How Practicing the Art of Unlearning Makes You a Better Lifelong Learner

leadership mindset Sep 29, 2022

Do you consider yourself a lifelong learner? Most people think being teachable or a lifelong learner means you’re willing to keep learning new things, new ideas, and new skills.

That’s what I used to think. I was wrong.

Being teachable not only means you’re willing to keep learning. It also means you’re willing to unlearn.  This mindset will reframe your approach to gaining knowledge.

When you apply a fresh outlook on how you’ve done something for years will often reveal a new and better way to do it. This is unlearning.

Unlearning is setting aside the no longer practical or relevant ways you’ve done something in the past and coming to the solution with a fresh growth and skills. When you practice the art of unlearning, you can bust through plateaus in business or life. After all, if you’re looking for different results, you must approach the problem in at a different angle.

Think of unlearning compared to a lovely piece of furniture that has seen better days. It may be constructed well but is covered in multiple layers of paint and varnish. You must strip away the layers to get down to the original wood. Then you add the finish back to make the finished piece new again.

You don't forget the techniques and ideas you’ve already learned, but by clearing off the layers, you’ll end up with a fresh new look.

Sometimes unlearning is difficult. There’s nothing “soft” about this soft skill.

Unlearning takes you out of your comfort zone and makes you face the unknown. It challenges the security of past knowledge that you’ve always relied on.

Five Tips For Successful Unlearning

  1. Ask Questions
    Not only ask, but listen and apply answers
  2. Stretch Your Thinking
    Think outside your norm as far as you possibly can. Intentionally spend time with people who think differently from you
  3. Put Your Thoughts Into Context
    Keep your focus on short-term personal growth so the context is relevant to you, today.
  4. Test What You Unlearn
    Do you notice what you have left behind? Focus on something that wasn’t productive, but now, due to a change in your unlearning, is productive.
  5. Identify and Plan
    Identify the opposite of the thing you’d like to unlearn and establish a plan to get you there.

Unlearning takes a little more effort than learning, and it’s worth it. Just think of all the ways the world collectively has unlearned historical teachings and come up with new relevant and more accurate ways to accomplish tasks!

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