Learning never stops, they say, no matter how old you grow. I agree but only partially. Unlearning, I believe, is an even more consistent phenomenon of life.
Over the years, as we move from one phase to another, our cognitive abilities mature by picking up patterns. In early childhood our parents shape our soft novice minds and this lays down our foundations, like being honest, respecting elders, being nice to others, staying away from fire, and I am pretty sure you are well aware of the long list that goes here. We are only barely done getting a hang of all this and the next phase is already upon us – schooling starts! Major surprises await us here as our learned mind is challenged with contradictions: not all children are nice to each other, many even steal other’s lunch and even tell lies in front of the teacher. In these years we go through major mental rewiring as we get to experience the real world outside our perfect homes.
And so, continues the roller coaster of life, speeding through phases, one after the other, leaving a lot for our minds to adapt to.
Later on, coming out of a business school with flying colors, we think that we are all set to dominate the markets. Yet it’s only within a few days of stepping into a real business that we realize how much of the academic stuff needs to be twisted and tweaked – in many cases even forgotten – to adapt to the real scenarios.
Yea so, the learning continues!
Well, if you were to review it closely, you’d realize that it’s not just pure and simple learning. In fact, adapting involves undoing what you had learnt previously and replacing it with an updated, more current version. In short, it’s not just learning on its own which carries us forward – it’s the ability to unlearn what we already know and then relearn the fresh perspective presented by life.
Remember using those old analog phones? Those clunky wired objects where you had to hold up a receiver to your ear while dialing the number on a rotator with the index finger of other hand? Sounds like some groovy experience now that we think of it, doesn’t it? Today for us, though, the idea of a phone is universally synonymous with the smartphones that we all so dearly own. We definitely did a marvelous job at unlearning the use of those old phones and repeatedly relearning as these magical devices evolved from rotary dials to key pads to touch pads to voice assistants. Some progress!
Now how would it feel if you came across someone still using the same old rotary phone today? ‘So outdated!’ ‘Doesn’t want to progress in life.’ ‘Too old school.’ ‘Boring!’ These could be some of your possible remarks for such person. With these, what you are subconsciously implying is that the person refused to unlearn the old way and that they, unlike you, didn’t reprogram the patterns in their mind to make better use of progressing technology.
Go on, map this analogy to any other aspect of life, the importance of unlearning would still shine through in all its glory.
Do we really have this option of not unlearning the old and ignoring progression? Aren’t we all bound to flow through with time as it keeps pushing forward?
Yes, you can say that we are somewhat bound but it is still very much in our own hands too. Progression, you see, is not just an external force which we cannot avoid. In its most meaningful form, progression is an intrinsic manifestation that we have to enact on ourselves. It’s not just about unlearning manual for automatic transmission and, further still, for a self-driven car or giving up on those black & white boxed TVs for curved, slim OLED ones. On the contrary, true progression means unlearning your own old self to make way for an improved you.
And how exactly does that work?
It is as easy as accepting your flaws and correcting them and, at the same time, as tricky as keeping a very close eye on your attitudes and behaviors for any shortcomings. After all, not everything we learn is constructive. So, to make it all really work, we need to:
- Stay mindful of our actions (and reactions) in any given situation
- Run a check if we could’ve acted in some other way for a better output - trust me, there is one almost always
- Identify that different approach, if there is any
- Use that new approach next time we are in a similar situation
- Keep repeating this cycle till the end of times
Not so difficult now, is it? For instance, the next time you are faced with harsh criticism, may be instead of being all aggressive for defending yourself you could try and take the route of peacefully listening to what the other has to say and then evaluate if it makes any sense or not. There is no harm in taking out the good bits, you know.
This is how we let go of our bad habits, negative associations, redundant thought patterns, and older selves while prepping for an improved life experience in the present and every new moment to come. This is how we truly learn!