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Unlearning - letting go of stuff that doesn't help

We spend much of our life focused on learning and expanding our knowledge and breadth of skills to do the things we want to achieve in life. Progressing in a career, completing a new course or qualification, learning to be a parent or a partner. Learning a new hobby, craft or sport.... The things we learn help us to grow and expand our world.

Adding layer upon layer to us.

Not enough kudos is given to the process of unlearning. By this I mean letting go of something you learned to do (perhaps learned accidentally) that appears now to serve little purpose or even cause problems in your life. This might be the biggest learning journey of all. Moving out of the way of the stuff that stops us, even if that's ourselves.

Unlearning a habit, a go-to emotion, a way of co-existing with others may feel like it's creating a void, a space where a reaction or behaviour or thought once existed.... What would go there instead?

Habitual behaviours are largely carried out unconsciously.

So it's hardly surprising the process of unlearning may be a little less obvious for us, because if it was that clear what needed to change, we already would have done it right?

Unlearning is a process of identifying a barrier/burden or interference to something you want to achieve in life - especially where there is a habitual process.

Putting off the application to interview for fear of the interview performance, procrastinating on a task or avoiding that opportunity to connect with someone else because you get too anxious.

Unlearning is symbiotic with learning and re-learning. A connected chord of growth. It may go something like this.

  • A recognition on some level that things could be different.

  • Identifying what the problem or barrier is, or where you get stuck.

  • Acknowledging your part to play in making the difference happen.

  • Creating the curiosity (or maybe uncertainty) of the how.

  • Resolving the barrier or issue (The Unlearning).

  • Identifying new learning - this is exploration, research and further curiosity. You may already have the thing you to put in the place of the stuff you let go (an emotion, a technique/skill, a thought or behaviour).

  • Then comes the re-learning this is the point where you adopt the new process and begin to embed it into your approaches to a point you reach unconscious competence and instead this reaction becomes the natural organic way to achieve the activity/performance in an easier and happier way.

Who knows there may even be an exploration of that light bulb moment of "Why" you did that thing in the first place. That isn't always essential though!

"You can try to learn more solutions. Or you can unlearn the problem itself" Alex Carabi, 2018.

Resistance to Unlearning.

It may be easy for you to create barriers in the unlearning process initially. This is personal growth and it may feel like unfamiliar territory to explore the option to do things different and modify a technique or approach that you have been doing for some time. Let's call out some of those patterns so you can spot them quickly and nurture and care for those parts of you that fear the possibility of change. Here are a few common apprehensions.

  • Self-Shaming - feelings of disappointment, perhaps even anger in recognising that what you have been doing hasn't been the most helpful approach and may benefit from changing. This may even lead to holding on to the issue as a way of "punishing" yourself for having it in the first place.

A way to re-frame - I did the best with what I knew at the time and now I can accept new ways and feel curious about them.

  • Grief/Hurt - letting go of something that may be an integral part of who you believe you are, could feel strange or sad.

A way to re-frame- This part played an important part in my life, I value what it has taught me and understand that this feeling will change with time. There is space for new things to grow. The learning remains and the experience has provided wisdom.

  • Testing for change - looking for the behaviour or reaction that we have just made the effort to change, losing connection with new approaches and sending our unconscious on a treasure hunt to get back the thing it was we wanted less of.

A way to re-frame - I will accept that things can be different and life is forever changing I am curious to experience the new things I have learned now I have let go to the things that no longer serve me.

  • Doubt - if it was that easy how come I didn't do this before? This may also link to feelings of shame, being foolish.

A way to re-frame - I am open to possibilities, in unlearning old ways I have made way to an expanse of new opportunities. Things are only easy when you know how and I am now discovering new ways of being and doing. Everything serves a purpose for me in this process at some time.

  • Being left out- If you are letting go of a behaviour or approach that made you part of the herd (a team, a friendship group) this is going to mix stuff up and that may feel a little unsettled.

A way of re-framing - I am letting go of the things that serve little purpose for me in life. As I grow I can recognise the value of others within my life and grow into space that accepts my learning and unlearning and enables me to surround myself with positive experiences, this change provides new opportunities.

Creating a culture of unlearning in your individual growth, a team, relationship or family, or even as part of an organisation can make way for dynamic and creative environment. It opens up the opportunity for fluidity and can help to take the narrative of Shame out of Failure. Failure after all is the process of ever changing and evolving to achieve a new outcome. The power here is the ability to move out of the way of stumbling blocks, modify and evolve the processes and behaviours that currently hinder and ignite passion and connection to the solutions and goals that drive you forward into new and more wonderful ways of being you. .

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