The only certainty in life is that life is uncertain. In the last 2 years we have all realized how quickly the world can be turned onto its head. Within just a few months, the pandemic spread and permanently changed the world. Not only that, but it has accelerated the need for the world to adapt. Both businesses and people have had to find new ways to make do, and this has been to the advantage of the quick learners.
The world has always been a fast evolving place, but now even more so. When I started my engineering degree in 2017, we were told that when we graduated 5 years later, 40% of what we would have learned in our studies would already have become outdated. This meant that we had to be quick on our feet, and be adaptable to an ever changing environment. The pandemic has only accelerated this.
When we find ourselves in a rapidly changing world, unlearning outdated ideas and tasks becomes just as important as learning new things! In school we are taught how to learn new material, but seldomly does the topic of unlearning make its way into the classroom.
What Is Unlearning
Unlearning is all about replacing outdated information in our brains with more up-to-date and relevant information. It can be that we have to unlearn bad behaviours, such as procrastinating important work, or that we have to unlearn toxic habits, such as throwing our clothes on the floor instead of folding them back up and putting them in the closet.
Unlearning is not about forgetting those behaviours and habits, but about replacing them with something more positive. Let’s discuss how we can unlearn negative habits and behaviours.
How To Unlearn Habits
Your ability to unlearn bad habits can be even more important than your ability to create positive ones. Often times it is our bad habits that get us into trouble. Think about the student that spends hours per day on instagram and other social media sites instead of studying for their exams.
These negative habits prohibit you from being successful, and in the worsts cases can even damage your physical and mental well-being!
Do not worry, there is a great structured method out there that will help you unlearn these terrible habits. Let’s go through the steps of what it takes to unlearn these bad habits.
1. Accept your negative habits
Having negative habits is similar to having an addiction. If you are able to realize you have a problem, you are already 50% of the way there to solving your problem! Once you know what issues you have, you are able to devise a plan to get to a solution.
Note that now the hard work starts!
2. Know what triggers your habits
All of your habits are kick started by some sort of trigger. The moment you walk into your kitchen, you suddenly start to crave for a snack. Your snack craving is the bad habit, while your entry to the kitchen was the trigger.
Unlearning bad habits all surround the trigger. There are 2 paths you can take. You either remove the trigger, or you replace the habit, but utilize the same trigger. Often times it can be hard to get rid of the trigger. You can’t just expect yourself to stop walking into the kitchen! Yet for simpler examples it can be done!
For example, you have a habit of being distracted by your phone during study. Whenever you see a message notification pop up on your phone, you reach over for it without even thinking about it. The trigger here is the notification pop-up. In this example it is very simple to get rid of the trigger. simply turn over your phone or put it away!
3. Replace negative habits with positive ones
Alternatively, you have to replace the negative habit with a positive one to make it go away. If we look at the snack and kitchen example again. The moment you walk into the kitchen, you crave a snack. Now this simply means the mind wants some kind of treat, and it expects food. If you replace your chocolate bars with healthy options such as pieces of fruit, you will have replaced a bad habit with a good one.
You will still crave something when you walk into the kitchen, except this time you will actually eat food that is beneficial for you! Here we have simply replaced the bad snacking habit by a healthy fruit eating one!
4. Stay committed
Note that just because you ate a banana once doesn’t mean that the negative habit has been erased from your mind. It will take over 1 month of continually telling yourself to eat that piece of fruit to change your mindset and habit.
You have to continue to stay committed to building up that habit. A habit is a lot like trust between people. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to build up, and it can be destroyed in seconds. So make sure you never replace those fruits by chocolate snacks, or you will be back on the negative habit bandwagon!
5. Keep track of your progress
Keeping track of your progress is absolutely crucial if you want to succeed in unlearning your negative habits. As I mentioned in the point above, it can take a month or more for a habit to set in. If we don’t asses our progress, we are prone to forget about wanting to change our habit. This will inevitably cause the negative habit to return once again. Do not let this happen to you!
5 Ways To Unlearn Behaviours
Behaviours differ from habits in the sense that they are not triggered by certain events. Behaviours are part of who we are, and manifest themselves in our daily lives willingly. It can often be very hard for an individual to recognize their own negative behaviour traits, while negative habits can be easily found using a quick mental exercise!
That being said, once this negative behaviour has been found, there are several tips I can give you to be able to deal with it and improve it. After all we do not want these to affect our loved ones, nor do we want to miss out on any valuable opportunities because of certain behavioural characteristics.
1. Journal and reflection
Journaling is a great way to reflect on our behaviors. Writing about situations in which that behaviour manifested can really bring us to the origin on what causes it. Furthermore we can explore just how it affects people around us.
Journaling and mental reflection is a great way to explore these complex issues. It provides us with a clearer picture. Once we truly understand the issue at hand, we are able to come up with am efficient plan that will bring us a satisfactory solution to unlearn!
2. Practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness teaches us to be present and more aware in the moment. It is an excellent tool that allows us to understand the effect of our current actions. Because mindfulness is so good at making us live in the present, it also gives us the ability to be able to understand our own behaviour. We simply become better at understanding ourselves through midnfulness practices.
Understanding yourself is a big step to solving and unlearning your behavioural problems. Mindfulness can be practiced in 2 forms. One of them is through meditation and another is through journaling. I have written a little bit more in-depth about mindfulness here!
3. Get feedback from peers
As I mentioned before, it can often be hard for an individual to find their own behavioural flaws. However, these weaknesses can often be very clear to the people that know you the best. As your family and close friends for tips on how to improve your behaviour. They will likely not only be able to tell you what behaviour needs to be fixed, but they will also provide you with ways you can unlearn that behaviour.
After all, these are the people you spend the most time with. So if you truly want to unlearn a toxic behaviour, your family and friends will need to support you in this until the end!
4. Be empathic
Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings experienced by another being. If you have a strong sense of empathy, then you will understand how your behaviour affects others. Understanding this will allow you to tweak your behavioral characteristics as much as needed to ensure that you don’t negatively affect anyone or anything.
5. Practice gratitude
Gratitude is another great way of understanding our past. A daily practice of gratitude shares light on how much others have helped us. Not only does it teach us the positive behavioural traits of other people, but it can inspire us to become more like them. In the process we tend to unlearn certain behaviours!
Unlearning is a skill that you will need to develop in the next years. With the rise of new technologies, the world will become an ever changing place. Those who do not adapt will fall behind and will be consumed by those who can adapt. Make sure you are on the right side of history!
I hope you enjoyed the read and were able to learn a little bit from this article. I wish you all the best on your journey throughout life!