel overwhelmed is quite normal, it’s ok – and most people will feel it at some point in their lives – some more than others.

Overwhelm is a real thing and I wanted to put it into context in this blog.

Years ago, I was undertaking some leadership training and I came across ‘The 4 Stages of Competence’.  It’s a model or a timeline that describes the learning process.

The Four Stages of Competence

4 Stages of Competence-2.jpg

Unconscious Incompetence

This is when we know nothing or very little about something. We can use the analogy of learning to drive a car. Before we learn to drive, we’re aware that we can learn if we want to and that there are certain processes that need to be undertaken but we don’t think too much about them because we’re not the person driving the car. Instead, we’ll look out of the window and admire the scenery.

We’re unaware of the amount of information we don’t actually know.

Conscious Incompetence

At this stage we begin to understand our lack of knowledge.

So, when we start to learn to drive, all of a sudden, we realise that to control the car, to be responsible for all of our passengers, we need to master a lot of things. Foot pedals, clutch control, when to change gear, all the buttons and wands around the steering wheel, responsible driving! Eek 😬

Suddenly there’s so much to learn – how will we ever know what to do and when?

Cue overwhelm!  Overwhelm will set in here because we realise we have an understanding all of a sudden of the magnitude of the task.  Think about your business and all the new things you’ve had to learn. It’s likely you didn’t know how much there was to learn when you initially set up – and you’ve been on a massive learning curve ever since.

Conscious Competence

Here we’re aware of how we’re doing.  We now know how to drive the car.  We’ve passed our driving test. But we’re still a new driver so we’re very aware of what we’re doing when we’re in the car.  We need to concentrate to make sure we’re doing everything as we should.

This stage can still be overwhelming – but less so.

In terms of our business, we’re getting to grips with processes, we’ve implemented things we’ve learnt, and things are happening as they should. We’re aware that there’s more to learn but we feel in control of our actions.

Unconscious Competence

And this final stage is when we’re becomming or have become a master of our trade. In the driving analogy, we’re rather experienced on the road now. We all know that we always need to be concentrating, but I’m sure you’ll agree that sometimes you’ve set off on a familiar journey – got to where you were going and thought ‘crikey, I don’t remember passing such and such a place’ – almost as if we were on auto pilot.

At this point we’re not overwhelmed at all by what we’re doing – we know the process well – we’ve done it many times before.

Our businesses are now running like well oiled machines. Or at least parts of them are. It might be that we have good onboarding processes for new clients but we’re still working on our marketing. We might be at different stages of competence with different parts of our business – and that’s fine.


I’m sure you recognise all of these stages when you’ve learnt something in the past.

I’ve always remembered these 4 stages – it was something I thought was really interesting at the time and because I’ve known about them, I’ve recognised each stage when I’m learning something new. It doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed, I do. But I do know that it’s all part of the learing process and consistent learning, taking action and implementing will help me through to the next stage.


So I hope this is helpful to you too – especially if something is making you feel really overwhelmed at the moment. Take some time to understand where you are, what you need to do to get to the next stage and draw up and action plan to help you through.

Do let me know your thoughts in the comments section of the blog.

Fay Blakey

Hi, I’m Fay!

I’m a business coach and adviser and I’m here to help you grow your business with clarity and confidence.

I’ve worked with business owners just like you for over 20 years.

I know that you started your business for flexibility and satisfaction and to live your purpose. You have a fabulous business idea that your ideal clients should love.

But you’re frustrated becuase it now feels daunting and overwhelming - there’s so much to do and you’re just not sure if all these things you’re doing are the right things.

I do know how you feel, and I’d love to take you from this confusion to creating a clear direction to develop the business you’ve always had in mind.

If you want to chat further, book your FREE call with me.