Many of us ask ourselves what we can learn every day. But, how often do you ask yourself what you can unlearn? The value of learning is self-evident, except when what you learn is not very useful, but that’s another topic. What is far less obvious is the power of unlearning.
From cradle to grave
Our species is unique in our ability to learn quickly and manipulate our environment. While we display instinctive behaviours like other animals, our reliance on learnt behaviour is huge, like no other. And, our learnt behaviours can be as deep as our evolved instincts.
What we learn is a complex brew of the different ideas and actions we are exposed to since day 1 on planet earth. Different ideas about what you should and shouldn’t do and about how you live. Ideas that we pick up from family, school, culture and our peer groups.
Some of these would undoubtedly have been helpful— you wouldn’t be where you are today otherwise! But, you will also hold deeply engrained learnings that stop you from living well. Things that you will benefit from unlearning.
Learning may lead to unlearning where the new replaces the old. However, what we learn is often viewed through the lens of the old. So, the true value of new learning may frequently be distorted, haphazardly cobbled together with the old.
Furthermore, some of our beliefs and behaviours are so fundamental that they govern even what we allow ourselves to learn. And, how we allow ourselves to live. Some things might be so deeply conditioned into us that we might not even be aware of them. Just think of common attitudes such as:
Don’t challenge authority
I’m not creative
Status = happiness
I just can’t do [ x ]
I don’t deserve to be loved
Suppress certain emotions
These are just a few examples of learnt attitudes that are in fact deeply damaging to us. Yet, they can so easily become normalised in your life.
The power of unlearning
Normalisation means that you very deliberately have to unlearn things. Unlearn those beliefs and behaviours that hold you back from living more fully.
The first step in this process is simply opening your eyes to yourself. For, you can only choose to unlearn what you are aware of. And, this calls on you to notice and investigate your habitual behaviour patterns and the deeper (non-conscious) beliefs behind them. It asks of you the courage to look within.
Don’t forget the power of unlearning — it can lay the ground for deeper personal transformation.
Learn to unlearn and unlearn to learn.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.