“When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.” Henry David Thoreau
There is a real power in unlearning life lessons. As we grow, we experience things that shape us into who we are. Our upbringing, our environment, our education, social interactions, identity, skills, dreams, beliefs, they are all shaped and reshaped over time.
As we go, we learn new things. Our intelligence grows. Our minds are filled. Our lives change. We change.
But what holds us back? What is going against us? What keeps us from succeeding? From being happy? From being free?
The wrong lessons we learned, the lies we told ourselves, and the things we held onto that were simply untrue.
So, what do we do?
We unlearn these lessons…
Why you need to do some “unlearning”
“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” Lao Tzu
Unlearning helps us to move past things that are no longer serving us. It helps us to finally say, “No, I don’t think so. Not anymore,” and then move forwards with a new mindset.
With unlearning, we can:
- Rewrite our beliefs
- Change our mindsets
- Do deep self-work
- Understand our emotions and behaviours (Emotional Intelligence)
- Write our own rulebooks and live freely
“Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning.” Richard Rohr
Unlearn the lessons from trauma
It is important that you unlearn anything that was taught during or after traumatic experiences of any kind.
That you are less than. That you deserve this. That you are weak or poor or broken. That you will always fail or lose or be beneath everyone else.
These are lies. These are ugly, horrid beliefs that were pushed onto you during a troubled time which are just not true at all. Teach yourself a new lesson. Show yourself that you are worthy, beautiful, important, and valued.
“When you’re born in a burning house, you think the whole world is on fire. But it’s not.” — Richard Kadrey
Unlearn the lessons from childhood
“The mind is slow to unlearn what it learnt early.” Seneca
Consciously or not, we all learn lessons from our early years that aren’t exactly good for us. Things that we assume are right and true because authority figures like parents or teachers taught us (or showed us) that it was. But, of course, it may not be true. At least, not for you personally, anyway.
Common childhood lessons that limit us are:
- You have to work hard, get good grades, and make a lot of money
- Safe and secure over risk and daring
- Marriage and kids are a must
- Poor grades = poor life
- Money beliefs
- Relationship beliefs
- Core values
- Religion or spiritual beliefs
- Community, class, or racial beliefs
“You must unlearn what you have been programmed to believe since birth. That software no longer serves you if you want to live in a world where all things are possible.” Jacqueline E. Purcell
Unlearn the rules of society
Our world can be so big, open, abundant and beautiful at times. In other times, it can be ugly, limiting, and cruel. We must unlearn the things that our society taught us. Unlearn the way things are “supposed to be” and the “right way” to do things.
There is no right way. There is no rulebook.
As long as you’re a good human being, you can live your life as you see fit.
“Resist. Unlearn. Defy.” Jeff Hardy
Unlearn the lies you told yourself
It’s not just everyone else who is to blame. Sometimes, it’s us who teaches ourselves bad lessons.
Like when we failed that one time and we told ourselves (repeatedly) that we were failures, losers, idiots, and everything else. And then, we started to believe it. And then, we internalised it. And then, we identified with it. And then, we locked it away deep within and forgot to let it go.
No, no, no!
- The negative self-talk
- The limits to who you are and who you can be
- The rules you set for yourself
- The downright wrong core beliefs about yourself
- The insecurities
- The life sentence you gave yourself for your mistakes
Perhaps it’s not about learning to love or trust ourselves, it’s about unlearning the hate and the limitations.
Unlearn who they used to be
The same should be said for those you know and love. People don’t stay the same forever. Your parents, your siblings, your childhood friends, your partner; they all change over time just as you do. Each year, month, week, day, you must unlearn what you thought you knew about them, and get acquainted with who they are now.
Let people be themselves. Don’t hold them back by trying to force them to be who they were before.
If your relationship changes because of it, so be it. If you lose touch, it wasn’t meant to be.
Unlearn habits and beliefs
“A good deal of education consists of unlearning – the breaking of bad habits.” Mary McCarthy
Habits, beliefs, and behaviours are formed naturally. Through repetition, we become a creature of habit. Without thinking, you just act. This is not to say that you have no control over your actions. Oh no! Instead, we must simply unlearn these habits, beliefs, and behaviours.
This isn’t easy, by any means, but it is doable and it is important.
Bad habits can ruin our lives. This is not things like smoking or overeating (though, these are bad) it can be things like getting up late, going on Pinterest every ten minutes, leaving dishes on the side, not formatting your work properly, and so on.
If you want to know why things aren’t working for you, look to your habits and beliefs. If you want to be successful in making changes, get to unlearning past habits and learning new ones.
Not everything you learn in life is true, valuable, important, or for you on a personal level. Whether it’s a lesson from parents, upbringing, society, TV, friends, education, books, experiences, or yourself; they can be limiting, damaging, and downright bad for us!
Taking the time to become self-aware enough to notice the things that aren’t serving you is the first step to unlearning.
Then, you need to be more mindful and intentional about your actions, beliefs, habits, interactions, goals, and so on.
For anything that is highly damaging, do the self-work, the emotional work, to get through it and rewrite what you thought you knew.
- I am the victim
- I am the villain
- I can’t do this
- I can’t make a living that way
- High productivity, big bank account, and slim waist = Worthy
- Gender Norms
- Life is out of my control
*I believe a journal, a meditative practice, and people you trust are key to unlearning. Good books, keen insights, and inspiration from those whose advice resonates with you is good, too.*
Good luck x
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!