Updated: May 25, 2022
To heal, grow, or accomplish new things, you need to unlearn what you think you know. There are facts and fun facts to know and things to learn about. But what I mean by what you think you know refers to false beliefs and assumptions that have governed your behavior up to this moment. Imagine how much better your life would be if you could unlearn all the assumptions, habits, and behaviors that you engage in which create stress in your life.
It is easy to maintain focus on stressors because they dominate our thoughts. Stress is a signal from the brain that you need to change or fix something. To approach changing a behavior or habit in your life the same way you always have, what do you think is going to happen? You are correct, the same thing that always happens. Problem solving and learning go hand-in-hand. If you add learning to problem solving, you will eventually experience healing or personal growth.
The truth is all learning is unlearning.
What Does it Mean to Unlearn?
Unlearning is learning to think, perceive, and behave differently than you currently do. It’s simply:
learning a new way of doing something
changing current assumptions
trying new things
Your current beliefs and assumptions block your potential to experience personal growth. False and limiting beliefs grow from our personal and subjective life experiences. The experience itself may be a factual event, but how you recall it, as well as opinions and emotions that formed because of the it, are subjective. Our personal biases can lead to false beliefs such as, “I am unworthy of love” or “I am unimportant.”
The issue arises when you do not recognize that the old behavior is no longer relevant or effective. You don’t walk around consciously thinking, “I am unworthy.”
In my personal story, I am an emotional binge eater and my false belief is that I am unimportant. Limiting beliefs attract situations and experiences that reinforced what is untrue. I need to unlearn this belief to fully heal from using food to comfort my emotions. You need awareness of what to unlearn though.
Since we don’t know what we don’t know, the best rule of thumb is to keep things simple.
Keep it Simple
Our thinking minds complicate simple things by judging, overthinking, procrastinating, and failing to plan. What we find value in is usually simple things that we make complex. Our right brain identifies things important to us, but—the “but” introduces the complication in the form of options or irrelevant data. We focus on the complexity of the situation instead of seeking simple solutions.
If you know what brings value to your life, why not eliminate what is not of importance? That would be too simple. Human beings are complex in nature and our emotions are quite involved; therefore, we tend toward worry. The more you worry, the more anxious you feel, and the more complicated everything seems.
We play the mental “what if” game, creating our own discomfort, and we love to plan for the “right” time, which is just planning for the perfect moment while life passes you by. Simplify life by understanding our thoughts and identifying our “what ifs.” Journaling on the challenges we create helps us focus on what is important to us and why.
Don’t further complicate your life by being unwilling to go on an inner journey because fear, anger, resentment, and a host of other negative feelings that may dominate your state of mind. We cannot reason with our emotions, hence the term “pushing our emotions down.” The brain can’t process them, so we bury them.
We haven’t really buried them though; they are existing and wreaking havoc on your body. When we can’t express emotions (something leaving us such as words, tears, or screams), we must keep pushing things in (such as food or alcohol) to keep emotions from surfacing.
You need them to surface so you can unlearn them. Journaling helps bring awareness to emotions so you can change them.
Unlearn – A Personal Example
I recently experienced an unlearning—keep it simple—moment in my own life. While talking with my life coach about my goals, I mentioned a decline in my daily intake of water. I was telling the story about moving from plastic water bottles to a filtered pitcher to do my part to help save the planet. Only now I don’t drink anywhere near the amount of water I should.
She asked me about how I typically drink my water in terms of temperature, and I only drink room temperature water. After a clever question, I told her that when I arrive to work, I pull the pitcher out of the fridge, but I don’t drink much until it becomes room temperature.
What happened next broke my brain.
Coach – Why don’t you just leave your filter pitcher of water on the counter instead of putting it in the fridge?
Me – Because you put pitchers of beverages in the fridge.
Coach – Why?
Me – That’s where it goes.
We are creatures of habit. I started leaving my water pitcher on the counter and, as a result, I’ve increased my water intake. Lightning has not struck me down, nor have I experienced any other cosmic “rebalancing” as a result. It still feels weird, but it is working.
We attract what we think of most, so I challenge you to change not only what you think of, but the way you think. Add learning to anything you want to change. Get curious. Try different things (like not putting your water pitcher in the fridge). You may find that your original way of doing something is best for you. However, think of all the fun you would have missed by just doing the same old thing.
Leave a note and tell me about a simple change you made that helped you reach a goal.