Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

2019 — Q2W16 —Unlearning

Unlearning precedes learning. A sense of safety within precedes unlearning.

I finished my weekly inspiration on success with this definition:

To succeed, we need to keep creating opportunities to experience the transformative tension of what we perceive to be opposite to us people or opinions, and learn from them. And second, we need to master what we perceive to be opposite qualities and competencies.

In its essence, this serves as an accelerator raising our competences and broadening our horizons. Research shows that what makes such learning difficult is not the learning itself but the unlearning that accompanies it. It’s easy to get stuck in knowledge or beliefs that have served us well in the past. That’s how we are built.

According to Mark Bonchek, “Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.”

That’s what scientists call neuroplasticity. According to Wikipedia, that is “the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life.“ Research shows that many aspects of the brain are “plastic” even through adulthood. Yet, the degree of plasticity reduces as we get older unless we keep practising. Restoring brain plasticity is considered by many to hold key to reversing age-related cognitive decline.

We need to first recognise that we are guided by what Charles Eisenstein calls “unconscious habits of thinking and problem-solution templates. According to him, “so often, we seek to answer questions that fit our customary response set, even if these may not be the right questions. Our perceptions shape our stories, our solutions, and our world. When our narratives and assumptions are unquestioned, we end up weaving threads of the problem into the changes we want to make. To exit the well-worn ruts of the usual solution-templates, we must somehow see and question assumptions that we may not even be aware of. In other words, we need to “clear the field” on a personal level and a social-political level. We need to “unlearn” the things we assume we know. These unlearnings can be applied in many ways. They are based on patterns of perception that are nearly universal in our culture. Once you see the patterns, you’ll begin to identify them everywhere. And it will give you a lens by which to view the world in a different way.”

So the first step is to become conscious of our mental models. Great minds have always known that and have created ways to trick their minds. Here is how Charles Darwin made sure he would not forget opposite to his opinions and learn from them.

“I had also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely that whenever published fact, a new observation of thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones.”― Charles Darwin

I wonder what would Darwin think of the algorithms of Social Media and search engines which keep showing us more of the same. In reality, these algorithms only copy what we do in daily life. We like to be with people who share our opinion and who appreciate our ideas.

Knowing that, how about starting an experiment? You can trick the algorithms by liking what you dislike or don’t understand and stop liking what you like. I bet a whole new world will open up.

To unlearn, we need to feel safe to be vulnerable to let go of old knowledge and beliefs. Simply said, imagine you are sitting at a table and talking to friends or colleagues. Imagine everyone proves you wrong. Do you find yourself in a defensive mode trying to prove your point? Do you fear being caught not knowing or being wrong? Are you upset and passionately arguing your point? Or do you feel ashamed or hurt?

To unlearn, we need to face such situations with curiosity and gratitude. How come these people see things so differently? How come they do not see what you see? How have your knowledge and experience made you blind to other aspects? How have their knowledge and experience made them blind to other aspects?

To do that we need to feel safe within. Without a sense of safety, we feel insecure, limited learning takes place and most energy goes to defence.



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Natalia Blagoeva

Natalia Blagoeva

Using Systemic Constellations, Coaching and Communities in service to Changemakers Co-creating the more beautiful world our hearts long for. Founder @WomenH2H