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Recalibrate your Power Tank: Learning to Unlearn




Woman swimming



No one can deny that learning is the secret to growth and empowerment. It equips us with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to become self-reliant and take control of our lives. Through education, learning increases our prospects for financial independence and fosters pro-social behavior.


According to the OECD’s report Education at a Glance (2015), the higher the education level, the more positive the social outcomes, including good or exceptional health, volunteering, and interpersonal trust.





Library




Learning can break down gender stereotypes and create a more equal society. This allows women to access information and resources that can help them to develop their talents and strengths.


Today the significance of learning is more evident than ever before since “an overall trend towards a more equal distribution of education is observable in all regions and for all age groups”. This is an important development because it contributes to building the necessary skills for a purposeful and fulfilling life.


But how many of us know that to achieve the very same goals just the opposite (being ready to unlearn and be reeducated) is equally true and important?


How much is the traditional attitude to learning – it being a linear, straightforward process – aligned with today’s shifting systems?





Blue eye



When Learning is Not Enough


The world around us is constantly changing and evolving. In this continually shifting environment the best suited for success are the ones who accept accountability, acknowledge current disruptions, and avoid clinging to out-of-date information. In this swiftly changing world, re-invention at all levels has become crucial to thriving, which makes our ongoing commitment to learning, unlearning, and relearning essential to success.


But if our built-up knowledge, our existing habits, and acquired skills and training can secure a good job, a promotion, or a high social standing, why should we venture into the uncharted waters of unlearning? Why should we dive into this challenging and sometimes even painful process?


Because often in life, circumstances and situations force us to re-examine reality and start unstitching our deeply rooted beliefs, accumulated knowledge, and built-up experiences. At times like these, our existing strategies and systems are not enough to sustain us. To advance, we must accept the fact that to progress we need to continuously unlearn and relearn.


When navigating through today’s ever-changing world, unlearning (the process of discarding obsolete methods and concepts, which creates room for acquiring new knowledge) is just as much of an investment as learning. It is an empowering process for anyone on their journey of professional growth as well as personal growth since it doesn’t contribute only to our career success, but also to our inner transformation as it deconstructs our attitudes and prejudices. The ones able to unlearn and overcome long-held beliefs, habits, and patterns that no longer serve them, creating space for new insight. In this new space, we can enjoy a newly found freedom, unlimited by expectations and disentangled from mental blocks and preconceived notions. “Un-learners” become more open, receptive, inquisitive, and creative. They become empowered.




Woman looking at the stary sky


We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us. — Jean-Paul Sartre



What Unlearning Is


Unlearning involves actively replacing incorrect or outdated knowledge and patterns of behavior with more accurate or relevant information and practices. It is a process that requires decision-making and intentional effort, reflection, and examination of one's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and the willingness to modify these in light of new information or experiences. Unlearning also involves challenging existing assumptions and reevaluating the way we approach a situation or problem, as well as revisiting old ideas to reconsider their validity and relevancy and discarding them if deemed unnecessary.



What Unlearning Isn’t


Many people believe that the process of unlearning is simply forgetting, i.e., that involves erasing something from their recollection, causing it to vanish, be disposed of, and become void of knowledge. This is not the case. Sometimes unlearning might happen just by adding new knowledge without erasing it.



But even when unlearning means actively replacing existing information and habits with new ones, it (unlike forgetting) is the process of deliberately and consciously deciding to replace them with something more conducive to our personal growth. Unlearning is not simply forgetting what we have learned but allowing ourselves to open up and consider alternative perspectives. When we let go of the things we have learned, we give ourselves the freedom to look at things in a completely new light and create something better. It’s a conceptual reordering that allows us to gain a new understanding of the world, a reconstruction of our reality so powerful that it will never be the same again.




How Unlearning Unlocks Women’s Potential


Unlearning is an essential tool for women’s empowerment. Empowerment is about breaking out of the limiting beliefs that have been handed down through generations and embracing the idea that you are entitled to more. It is about pushing the boundaries to achieve greatness and searching for opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills. It is about being able to identify the outdated systems and perceptions that are holding you back, discarding them, and replacing them with positive, productive habits that will help you unlock your true potential. By unlearning, women can become even more powerful agents of change in the world.



Is it Possible to Unlearn?


To move forward and grow, we must unceasingly unlearn and relearn. We must challenge our ideas, habits, and preconceived notions in order to discard and replace them with new information.


But can we break away from a previously established pattern of behavior?

How easy is it to let go of the conditioning that no longer serves us in favor of acquiring new values that do?

Is it possible to discard ingrained knowledge that has determined our outlook on life for years?


The answer to all is ‘yes’!




Woman typing on her laptop



Unlearning is a difficult and time-consuming process, which may even appear overwhelming. Striving to adopt a beginner’s mindset and breaking away from the familiar is not easy, without a doubt. Discarding the attitudes and customary practices that have shaped our lives for years is undeniably difficult. Adapting to new information while simultaneously letting go of old information is also hard. Still, it is possible to cultivate the capacity to unlearn and reap the rewards of recalibrating your life and starting fresh!




The Three Manifestations of Unlearning


Once we engage in unlearning, the workings of a threefold process start becoming apparent. This process is experienced through self-reflection and examination, through observation of our immediate surroundings, and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things.


Let’s take a closer look:


  1. Looking Inward: We identify and re-examine attitudes, principles, and beliefs that determine our initial responses to circumstances, experiences, and people. We trace the origins of our beliefs and attitudes and to what extent they reflect the life we want to live or the person we want to become. Finding our blind spots when faced with threats, worries, fears, and biases liberates us from outmoded beliefs and how we respond to life’s circumstances and events.

  2. Looking Outward: This manifestation of unlearning sheds light on how our individual experiences impact our immediate surroundings. Here we look closely at an experience (for example, what led to it, who was involved, when and where it occurred, etc.) to identify underlying patterns and to reflect upon the mindsets and emotions that shape our biases and misconceptions.

  3. Adopting a Panoramic Vision: At this phase of unlearning, we observe how multiple political, social, and behavioral trends that we come across daily cause certain experiences to happen. This method is particularly useful in that it challenges the rigid problem-solving structures that usually govern our thoughts and decisions, allowing us to recognize the interconnectedness of reality. In other words, we comprehend matters more holistically and inclusively.


Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality. — Bruce Lee


Let's not forget that an important part of each of these three processes is evaluation. We should constantly evaluate what we have unlearned, the results of our unlearning and adjust our new approaches regularly. By reflecting on what we have let go of, we can gain a deeper understanding of our current state and a better appreciation for the growth we have achieved.




How to Cultivate Unlearning for Empowerment and Growth



Awareness and Acceptance


Begin by being receptive to unlearning and willing to commit to this lifelong transformational process. Then, be aware of your need to unlearn and identify any ideas or practices that are no longer useful to you.



Man holding a mirror reflecting the sea.


Accepting "not knowing" and adopting the "beginner's mind" — approaching anything as if you were a novice, without prior beliefs or assumptions — can help you build this new awareness. The idea behind the “beginner's mind”, which originated with Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki's book “Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind”, is inspired by the Zen Buddhism concept of the mind being an empty cup — a metaphor for openness and receptivity. The empty cup is seen as an opportunity to fill it with something positive, whether that be new experiences, knowledge, insight, or wisdom.



Εν οίδα ότι ουδέν οίδα (I know that I know nothing). — Socrates


However, the idea of “not knowing” goes further back in time, when the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates admitted: "I know that I know nothing" — a reflection on the limits of human understanding and humility. It suggests that a person should be aware of the limits of their knowledge and that they should be open to learning and understanding more.


Accepting our ignorance also allows us to access our inner wisdom (guidance, intuition, or understanding) that can help us make decisions and navigate life.



Baby looking outside the window.



Inquiry and Exploration


Focusing on minimizing your dependence on outmoded methods of operating, behaving, and achieving your goals is essential to unlearning. This can happen through seeking new sources of knowledge (relearning), being open to new experiences, and following new habitual patterns consciously and consistently.


Some examples of this can be participating in or attending workshops and conferences that expose you to fresh perspectives and ideas, doing online courses, reading books and articles from authors that possess different worldviews from your own, using technology to learn about new topics and ways of thinking and trying out diverse activities to gain new skills, taking on a mentor or coach to help you unpack and learn from previous experiences, etc. All these and much more can lead to breaking free from preconceived notions while welcoming fresh perspectives and knowledge.



Tolerance


Inner opposition and intolerance can hinder unlearning by creating a fixed mindset around a certain set of beliefs and ideas. Being unwilling to let go of these beliefs and ideas can prevent us from being open to other perspectives and new knowledge. We may even become hostile and dismissive of them. This kind of inflexible attitude can inhibit personal and collective growth. However, it is possible to silence these inner saboteurs and overcome your internal opposition.



Here’s how:

  • Take the time to listen to others: Ask questions and try to learn more about their perspective.

  • Acknowledge and accept that it’s okay to disagree: Accept that you won’t always agree with everyone and that everyone has different opinions.

  • Show kindness and empathy: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to be understanding.

  • Celebrate diversity: Pay attention to the unique qualities and perspectives that each person brings to the table and celebrate them. Surround yourself with people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and viewpoints to gain new insights that can help you challenge existing assumptions and beliefs.



Women from different cultures chatting



Change


We have a natural inclination to seek safety, dependability, and certainty, which underlies most of our behavior. We devise, manage, and speculate about what will happen tomorrow, but we haven't been taught that impermanence is the foundation of life and the rule rather than the exception. But how can we challenge our organic need for safety and stability and be able to evolve in the face of the unpredictable conditions around us?


An answer would be to get into the stream of transformation and be part of a process that is in perpetual flow, in perpetual movement. By developing mental toughness and being resilient: by welcoming change!



Heraclitus of Ephesus, the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher famously described the world as being in a state of constant flux and impermanence, stating "You cannot step into the same river twice". He believed that all things were in constant movement, that change was a universal law, and that, since nothing remains the same, everyone must accept change and adapt to it to survive and thrive. He argued that embracing change is the only guarantee of happiness and stability.


The notion of impermanence is also central to Buddhism. As such, all physical and mental phenomena (including thoughts, emotions, and sensations) are seen as constantly changing and in a state of flux. This includes life, death, relationships, material objects, and even one's own identity.


So, embrace change: change your mindset, habits, and beliefs; experiment, take risks and pursue the unfamiliar. All of these are vital components of successful unlearning.





WATCH: J. Krishnamurti - The challenge of change




Thanks for reading! ❤︎



DISCLAIMER

The content of this webpage is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Expert on Your Life, LLC. is not affiliated, associated, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the references and information cited on this webpage. Read our full Disclaimer here.



 



What’s your story?

What does ‘unlearning’ mean to you?

Where are you on the learn/unlearn/ relearn process?



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Find professional support and guidance on your journey to letting go of old patterns and outdated practices by joining one of the Empowerment Spaces below. These single one-on-one coaching sessions have been especially designed to help you develop fresh perspectives on life and redesign your strategies for self-empowerment and growth.


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4 Comments


Liz Harde
Liz Harde
Nov 26, 2023

Thank you, Betty, for this beautifully crafted post! Keep shining brightly💯💙

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Betty Chatzipli
Betty Chatzipli
Nov 26, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for reading!

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Christina Moore
Christina Moore
Aug 23, 2023

Absolutely loved this blog post! 🌟 The concept of unlearning is like giving our minds a refreshing makeover – shedding old layers of beliefs that no longer serve us and making room for new insights.

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Betty Chatzipli
Betty Chatzipli
Aug 25, 2023
Replying to

Exactly, Christina! Thanks for reading😊

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