Let’s go back to the time when you were a kid and your mom tried to teach you good habits : Always say please and thank you, brush your teeth properly every morning and evening, get your homework done before you go to play and so on.
You have learned great habits that keep you happy, healthy and productive. It’s all part of moving from being a kid to becoming a fully developed human.
So, what do you do now, when you need to learn a new habit and unlearn an old habit at the same time?
Let’s say you habitually follow a routine in the morning. First, you brush your teeth, and then head to the kitchen to desperately seek out caffeine, then … well, you get the idea. Finally, you head off to work where you have another routine, most of which you perform unconsciously.
What if you wanted to shift one or two aspects of your routine? You would need to shift the ingrained patterns of behavior. Sounds simple, right?
Well, how about the scenario where the software platform you have excelled has been replaced by something advanced and completely foreign? You have no choice but to learn something new!
Welcome to the 21st century. Living in this century requires different skills, one of the most significant of which is unlearning activities and skills such that new learning can take place.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”Alvin Toffler, Futurist
So How Do You Unlearn Something?
Habits are defined as something you do automatically, without thinking. They are performed, for most of the part, unconsciously. Habitual behaviors usually occur in sequences of activities. This means that some initial stimulus sets them off, and then a chain of events occurs. Habit chains are set off by triggers, which are stimulus events that bring the habits to mind and reinforce their implementation. Once a trigger sets a chain in motion, it is difficult to put a stop to it: You either don’t notice it is happening or it plays with your mind so you don’t care.
Well, visualize, now your team implements a new software platform, despite the fact that you are completely competent and comfortable with the old one. Or your child brings home a parent-teacher tracking and communication system which runs entirely online.
Learning and unlearning are required to move forward!
What you have to achieve, as quickly as possible, is to make the old habit or action extinct. Well, there exists a strong theory of extinction that essentially states you need to make a habit or action extinct before you can learn something new. In your case (discussed above), you just want to log on to the new software platform at work or see your child’s math grade.
The Shortcut to Unlearning
There seemed to be two basic ways to pass mathematics when I was in high school. I could stay after school two or three days every week for additional help, or I could find the smartest looking partner. Admit it. You had the same choice to make too.
Unlearning is similar in some respects. I say we take the partner-with-the-smart-kid approach, and get to learn the new stuff, just like passing mathematics.
Here’s the simple and original approach to safely transform your old learning or habit super swiftly: Simply “flood” or overwhelm the old learning with the newly desired or required learning or habit!
It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but you quickly improve since all of the learning is fresh and new. You’ll move from a beginner rank to minimally competent fairly quickly and then progress to proficient rank, simply because all your concentration is on the newly desired learning rather than the old action. If you’ve ever helped a college student studying abroad, you would have realized that when they return home how much more fluent and confident they are with their language skills. Entire immersion into a society where daily activities depend upon the proper use of the language provides the key here.
Unlearning has already become one of the most imperative skills in a rapidly shifting marketplace. Consider the apps, websites and technologies today that simply did not exist 15 years ago. No Smart Devices, no GPS, no Facebook and no AI and yet today all of these seem a commonplace. We handle it all reasonably well — until we don’t.
Rather than focusing on the unlearning part, simply design the new habit or action you would like to take its place. Using this approach of flooding your old routine with newly designed actions, the process of new learning overwhelms and makes the old actions extinct that you wanted to unlearn.
The choice of where to apply your attention and energy simply affects the speed with which you will grow, learn, relearn and unlearn anything.
Flood your brain with what you want, and you’ll get it rapidly and with less effort.
It’s time to unlearn & relearn.
Sameer Shaikh is an Academic Writer who has been writing articles for various B-Schools’ Magazines from the last two years. His articles have been published in the Magazines of IIM Rohtak, IIM Udaipur, K.J Somaiya & so on. He writes articles of various fields including Finance, Economy, Marketing and so on. He has achieved many credentials in Academic Writing.