How do we Unlearn?

How do we Unlearn? You could say that to learn how to swim, you should get into the water. To learn how to play piano, you should take lessons and listen to music and practice on the piano. But to unlearn, there is no one way. Of course, it requires a strong intention to begin with and then we have to let go of the intention itself.

I know of a gentleman who wants to stop smoking. He knows every trick in the book about hypnotherapy, cold turkey method, nicotine patches, chewing gum technique---you name it he knows about it. Actually he stopped smoking several times in the past two three years. How does he unlearn his habit?

He should first have a strong intentionality to stop smoking. Then he probably should try any method that he is attracted to. Once he starts practicing, he should stop worrying about smoking and not smoking but concentrate on just doing what he promised himself to do---that is to practice. Concentrating on the process without worrying about the results is easy to say and very difficult to do. But once he can concentration on his action but not the intended result, there may be some unanticipated surprise. On the other hand, he may never stop smoking too. But if he gives up his practice and moves onto another method, he loses it.

Only way to transcend your mental models is through your current mental models. Running away from it, rejecting it will only strengthen its hold on you. While it looks paradoxical, unlearning is something worth looking at to bring about breakthrough innovation and paradigm shifts in organizations.

Let me give you another example.

I read a book called 'Maiden Voyage' in which Tania Aebi, an eighteen-year-old dropout going nowhere, was offered a challenge by her father. He bought a boat and challenged her to go sailing in it for two years on her own and support herself during that time. If she earned enough money during those two years to support herself, she could keep the boat.

Tania was so excited about getting away from her parents and having fun that she didn1t view as a chore the many lessons she had to take on navigation and survival techniques. Her negative ways began to change. Once she began her voyage her survival was dependent on how well she could navigate. Very quickly she picked up what she needed to learn, and she spent the next two and half years and 27,000 miles sailing around the world, discovering herself.

Until the challenge, Tania was locked in a rigid mental box with a pessimistic and non-participatory outlook and an uncertain future. The challenge helped her to unlearn her old thinking and develop an entirely new context for learning.

Third example:

I had an airplane pilot in one of my workshops who was learning to fly a glider. He told me, as a pilot it was much more difficult for him to learn to fly a glider, than for his wife to learn, who was not a pilot. He kept looking for controls that were not there. He spent much of his early lessons trying to relate and compare the two types of aircraft. Meanwhile, his wife, the complete novice made significant progress from day one.

What we already know gets in the way of what we want to learn. When we unlearn, we generate anew rather than reformulate the same old stuff. Creativity and innovation bubble up during the process of unlearning. This is not mere modification or restructuring of old material; once we remove our blinders, the world becomes quite different, with new possibilities and innovative approaches to situations that previously seemed stale or difficult. If we wish to blossom, we should remember that a seed will only germinate if it ceases to be a seed.

I love to hear your comments and stories on unlearning!

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