The Art Of Learning And Unlearning

The covid pandemic of 2020 has hit the world in a way we have not seen in recent decades. Our world has always been evolving, but COVID has only accelerated this. In this new age, the only way you are going to keep up is by learning, unlearning, and relearning. There is a very beautiful quote written by Alvin Toffler that explains this just so well. He said “The illiterate of the world will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Learning is what allows us to build ourselves in both a professional and personal setting. But it is our ability to unlearn that allows us to adapt in this ever changing world. We are all human, and are prone to negative habits and bad behaviours. Yet it is up to us to change these for the better. This can often be easier said than done. That is why I wrote a little bit about how you are able to keep ahead of the game in the 21st century!

Why Should We Unlearn?

When I started university as an engineering student, one of my professors said “Whatever you will learn here, by the time you graduate, over 75% of that information will have become outdated”. He went on to say that if you cannot adapt, the engineering world is not for you, in fact, the world is not for you.

We all have dreams and hopes, but we also have negative habits and behaviours that are holding us back from achieving these dreams. If you want to become successful, you need to be able to unlearn old and useless information. Here is how!

How To Unlearn

Unlearning is becoming a more and more important skill to master in the modern world. Your ability to unlearn bad behaviour and negative habits is just as important as being able to learn new ones.

Unlearning can oftentimes be difficult for people, especially if they have exhibited those behaviours and habits for as long as they can remember. That being said, it is definitely not impossible for anyone to unlearn those behaviours and habits. There exists a structured way to unlearn habits, and there are several methods you can employ to unlearn negative behaviours.

Let’s start by talking about our behaviours.

2 Ways To Unlearn Toxic Behaviours

Unlearning behaviour differs from that of habits in the sense that they are not triggered by certain events. Your behaviour is a part of your personality, and it will always exist within you. Often times it is very hard for someone to recognize the negatives of their own behaviour, while for habits this is generally not really an issue.

Once we have discovered what behaviours we would rather get rid of than keep, there are several methods we can employ to get rid of them. I will go over 2 ways to unlearn toxic behaviours here, but I wrote a much more in-depth article on unlearning already! So make sure you check that out if you are interested in diving deeper into this topic!

Talk to your friends and family

As mentioned before, it can be hard for someone to discover their own behavioral faults. But it can oftentimes be quite obvious for the people around you to tell you your flaws. Ask a close family member or a trusted friend for advice and help. Not only will they be able to tell you exactly what negative behavioural traits you have, they will also play a crucial role in your ability to unlearn them.

If you let your family and friends know that you are trying to unlearn a certain behaviour, they will be able to let you know where you need to make changes and as well call you out whenever you are repeating that bad behaviour.

It is an overall great feedback loop that will lead you to success!

Do a reflective journal

Reflection on our behaviours is a great way to truly understand them. We are able to learn when they manifest, how they affect the people around us and how they affect ourselves. Once we truly understand the scope of our toxic behaviour, we can come up with a proper plan to unlearn it.

If you find it hard to recall the moment in which your behaviour acted up, try something like this simple mental exercise. Apply it to your behaviour, and then you can come up with the main cause!

Unlearning Negative Habits

For unlearning negative habit, there is a more structured path you can follow. All habit exist in the same form. A habit is always started when you are exposed to a trigger of some kind. Then the habit is activated and a reward is received at the end.

A typical example of a negative habit is a student being distracted by social media during their studying time. They will be sitting at their desk studying when suddenly their phone vibrate and a notification pops up on the screen. Without even thinking, they reach for their phone to check on the notification. All this took space in just a few seconds, but it derailed them completely from their studies.

The trigger here was the vibrating of the phone and the notification pop-up. The habit was reading the message, and the reward was the dopamine rush your brain got after reading the message. Habits don’t have to be complicated to be destructive. No matter the complexity of the habit, the following method will work if applied correctly.

  • Accept your negative habit
  • Know what triggers your negative habits
  • Replace your negative habits with positive ones
  • Stay committed
  • Keep track of your progress

If you are curious for a more detailed explanation with examples of the method to unlearn habits, then make sure to read my more in-depth article regarding unlearning here!

How To Become A More Effective Learner

Once we have unlearned our bad behaviours and negative habits, we have to learn new ones to replace those we unlearned. Your ability to learn, and your willingness to continue to learn will determine the heights you are able to reach in life.

There are 2 main aspects to learning. Both the speed at which you learn and your ability to remember that what was learned. It is great if you are able to learn how to cook, but if it took you 4 years to get there, you have been very inefficient in your time! If you do not progress fast enough, you risk being left behind. If you are able to learn twice as fast as your competition, then you are at a serious advantage in the game of life!

That being said, speed reading a book in 1 hour but not being able to remember the most important details is just as wasteful. In the next part I will go a little bit more in-depth on how to put yourself in situations that will not only allow you to learn quicker, but also allow you to remember that which you learned.

4 Ways To Become A More Effective Learner

1. Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

The comfort zone is a space in life where you feel relaxed and at easy. There are no risks and challenges for you here. As the name implies, it is a very comfortable place to be. Unfortunately, it is not a very stimulating and success oriented zone. Classic examples of the comfort zone would be your couch, or doing activities that you have been doing for years, which now have become 2nd nature to you.

Studies have shown that our brain likes certainty, hence why it is so hard for us to leave the comfort zone! That being said, the same studies reported that when we face ourselfs in new and stressful scenarios, our brain quickly tries to adapt to the new situation. It actually encourages our brain to learn!

Regularly stepping out of your comfort zone is actually a trait exhibited by many successful people. It is what separates them from everyone else, simply because it brings them so many more skills. By continuously putting yourself in new situations, you are bound to learn something new!

Lets go over some ways you can step out of your comfort zone!

Know when you’re out of your comfort zone

The first step is actually figuring out whether or not you are in your comfort zone. Stepping out of your comfort zone means you are nervous and slightly stressed at the thought of doing it. One of the methods I like to use is simply asking myself a question. For example, I will ask myself “Am I struggling, is this a challenge for me, or am I getting through this task with relative ease?”.

If you are not struggling, and getting through your day without breaking a sweat, you are stuck in your comfort zone.

Push yourself in your normal life

Even though we step out of comfort zone, these activities will become stress free for us over time. Hence we find ourselves back where we started. One easy solution for this is to try and make them more challenging. I’ll take a personal example.

I have been doing mixed-martial arts for a while now, but I have never truly sparred with anyone. In case you are unfamiliar, sparring is when you fight someone else, albeit with protective gear not found in a professional fight. That being said, it was still a scary experience, because the guy I fought was an amateur boxer.

Since training MMA was becoming the norm for me, I had to find a way to challenge myself, hence I decided to step in a ring and test my skills. Since then I have been training harder than ever. I would really suggest you try something similar to whatever goals you are working on!

2. Practice What You Know

Learning new information is crucial in 2022. However, having only theoretical knowledge of something just isn’t going to cut it. To truly understand anything in life, we must practice that which we are trying to learn. You cannot learn to play football by sitting in a classroom and learning the rules or watching others play. You simply have to walk onto the pitch and start playing!

The same goes for anything in life. If you are struggling with math as a student, you just have to make more exercises. Practical experience is severely underrated! Whenever you plan to learn something new, make sure you find a clear way to gain practical experience. It will not only make you learn that new skill much quicker, you’ll also learn it in much more detail!

3. Be Willing To Teach What You Know

Albert Einstein, arguably one of the the greatest physicists ever, once said that “if you can’t explain something simply, then you do not understand it well enough”. Being able to explain a certain thing to someone else is the perfect way to gage your understanding of the subject. We will get into a little bit more detail in the next section.

On top of that, teaching what you know to others is a great way to reinforce the information that you have already learned. It is a simple yet brutally effective way to better remember information. It will also help you with your social life as well!

When you spend time teaching others, often you are able to learn something new as well. I recently helped a friend with an idea, and they asked a few questions in return. These were questions that looked at the subject in a way I hadn’t considered before. So we spend sometime figuring it out, and my knowledge about the subject expanded as a result! With this kind of feedback, we keep the informed and we are even able to expand that knowledge.

I am still a student at the time of writing this article, and this is one of the things I always try and do to understand my courses better. It is brutally effective!

4. Test Your Knowledge

Learning is great, but your time is limited! Knowing when you have truly mastered a skill is a skill in itself. One of the easiest ways to know if all your learning has payed off, is to test yourself. I have found that testing oneself oftentimes shows gaps in our knowledge. Knowing this, you can work to close to gaps and become better at that skill. On top of that, research has also shown that testing yourself is also a great way of remembering information better. You will be able to strengthen your long term memory this way.

As I mentioned above, explaining a subject to someone else is a perfect way to gage your skill level. You will very quickly find out if you lack in any areas. If you are able to explain everything in perfect detail, then you know you have mastered this skill. You might even get a motivation boost out of it too!

If you want more tips to become a more efficient learner, I have written a more in-depth article on the art of learning here!

Final Thoughts

Learning, unlearning and relearning is a continuous process. You should be following it until the day you die. If you are able to manage, you will stay ahead of the competition and will no doubt see the success you have dreamt of in life. I hope you were able to learn something from this article and that I was able to positively influence you in some way. See you next time!

2 thoughts on “The Art Of Learning And Unlearning

Add yours

  1. I appreciate the way you put the concept of unlearning into perspective. I had never given it much thought until now, but I realize I’ve had to “unlearn” in order to relearn and continue in my growth both personally and professionally. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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