Learn To Unlearn

Learning is often associated with addition of new things to our knowledge. However, a significant part of our learning process is unlearning the false things we learnt in the initial phase of our life. Unlearning is the process of disposing something off from our memory. When we unlearn something, we forget it, put it away and lose knowledge of it. Thus, unlearning, as a concept, is universally relevant across professions, age, gender and ethnicity. In fact, it is a timeless process that can help us at any point of time to not only unlearn what we know, but to make space to relearn new information.

Unlearning in our Daily Lives: Myths and Superstitions

Myths and superstitions refer to broadly held irrational beliefs, especially in a practice or an entity.  India is home to many such popular beliefs. According to The Hindu, “Superstition is quite high among employees in India. Around 61% of the employees believe in Vaastu Shastra and Feng Shui along with lucky charms such as stones, color specific items, specific number oriented items, etc.”

The survey, tiled ‘ Superstitions @Workplace’ covered 800 companies across top eight cities in India, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmadabad.

“About 48% of the respondents felt that practising superstition at the workplace has had a productive effect. With modern organizations imposing fewer restrictions on such practices, employees across all profiles and places are happy with superstitious practices being followed in their organizations,” the study showed.

Superstitions and myths are a classic illustration of how the process of learning and unlearning takes place. All of the superstitions we know or believe in are learned. They are either picked up through others or learned by experiencing them once or more, which turns a mere coincidence into a rock hard belief. Over our lifetime, we come to identify that these encounters are not universal and thus, we unlearn them and grow out of them. People who are incapable to do so continue to believe in myths and superstitions for the rest of their lives. Since these are only leanings that we acquire, we can unlearn them when we have contrasting experiences.

Why is it important to Unlearn

The first step towards unlearning is accepting that our current knowledge may be insufficient in fully utilizing our potential in the context of today’s technology-infused and dynamic world. One of the most crucial elements when it comes to accepting change is to unlearn prior knowledge which may hinder the implementation of new ideas. Embracing unlearning also helps us make space for new knowledge and helps relearn new and useful information. This helps us evolve better and do well in our respective fields.


Challenges in Unlearning

Unlearning, as a process, seems very fascinating and full of opportunities. It holds promise of helping us utilize our memory for useful and important information, and to help us alter faulty learnings. However, the process comes with its own set of challenges:

  • Chances of Dismissal: The first barrier in the process of unlearning is that when something contradicts our current understanding, we are likely to dismiss it. When some idea tends to conflict our basic values, our primary reaction is to discard it.
  • Takes too Long: Building new behaviors need consistent and conscious effort over a considerable period of time. Unlearning often takes a long and extended effort. More often than not, it is very difficult for us to ignore our values for a long time to try and explore something new, which may or may not work.
  • Social Expectations: We all have established a certain impression among our peers, friends & family through our existing behaviours. We tend to fear that any change in our learning will cause a change in our behaviour, which may or may not be received positively and may cause lasting damages.
  • No Defined Process: The process of unlearning has no set rules or guidelines which we can follow. It is a process where we are to discover and work through ourselves. Since it is a hit-and-try process, it does not guarantee one-shot success. We need to keep going and trying new ways until we achieve the desired results.

How to Unlearn?

Rather than focusing on the unlearning part, design a new action that would take its place. A routine in replacement always helps. While there are no set rules or order that we must follow while trying to unlearn, the following may help start the process:

  • Identify – At its core, unlearning is the art of stopping patterns. Identify practices, rituals or behaviours that would not be as valuable to us in future as they were in the past. There are some practices that will be easier to remove than others, while others may take some time to go. It is okay to take time as it is a gradual and self-paced process.
  • Understand–We often work out of habit and sometimes it is no longer aligned with our goals. Thus, we end up wasting our time and energy doing unnecessary and duplicative work. It is important to understand the effect it is having on us and what all we can remove from our schedule to unclutter it and make room for new leanings and habits.
  • Experiment–As we proceed, we need to experiment to discover the practices that would be best for us. When we first try to implement new ways to improve, we may not like it or find it engaging enough. We need to be patient and continue to constantly experiment with new ideas and methods to find the one that fits best for us.
  • Implement – Always make changes in accordance with new practices. Along with that, implement new practices to make up for the ones we left. This will make it easier to mould new habits in our schedule. The unlearning process also gives us space to relearn new things and make ourselves more equipped.

The first step towards becoming an “unlearner” is not just to have a thirst for new knowledge but to question our existing knowledge. Discussing our knowledge with those who are qualified in a specific field, being challenged constantly, and being ready to be proved wrong will help us find out whether what we have learnt is still relevant or not. It is also vital to question our belief system and analyze whether we are treating myths as scientific facts. It is only by learning to unlearn do we analyse our knowledge and take our first step towards acquiring real knowledge.


Vama Parakh

Vama Parakh

Vama writes on issues regarding society, environment, psychology and health. To connect, reach out to her on LinkedIn or at her email - parakhvama01@gmail.com

Vama Parakh

Vama writes on issues regarding society, environment, psychology and health. To connect, reach out to her on LinkedIn or at her email - parakhvama01@gmail.com

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