Learning to unlearn

Unlearning can be challenging. But it's possible to learn how to unlearn anything with enough curiosity and stepping out of our comfort zone.

Learning to unlearn
This November, I’m challenging myself to write every day. You can read them all under the “Shorts” category, where each post should be around 500–1k words. Think of them as “less polished” than my usual longer blog posts. This is Day 15.

What does it mean to "unlearn" something? Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:
to make an effort to forget your usual way of doing something so that you can learn a new and sometimes better way
But I don't think it's as simple as "forgetting" something. When you "forget" something, you are unintentionally discarding something from your memory; however, when you "unlearn" something, you are making a deliberate action to remove it from your memory to make room for something better. What are some of the things we can unlearn? We can, for example, unlearn a bad habit or an outdated belief. We pick up and learn many things and skills throughout our lives. From as young as children, we learn by observation from family, friends, and school. We then pick up behaviours, beliefs, and habits from others that may or may not be beneficial for us, which eventually shape our worldview. Some of these can be especially harmful to us. Unlearning anything can be challenging, but here are three small ways you can try to help you get started:
Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash
Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Acknowledge that we can all learn to unlearn

It's possible to learn almost anything. Unlearning is part of learning. We can learn to unlearn anything since anything can be learned, and we're never too old to learn something new. It takes time to unlearn and relearn anything. It's no surprise that after years of being acclimated with a certain understanding, it can take years to unlearn it to relearn something better too. It's hard to unlearn something, but it's possible once you become aware of the thing you want to unlearn as the first step.

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

Change is rarely comfortable. If something contradicts your current belief, you are less likely to listen because your current worldview is being challenged. "It's how it is" is a dumb and lazy reason. We can do better. This is the time to leave our comfort zone and challenge our beliefs. We can begin by asking ourselves some questions, such as:
  • What makes it so uncomfortable?
  • How will this affect my relationships with others?
  • Will I be the same person I was before?
  • How do I feel about this new belief?
This might also mean a change in your current identity. But people change, and that's okay. If your friends and family cherish you, they'll be happy to embrace the better version of you with open arms.

Nurture curiosity

Learning won't come naturally unless we cultivate a sense of curiosity. We may have a harder time being in tune with the new learning. That's why we must nurture our curiosity as much as we can. Our education system may have stifled our curiosity and joy in discovering new things outside of the norm but the learning doesn't end in school. That is also one of the things we all should unlearn from. There is always room to grow and learn. So, approach it with child-like wonder, and let your mind freely wander about the new knowledge. Try to be as open as possible to allow yourself to ask questions, explore new approaches and techniques with courage. It's okay to ask questions, especially dumb ones. If you can, pull in a close friend or two, or even your family members. It may be difficult to go through this alone, so reaching out for help is always a good idea.
Unlearning and relearning are never-ending processes. I'm also on a journey to unlearn many things, especially outdated beliefs that I was taught since young. What are the things you're trying to unlearn?