top of page

Learn how to unlearn

In order to stay relevant and competitive most of us have made a commitment to personal development and all too often that objective is only focused on learning new things. But what about unlearning? Is it more effective to unlearn? If so, how do you go about unlearning?

Continuous learning is pretty standard in most professions. If you’re an attorney or a CPA there are always new laws and regulations that you must comprehend to best serve your clients (and to keep your credentials). If you’re a doctor or a programmer there are always new technologies and practices that allow you to do things better than before. But unlearning is different. It means taking ideas, thoughts, concepts, rules that you learned, believed to be true and used as the basis for making decisions and managing and ultimately tossing them in the trash can. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and cause you to stick with what you know for longer than it serves you well. After doing something for an extended period of time the assumptions are no longer questions and become almost instinctual.

Unlearning occurs when a new idea, concept or thought comes into play that contradicts what you’ve learned in the past. The concept of the world being round simply can’t coexist with the idea of the world being flat. It took quite a long time for people to unlearn the idea that the world was flat and the resistance to doing so was significant. It seemed perfectly logical that a ship would fall off the end of the earth because you can’t see past the horizon.

The curvature of the earth isn’t visible to the naked eye so it is counter intuitive to accept what you can’t physically see. Plus, you already came to believe that it was flat so there’s some risk involved in changing what you already know. Most of what we need to unlearn isn’t quite as dramatic as that, but we cling to what’s worked because, well…because it’s worked.

Let’s look at a few examples. When I was in film school I felt like I majored in storytelling &