Learning to Unlearn

Learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to speak and learning to think are a few different ways in which we learn all our lives. Starting from an infant till the day we die, humans keep on learning. And rightfully so, learning is essential for survival, essential for success, essential to achieve our dreams and ambitions. “Learning to learn” or meta-learning is when you teach yourself how to more efficiently master tough subjects. How to become better at understanding ideas and concepts, by managing time and information. “Learning to Unlearn”, which is the title of this post and of my webpage is not a typo of “Leaning to learn”. I really mean learning to unlearn.

Learning is necessary, being efficient at learning more so, but what about unlearning what we know and have practiced all our life. We are never taught how to unlearn what we already know, once it is obsolete. We are really poor at letting go of our traditional beliefs and practices. It is not an easy task. “Learning to unlearn” is something I have struggled with more than learning itself. In this TED talk, Lauren Weinstein rightfully said that we all are bound by the chains which kept on forming as we grew older. Just like that elephant who believes he cannot break free of that thin rope, because he couldn’t do so when he was young, and has grown to accept it. Breaking free of these chains, and unleashing the true potential is what this phrase means.

It took years for these habits to form, so leaving them cannot be expected to just be hinged on a strong will power, a reformed routine, a motivational video or good advice. It would require all these, and much more. To unlearn something, one needs to identify what that something is first. Realizing that there is a need for change is the first, and probably the most important step. You will have to go to the root of that and understand the emotions associated with that feeling. Making changes to the routine would follow from there. But most importantly, with better realization and understanding you will be ready to unlearn whatever it is you found. It would require significant emotional and intellectual effort, you might have to change your world view, look at your past in a different light, but it is all for good.

Learning new things is important, but unless we let go of the burden we carry on our shoulders from the past, break the chains, and unlearn the practices which hold us back, we can never let the fire in our belly take its full form.

Written on March 9, 2020